Let BLUSH introduce you to the Little Black Dress Gala assistant producer Christine Michelle. She is a philanthropist, hair stylist, sound, art, and fashion enthusiast born and raised in Vancouver.
She has spent the greater part of her youth creating and experimenting with art, textiles and various forms of creative expression. Opportunities to travel from a young age imbedded a love for new cultures, and in 2006 she found herself in Goma on the East border of Democratic Republic of Congo. Since then, has moved back and forth between Vancouver, D.R.Congo, and Uganda.
In Canada, she works with a fantastic team whose focus is reaching young people’s lives using alternative methods of education and community development as a volunteer with Help Change My City Alliance. As the assistant producer of the Little Black Dress Gala and Secret Garden, she uses her strong passion for using digital media and the art of digital storytelling to expose emerging talents both locally and internationally.
What motivates you to make change?
Purpose. There is life (waking, breathing, going through the routine of the day, eating, sleeping) but then there is living; living a life of purpose, on purpose, is one of the most valuable discoveries I ever made in life and it is the reason I do, say, teach and give as I do.
As someone who grew up in Vancouver city, my tendency as an adolescent was to not concern myself with too much outside of anything that didn’t involve… me. It didn’t take much time at all for me to feel completely dissatisfied about my lifestyle and by the time I was 21 years old I found myself standing at the Grande Barrière (border crossing) between Gisenyi, Rwanda and Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo without a clue in the world as to who I would become after setting foot on the other side.
I lacked a formal education, knowledge about the region, the languages required for even basic communication in the region, any understanding of what I would be doing in my day to day and I also lacked a whole lot of belief in myself.
Now, after 11 years of moving back and forth between Vancouver, DR Congo and Uganda, I have the privilege of working tirelessly alongside some of the most inspiring individuals in a capacity I can barely find the words to express. In discovering how I could be used with the gifts and abilities, I have been given (even when I started out feeling so small and so unqualified) I unlocked my purpose.
What sacrifices have you had to make to be the person you are today?
I really think sacrifice is subjective. What can seem like an impossible task or a dangerous choice to one person may be the very thing that someone else thrives on. There were times in my early 20’s when I would get online from Africa and see photos of my friends doing their thing, going on vacations, starting families, partying, chilling on beaches, etc and think ‘maybe I am missing out on building the stability of a “normal life” by being here’ or ‘will this passion of mine ever allow me a regular lifestyle’. Those thoughts were always short-lived because almost as soon as the thought would come in a louder voice in me would interject with ‘there isn’t anywhere else in the world I would rather be.’ The difficult times after that never felt like sacrifices being made because the gratitude that grows out of my experiences is overwhelming.
Do you live a compassionate life?
Compassion is defined as ‘a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble’ or ‘a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.’ I mean, yes, I do my best to live my life entirely by that principle. Some days I get burnt out, and I certainly make lots of mistakes, but I have tried to build my life rooted in compassion.
There is, unfortunately, a lot of misguided humanitarian or charity work that exists out there. Sadly, a lot of the things I have seen people ‘do for Africa’ with good intention sometimes ends up causing more harm than good which is the reason for my slow and steady movement when it comes to approaching community development or teaching programs. I firmly stand by the value that we are to approach developing nations from a learner’s point of view, not as though we are the superheroes with the plan for change.
Over the years I have seen so many projects start strong and be completely abandoned within the same year or a few year timeframe because sometimes we don’t realize in the passion of the moment that our lives may change and we may be moving on (even if we don’t intend to). Approaching vulnerable populations or developing communities should always be about the locals vision, good training and financial accountability, and the hiring and empowerment of people from within that region or demographic to ensure sustainability.
Compassion is the desire to alleviate suffering, but we have to do so cautiously and with good intention. We have to be willing to be wrong, to take the backseat and to step out of the limelight to make sure that our caring of others exists for their wellbeing and not the growth of our personal profiles… It’s vitally important; we have to be diligent about not allowing the perception of being compassionate to be a tool for popularity or personal gain. I encourage people to ask questions of charities and change makers to see what their methods and practices look like.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made in your life?
There are too many to list so let me narrow it down to this; all of my mistakes have occurred while ignoring my gut. I get this inexplicit feeling they may not be the right influence for my life or I shouldn’t be somewhere at a certain time. EVERY TIME I ignore that feeling, something difficult occurs and sometimes the outcomes take a long time to reverse. My greatest mistake is ignoring that prompting inside of me.
Some of those mistakes have caused myself, and others failure, pain or heartache but every single one of them has become a lesson to me in the values that are important to me in life. All of my experiences have become indicators and warning signs that allow growth and awareness in my life so as not to repeat things that need not be repeated.
One thing I see a lot in youth we work with here in Vancouver is these walls that we build around ourselves to protect us, allow us our independence, keep others from truly seeing what is going on in our lives… The avoidance of our vulnerabilities and our unceasing desire for success and independence has lead to a lot of loneliness and isolation among the generations coming up underneath us.
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
As mentioned in one of my other answers, I was uneducated and qualified as I began my philanthropic pursuits, and I attribute my growth and learning to mentors Lyn Lusi, Judy Anderson and my Grandmother Maureen who each (either through words or example) have all played a huge role in shaping my life and character.
That being said, my greatest living inspiration is Alpha B. Kirabira. He is the founder of Help Change My City and the Little Black Dress Gala as well as several entities, schools, babies home and women’s projects in Uganda (which is already a lot) but those accomplishments aren’t what inspires me the most. It’s his vigour.
I have never met a person in Vancouver who has confronted so much adversity and who continues on with persistence in such a manner. Most of the opportunities available to us who were born as Canadians have never existed for him yet regardless of setbacks and injustices alike, he puts everyone else first, all the time. It’s incredible. He has a natural ability to build, innovate and make things work. He is trustworthy, practical and down to earth. When mentoring youth, he is the perfect example of what it means to live with purpose and tenacity – he shares with them from real experience what it means to resiliently persevere all of life’s jagged edges while maintaining an unheard-of dedication to the wellbeing of others. I’m very fortunate to be able to work alongside such a person.
WHO IS CHRISTINE MICHELLE?
At this point in her life, Michelle works with young creative professionals, independent artists, and youth who are in transitional moments in life and simply be there as support as they approach career age. She is a mentor and guide to them and a great encourager. She is also creating an educational platform of East Africa called Merita International and as Executive Director of ACT With Africa.
Find out more about the Little Black Dress Gala on May 26th here.