$30 for 30

www.nbarrettphotography.comI love birthdays and celebrations and gift-giving. I love cake and Champagne toasts and treating myself to something sweet because it’s my special day. But as much as I love these things, I love giving back even more. I don’t like asking for anything, especially for gifts, but this year I am donating my birthday to Touch A Life, and I would be so honored if you would consider giving $30 to this amazing organization as a part of my birthday celebration. In this season of gratitude and in light of next week’s Giving Tuesday, you may be looking for a way to make a diffence, and I’d love it if you’d like to support Touch A Life. I hope to raise $3,000, allowing our organization to offset initial expenses for the amazing 25 new children who were just rescued from trafficking and placed into our care. If you feel compelled to give, you can donate here and select “Rachel’s 30th Birthday” in the donation drop-down menu.

I love the photo above so much. James & I have sponsored Baba for several years, and I was on his rescue from Lake Volta in August of 2009. Back then he was scrawny and suffering from malnutrition, so much so that his black hair had an eerie orange tint. He was sullen and depressed and silent. But Baba quickly transformed into the darling young man he is today – a hilarious, helpful, hardworking leader who has sprouted up several feet and now towers over me. Baba, like so many other children at the Touch A Life Care Center, is such an obvious representation of how well our organization’s methods are working. He is a tangible example that by providing rescued children with holistic care, the love of a family, and an opportunity to heal, we can make a huge difference. And by donating to support our efforts, so can you.

P.S. Take a peek at our brand new website! We have been working so hard on this revamp all year long and I am just so dang obsessed with how it turned out.

Image by Natalie Shelton

Los Angeles & The Yellow Conference

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetI am so excited to be heading back to the best coast again today – I’ve been there every month since May, how lucky is that?!

Remember last year when I dreamed of attending the Yellow Conference? Lauren and I put our heads together in January and started setting the wheels in motion for both of us to attend the event. We bought our tickets, booked our flights, and time flew by as we giddily anticipated our adventure together. I can’t believe the conference is here already! We leave for Los Angeles this afternoon and we couldn’t be more excited. We’re staying at the Ace Hotel, and we’re hoping to enjoy a delicious dinner at one of my favorite spots in Koreatown, The Commissary at the Line Hotel, after we arrive tonight.

Over the weekend, I’m going to stay with Andrew. He’s hosting a cocktail fundraiser party to benefit Touch A Life on Saturday evening, which is going to be so fun! I’m stoked that I get to spend good quality time with him while I’m in his neck of the woods.

Happy Wednesday, and enjoy the rest of your week!

Photo from Becca’s bachelorette weekend in Malibu in June…more pictures to come!

Flash Tattoos

5212015_180 5212015_141In December I threw a surprise 30th birthday party for James, and it was a total blast. As an added bonus, I picked up several sets of temporary tattoos (these manly ones for the guys and these gorgeous ones for the girls); I thought they would be fun favors. Little did I know, the tattoo station would be one of the biggest hits of the party (after the beverage cart, of course). Everyone had so much fun selecting their tattoos and adorning them for the rest of the party guests to see.

IMG_8859 IMG_8710 IMG_8872 IMG_8861I had a few of the glittery Flash Tattoos leftover so I packed them in my suitcase when I was getting to ready to go to Ghana in May. On a breezy afternoon during the trip, the older teenage girls and I decided to dig into the stash of tattoos, applying them to their arms and necks and fingers. The jewelry-like tats looked insanely gorgeous on the girls, their dark skin really making them pop, and as I watched them laugh and giggle as they added more glitter to their appendages, I was reminded that these girls – their hearts and stories and reclaimed youth – are worth so much more than gold.

