It’s rare in life when you realize that the moment in which you’re living is irreplaceable, and that you’ll never have another one like it. Yet, this is how I felt during my second Global Youth Advisory Panel (GYAP) meeting, and it’s how I feel every moment I spend on the GYAP. It’s largely because of the people and the incredibly inspiring work that everyone is doing. I am incredibly blessed to be given the opportunity to sit on such a panel, and am forever grateful to Plan for creating an environment of passion, energy, inspiration, and joy (and for letting me be a small part of it).
Being part of the GYAP is a constant reminder that despite the horrible things that we may see on the news, the struggles that people may face, or the atrocities that may be occurring, the world is filled with passionate, dedicated young people who care deeply about others and are doing incredible things to show it.
The Salvadoran Youth Advisory Panel members that we visited, for example, work tirelessly to empower young people, to end gender-based violence, and to connect with young people across the world, despite the fact that they can only access their Plan offices during certain daylight hours because of gang violence and other community challenges. Other sources of inspiration include colleagues who travel several miles in the early morning or late night just to access WiFi so they can make our bi-weekly Skype calls; lead campaigns during deadly Ebola outbreaks; or advocate for reproductive health rights despite governments that often aren’t willing to cooperate. And the Plan staff members I have been so fortunate to meet and work with, who are all tireless advocates for youth, support us, go above and beyond to make sure that we are comfortable, and ensure our voices are heard at all levels of Plan’s Federation.
Likewise, I am always amazed (but not surprised) by the welcoming and positive atmosphere that exists among young people who work with Plan, wherever they are in the world. Despite our very different life experiences, extreme language and cultural barriers, and varying stages of jetlag, we are all able to work together instantly and enthusiastically. When visiting the El Salvador office, for instance, we were immediately welcomed with icebreakers (a Plan favorite, of course), singing in Spanish, and dancing. And, somehow we all felt at home despite the fact that we had been there for less than 10 minutes. The next minute we were discussing heavy topics such as corruption, domestic violence, gangs, and harassment (in more than five different languages, by the way), all while managing to laugh with and learn from each other.
When sitting in my university and living in fast-paced Washington, DC, it can be easy to feel disconnected from the work, to forget the impacts of the GYAP and all of Plan’s other incredible youth engagement programming. But being able to connect with my friends and colleagues from around the world every two weeks over GYAP Skype calls is a constant reminder of the awe-inspiring work that is being organized by young people all over the world. Although WiFi access, time differences, and Skype problems may make our calls a bit hectic at times, I am so lucky to be able to talk with my friends in different countries and work with them to influence Plan’s global youth programming.
Being on the GYAP has allowed me to meet people from every corner of the globe with whom I usually wouldn’t connect – from Guatemala, to Sweden, to Uganda, to India. I am well aware that this is something that doesn’t happen to most people, and I am so lucky to have made such deep friendships. But meeting all of these marvelous young people is also quite bittersweet. I know that I will (probably) never see some of my friends again after they step down from the GYAP. Despite this, we are all continuously inspired by one another, and I know that our time on the GYAP has shaped who we are as people, has changed the way we view the world, and will continue to leave lasting impacts on our lives.