A Summer With Plan

by Because I am a Girl

My name is Brenna, I’m 16 years old and I was a participant at the 2013 YUGA Leadership Summit. This was my second time at the summit and after doing many exciting things with Plan this past year, I was looking forward to coming back to where everything had started just a year before. My summer fun with Plan actually started five days early. I was privileged to be chosen to represent Plan International USA as part of the Plan delegation for Malala Day, Malala’s 16th birthday when youth would take over the UN demanding that the international community make education for all their first priority. I met so many amazing youth, many of whom would be attending the summit as well. I was so excited going into the summit to continue working with them and getting to know them.

There were two workshops during the week that were the basis for what I took away from the summit. The first was called “Seeking Equality and Peace,” where we explored discrimination, prejudice, stereotypes, and different types of oppression. During one of the activities in the workshop, we got to experience how it feels to be affected by negative stereotypes. One interesting activity was “The Culture Walk" where we were able to hear from different groups about the truth behind the stereotypes they are normally associated with. This workshop showed me that no one wants their identity to be reduced to a stereotype. We all take pride in whatever parts of society we identify with, whether it’s with males, females, LGBT, Asians, Latinos, or mentally ill or disabled. We want to feel comfortable embracing what makes us different and interesting, but we also want to feel connected to a larger group. This idea unites us, because we all want and feel the same things, just through different experiences.

These ideas were reflected in a workshop later that day presented by the group Regarding Humanity. They work to raise awareness about the importance of advocating for the poor in a way that upholds their dignity and agency. They want to replace “poverty porn,” media that exploits the condition of the poor for interest or money, with a more complete story of their lives. The previous workshop helped me understand why this was so important. No one wants to be defined by any label someone else puts on them. The poor don’t want to be defined as sad and hopeless; they are much more than that. They have dreams and aspirations and they make the most of what they have. To truly help others, we have to embrace this idea.

From these two workshops, I was able to see how important it is that we all take time to understand other culture and respect any differences. It’s more hurtful to society than we can ever imagine when we stereotype. We suppress so many unique contributions of different groups. We could reduce oppression and conflict if society as a whole was more understanding and open-minded. The gifts of being open-minded were driven home by the friends I made during my time at Malala Day and the summit. In just ten days, I made amazing friendships with girls who lived so far away and who were from such different backgrounds. Besides these differences, in the end, we didn’t feel much different at all.

Understanding different aspects of global issues will always be important to the work of YUGA, Plan, or any NGO. But, only when our work on these issues is driven by global citizenship will we truly be advancing the lives of those we want to help.