5212015_182I am so excited that, as a result of our fun afternoon in Ghana back in May, Touch A Life and our fabulous teenage girls are featured on Flash Tattoo’s blog today! I was honored to get to write a guest post about the girls, their reaction to the fabulous tattoos, and the story behind our organization. The post turned out beautifully, as did the gorgeous photos by Nancy Borowick. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

With only two other staff members in our Dallas-based office, [co-founder Pam Cope and I] both wear a lot of hats. Pam serves as a visionary for the organization, sharing her story and meeting with like-minded crusaders to champion the cause. I love working with Touch A Life’s friends and supporters, reveling in the opportunity to connect them to the children they support by leading trips to Ghana and creating donor communication strategies. Most of all, we can both agree that the best part of our job is spending time with the children we support. We know that even though we have gotten to be a part of their healing in some small way, they have changed our lives more than we could ever change theirs.

Pop on over to Flash Tattoo’s blog to read the full post, and then head on over to the shop to snag some gorgeous tats for yourself!

On Tech & Disconnecting

tumblr_n9jyg5jdtA1r1vjs5o1_1280I am settling back into my routine after returning from another wonderful trip to Ghana! I am so grateful for all of the amazing travel experiences my job with Touch A Life has afforded me, but this past week was one of my favorites of all time. The team, comprised of 22 volunteers and supporters, was just so, so wonderful. There were so many moments when we were at the Care Center that I found myself looking around at our incredible crew as they interacted with the kids and staff. We hosted a yoga retreat at the facility over the weekend, which was just the absolute best, and the children all had their medical and dental assessments completed thanks to our rock star volunteer physician and dentist. There was a fierce sand volleyball tournament, tons of crafting projects in the Art Center, and plenty of bonding with the kids. Our trips are always about the children we serve, first and foremost, but as I reflect on our week, I keep reveling in how stellar the team from the U.S. was, how passionate they are about Touch A Life and how a mentality of gratitude seemed to cloak every single person as they savored their time in Ghana. It was really special.

While I was there, my phone made itself scarce – whether it was lost or stolen or simply misplaced, I don’t know, but it went rogue halfway through the trip. I was annoyed, to be sure, mostly because I wasn’t interested in shelling out cash for a new device once I got home. But then a moment of clarity passed over me, and I felt pleased that I was able to disconnect from everything that tends to creep into my mind via my phone even when I’m in the most sacred of spaces. Sure, it made it easier knowing that I could get in touch with James or my family if I needed to by using someone else’s phone – I wasn’t totally stranded or off the grid – but I loved not having a device at my fingertips. I procrastinated on buying a new phone when I got home, and since I’ve returned, I’ve lost touch with the gravitational pull towards my social media feeds and text messages, which is something I’ve wanted to do, but failed at, for some time now. I even (finally) bought an alarm clock so I can keep my phone charging in a separate room at night (instead of using it to wake me up each morning), preventing any temptation to delve into the world of email before falling asleep.

Coincidentally (though not on purpose, lest you think I lost my phone as a social experiment), I wrote a post about social media usage for Darling Magazine that was published on Monday, the day I got back into action after recovering from jet lag, and I understood what I had written so much more acutely after having been disconnected with technology myself. I’d love it if you took a peek at the piece and let me know what you think. For now, here’s a taste of what’s in store:

“…if we’re relying solely on an online community to validate our character or our opinions, without having a real life community in place to balance out this feedback, we may be missing the point.

The point is that bonding with a group of people gathering in an online forum is important, but so is intimately connecting with the loved ones with whom we interact in real life, face-to-face. Relationships that withstand the test of time are the ones in which we’re honest and real, both online and in person, and solely relying on the commentary from those with whom we communicate through screens can be detrimental.”

For the rest of the post, hop on over to Darling’s blog!

Image via The Girl With The Curl

Ghana, Again

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetI can’t believe I’m already back in Ghana! It’s such a blessing to be able to return to one of my very favorite places so quickly after my previous visit. This trip will look a little different than the last one; instead of a group of 10 travelers, I’m leading a group of 20+ volunteers as we host a health fair for the children at the Touch A Life Care Center. A lot of coordination was involved – we spent six months planning this trip – but I know it’s going to pay off when the children receive their medical & dental assessments, as well as have a blast participating in the health-related activities we’ve cooked up. It’s going to be an amazing week, I’m sure of it.

