How to Change the World

By Emma Middleton, Global Classroom Intern

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The GYLI 2014 cohort consisted of 35 students from 17 schools.

Trying to change the world takes a lot of time and effort, and even then results are not guaranteed. Some people use this as an excuse to never try, but not the students who came to the seventh annual Global Youth Leadership Initiative (GYLI). They each want to enact change in different ways, including by supporting education in Kenya, educating others about fair trade practices, or helping to stop human trafficking.

They know that the only way that these issues can get better is if they do something about them.

These students took a week out of their summer to learn about a variety of international issues and what they can do to help. They heard from speakers like Rita Zawaideh, founder of Salaam Cultural Museum, who travels with teams of doctors to Syrian refugee camps in Jordan, Roger Meece, former U.S. Ambassador to Malawi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for the DRC and head of MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping mission based in Kinshasa. A career panel engaged students in a discussion of a variety of career options open to them both at home and abroad. The students also participated in the Refugee Simulation Project: Walk in My Shoes, led by Community Connections Consulting, where they learned about the process of resettlement as a refugee family. Students participated in workshop activities where they learned about inequalities in the chocolate industry while getting to taste the difference between fair trade and non-fair trade chocolates. They found out firsthand how hard it is to live in a slum and fit 5 people in a 10 by 10 foot living space.

Students discuss living conditions in the slums of Kampala.

Students discuss living space and conditions in the slums of Kampala.

This week-long workshop is only the beginning of a year-long program. Each of these students, either individually or in a group, plans to undertake a Global Awareness Project (GAP) in order to fundraise or raise awareness for the issue they feel strongly about. Here are some of their initial plans:

At Ingraham High School, a student plans to start an extracurricular program through SeaVuria and raise funds through events for a scholarship program for students in Kenya.

Bellevue High School has four students planning on organizing a film screening of The Dark Side of Chocolate and hosting a fair trade chocolate tasting.

A group of three students at International Community School plans to raise awareness about North Korea through a community event such as a guest speaker, a soccer tournament, or a movie screening.

One student at Annie Wright Schools plans to raise awareness about nuclear disarmament through a film screening and discussion of Countdown to Zero.

Students learn about Free the Children and discuss how various global issues are interconnected.

Students learn about Free the Children and discuss how various global issues are interconnected.

During a presentation by Free the Children, the students listed numerous global issues and then were asked how that list made them feel. “Small,” “discouraged,” and “sad” were the most often used adjectives. However, after making connections between the issues and seeing that, for example, supporting girls’ education alleviates poverty and helps stop the spread of communicable diseases, those words changed to “determined” and “prepared,” two words that perfectly describe this year’s group of GYLI students.

These students aren’t going out to save the world. They won’t cure cancer, stop human suffering, or end poverty once and for all, but they’re doing what they can to make our world a better place. They’ve seen inequalities and injustices and want to do everything in their power to help. We cannot wait to see what they accomplish over the next year through their GAP projects and over the course of their lives as they head out to change the world.

If you are interested in learning more about the Global Youth Leadership Initiative, visit our webpage or email Amy Lutterloh at alutterloh@world-affairs.org.