People will often live up to the expectations set for them, and leaders of youth the world over understand this simple idea. Too frequently, these expectations do not reach beyond circumstances, and young people entangled in poverty can find little encouragement or direction. However, when given the right support and motivation, youth make a difference beyond the sum of their years or situations.
Mark McCord, former Director of the Young African Leaders Initiative Regional Leadership Center in Nairobi, Kenya, sees the possibilities for those not yet jaded by the world and states that “…Young people can be transformative in their communities and countries.”
Mohamed Arshad Ibrahim, Executive Director of the Youth Peer Education Network in Somalia (Y-PEER), understands this as well. Ibrahim, whose organization targets vulnerable youth who might otherwise join militant groups, says “by discussing issues that affect them, youth come up with solutions.”
These solutions vary as much as the stories of the young people behind them. Youth make a difference in ways that speak to the strength that comes from struggle. For adolescents in Gaza, that struggle is 430,000 strong. With that many young people, initiative and opportunity are and become vital to the development of a region.
Sokaina Girls’ School in Deir al Balah City, in the middle of the Gaza Strip, now has a library because of the initiative of some 40 young women. With $300 in funding from the United Nations’ International Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the girls challenged the social attitudes surrounding them, went to the market (for the first time ever) and bought books. With some tables and chairs provided by the Education Ministry, they built shelves from wooden boxes and seats from old tires.
In addition, youth make a difference in the State of Palestine, where UNICEF helps 18,000 disadvantaged adolescents develop through life skills, civic engagement, sports and entrepreneurial initiatives. This library project was part of a larger program that the organization started in 11 schools, involving 1,200 high school students.
The Power of One
Though it has been said that there is strength in numbers, youth make a difference by simply seeing and responding to a need. For Toby Little, a nine-year-old English boy, that need started with a desire to learn more about the world. During his campaign to write to somebody in every country, Toby became empathetic to his new pen-pals.
Soon, Toby found himself working with ShelterBox, a charity focused on providing those in need with aid and essentials, such as:
- Stoves and cooking utensils
- Water purification, and
- Small gifts for children
A Portrait of Promise
Sometimes, youth need a guiding hand to help those in need. Teacher Amy Hall provided just that when she collaborated with Memory Project, an organization that invites students and art teachers to create portraits of abused or neglected children, in order to make them feel valued.
The students in her class chose to work with Syrian children and orphans, feeling that this population would benefit the most from their assistance. For the children in the refugee camps and orphanages, barely having anything, a portrait became a big deal and a reminder of their worth.
Goals for Peace
Youth make a difference in communities such as one in Brazil, where the country’s Goals for Peace project fights against gender inequality. This admirable group hopes to provide opportunities for the empowerment of young girls. For boys like Taniel (18), and Clibson (15), the chance to help is inspiring. Sometimes, just standing with those who challenge the impediments of progress is doing enough. With violence against women acting as an everyday occurrence, a change in the status quo provides hope for a new direction.
The desire to help cannot be quantified in years, and youth make a difference when given the freedom and reigns to do so.
– Daniel Staesser