One of the travelers during the May trip was our amazing photographer, Nancy Borowick. She took this photo of me and Moses, and I know that it’s an image that I’m going to cherish forever. I was able to participate in Moses’s rescue from Lake Volta in March of 2009, and it has been such a joy to watch him grow into such an incredible young man over the course of the last six years. He has grown into such a strong, smart, tall (!), motivated young man (who wants to become a doctor when he grows up), and I can’t wait to see who he becomes in the future. He is going to change the world, I can feel it. He’s already changed mine.

I’ll be back in soon – this is one of my quickest trips yet – so keep checking in! I promise to resume posting as soon as I get back. Happy weekend to you & yours!

Photo via Nancy Borowick

Tips for Traveling to Africa

africa_zebra_ColetteDeBarros_900My most recent post for Darling Magazine was inspired by the 10+ trips I’ve taken to Ghana on behalf of Touch A Life. I’ve learned so much along the way in regards to what to pack, what visas & vaccinations are needed prior to travel, what snacks to bring, and how wildly cultures differ in each African nation. Here’s a snippet from the piece:

People often underestimate the physical size of Africa and, as a result, they often tend to underestimate how vast the cultural differences are from nation to nation.

In 2013, Kai Krause created a powerful graphic that tangibly depicts the true – and massive! – size of Africa. The image shows how, if rearranged in a certain manner, over a dozen countries (including the United States, China, India, and several European nations) could fit within Africa’s mass. Upon seeing this image, it’s easier to wrap one’s mind around the fact that because the 54 countries that comprise Africa cover so much distance, their cultures are similarly spread apart, too.

What is culturally acceptable in one African country may not be tolerated in another; some nations are French-speaking, while others declare English as their national language. Each country is represented by numerous religions and other cultural influences. Women’s roles are different in each nation, too. Spend some time conducting research online, with a travel agent, or with a family member or friend who has been to the destination you’re traveling to, allowing you to be prepared for the cultural climate you’ll encounter.

To read the whole post in its entirety, hop over to Darling’s blog! Let me know what you think. Have you traveled to Africa, and do you have any tips to share?

P.S. Check out this post I wrote about packing for Ghana, specifically. I still adhere to all of the same tips!

Photo via Colette de Barros for Darling Issue No. 12

Beauty Truths

5212015_177There are so many things I love about writing for Darling Magazine. The publication, both in print and online, serves as inspiration for so many readers, and being a small part of that is such a blessing. One of the things I love most about writing for Darling is my relationship with my online editor. She is a smart, sharp young woman who gives me the freedom to present her with pitches concerning a variety of topics, many of them personal to my own life and interests. Most recently, I got to write about beauty truths that I’ve learned from my trips to Ghana, lessons I’ve taken to heart about body image and self-worth and what’s really important in this world. It was an honor to get to share some sentiments that I’ve learned from my experiences working for Touch A Life. I love the picture above of three of our amazing girls, Patience, Janet & Forgive. They have taught me so much about gratitude and self-care and peace and happiness that comes from within, ideals I try to focus on instead of worrying about first world problems, like how my jeans fit. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

In Ghana I am reminded that good health is the utmost privilege, the most important and valuable aspect of anyone’s life. I am reminded that curves are gorgeous, that a smile is truly a window to the soul, and that everlasting beauty comes from within. I am aware that these are also lessons I could learn in the U.S.; they are embraced and exhibited by incredible women all around the country on a daily basis. But for me, I needed to be removed from the cultural influences that seep into my consciousness without my awareness in order to fully understand them. I needed to literally and figuratively step outside of my comfort zone in order to understand how greatly I had been impacted by messages from the media, and for how long.

