Last month, I closed out my four years on the Global Youth Advisory Panel (GYAP) standing in a circle of new and old friends. I have called some friends for many years and have gained a tremendous amount of wisdom, courage, and joy through their company. Others I met for the first time two days ago, but we established a meaningful connection quickly, over a game of “zip, zap, zoom.” Now, I’ve left this circle to make room for another round of dedicated and amazing young people.
Three words come to mind when I reflect on my time with the GYAP: friendship, change, and challenge.
Friendship. GYAP members are more than colleagues. They’re more than just a group of young people and supporting staff that come together to discuss what governance should look like for Plan International. Instead, we are friends, friends who automatically reconnect after not seeing one another for over a year. Friends who share their hard times, like the death of a family member, community violence, and stressful exams, knowing that the others will support and comfort them. It is this kind of friendship that makes the GYAP strong and seamless. I’ve learned that when teams are made of friends, work is fun, and goals are accomplished with everyone’s input.
To me, the special moments with the GYAP are when we come together and share stories. I feel fortunate to be surrounded by so many diverse people, each with a different life story that can be heartbreaking or comical, but always uplifting and inspiring. I’m grateful to Plan for supporting our interactions and connecting me to a network of young people that gives my life perspective.
Change. I look back on all the meetings, phone calls, and emails the GYAP had and marvel at how much we accomplished. We were able to design a new policy for Plan International to establish Youth Advisory Panels (YAPs), to give the young people it serves a meaningful voice in decision-making. We set out to establish three YAPs, but now 40 Plan countries have YAPs! Young people’s voices have reached the Members’ Assembly, influenced high-level conversations around Plan’s new strategy and Theory of Change, and been heard at senior-level meetings like the Global Leadership Conference. We are stronger than ever!
Challenge. The changes we sought did not come easily. Through our work, I became aware of the stickiness of Plan’s bureaucracy and the challenges that come with shifting the mindset of the organization to make space for young people. I sometimes felt very small in a room of adults and frustrated when the needs of young people were overlooked in various forums. But I always felt supported by the GYAP and our staff. By the end of my term on the GYAP, I gained the confidence to address an audience of Plan staff with ease and pride. I’ve learned that fighting for what you believe in is always worth it. In fact often what we perceive as a battle really just calls for an honest, open dialogue.
While, I’m stepping off the GYAP, I’ll still be involved as a board member for Plan International USA. I’m thrilled to begin this next chapter, where I will apply the lessons and stories learned from my time with the GYAP. I’m happy to continue bettering the lives of children and youth in partnership with an organization that has shaped me into an empowered, confident, and dedicated young person.