Head on over to Darling’s site to read the post in its entirety, and let me know what you think!

Photo by Nancy Borowick 

Back Home

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I got home from Ghana on Friday and I feel like I am still figuring out how to adjust back to life in Dallas. Don’t get me wrong – I was more than ready to be home with James and our pups, to meet my friends for margaritas and catch up on a few weeks’ worth of happenings, and to sleep in my comfy bed. But this feeling inevitably arrives after every single trip to West Africa and even though this was my 12th journey, it doesn’t get any easier: every time I get home, I’m a little shaken up, a little pushed out of my comfort zone, a little out of sorts. And honestly, while that feeling can be uncomfortable, it can also be really good. It’s easy to get stuck in the rut and go-go-go of everyday life here in the States, and returning from Ghana always gives me a fresh perspective, one that brings me back to my roots. I’m reminded that it’s okay to balance out really productive days (as well as distinctly not-so-productive days) with a really good nap. It’s okay to want to be a little reclusive and reflective instead of hopping straight back into the social scene. It’s okay to follow a delicious meal of spinach salad & homemade vinaigrette with a serving or two of Ben & Jerry’s The Tonight Dough. It’s okay to wake up really early on a weekend to clean out the garage only to spend the rest of the day lounging in pajamas and reading novels. It’s okay to feel all the feels, to allow the aches and creaks and changes occur in both body and soul. The children in Touch A Life’s care in Ghana teach me so many things, but one of the resounding lessons I learn over and over again is that it’s okay, that rest is good, that stress can be a luxury, a concept embraced by first-world nations. I’m reminded that busyness should not be a commodity that determines our worth, that time with people we love is the best thing there is, that God created this big world for us to explore and enjoy. For these lessons and so many more, I’m grateful.

Ghana Bound

IMG_6857I’m heading to Ghana today, and I can’t wait to be back in West Africa. The climate of the region has calmed considerably since last summer’s heartwrenching Ebola outbreak, and I’m really ready to be back at the Touch A Life Care Center with the children and staff whom we love so much.

I never got around to posting photos from the last time I was in Ghana (way back in August of 2013, oh my gosh!), so I thought I’d share some with you now. I was so thrilled that I got to travel with two of my nearest & dearest friends, Lauren & Patrick Cone. We went to Ghana with a group of about 15 volunteers and we helped lay a mosaic installation in Seth’s Social Center; host tons of fun activities for the children while they were on summer vacation; and visit Lake Volta, the home to nearly 10,000 child slaves, brainstorming with our Ghanaian staff to determine the best way to make space for more children at our facility. Patrick shot this amazing video for Touch A Life on that trip, which I think is the most powerful & beautiful way to sum up what our organization does.

I can’t wait to share photos from this trip when I get back in a few weeks. I had high hopes of scheduling out posts while I’m gone but I didn’t quite get every item tackled on my to-do list, so this post will have to suffice. See you soon, friends!

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Pepperdine University

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This afternoon I’m heading out to my alma mater, Pepperdine University, and I’m so, so excited to be back on campus. I’m actually getting to go to Malibu for my job, as Touch A Life’s work in Ghana is being featured in the university’s annual Bible Lectures. Pepperdine has a beautiful art museum on campus, so an exhibit is going to be set up to showcase paintings from the children at our Care Center as well as photographs by our amazing friend, Nancy Borowick. We’ve been working hard on getting everything ready, so I can’t wait to see the exhibit come to fruition.

Of course, I also can’t wait to be on the best coast. Malibu holds one of the most special places in my heart and revisiting the small quirky beachside town always gets me all sorts of emotional. Malibu is the place where I really came into my own as a young woman, and it’s the spot where I met the very best friends on the planet. It is going to be so good to be back.

For fun, here are two posts (one here, the other here) from my last two overnight stays on Pepperdine’s campus. I love looking at old photos and reflecting on all of the amazing memories from college. What a beautiful place!