Thank you to The Body Shop, our 2020 sponsor of the Youth Leadership Academy, for helping girls dream big.
I have always aspired to create a community that embraces differences and promotes equality for all. Having grown up in a small town where traditional values and routine lifestyles prevail, I never knew where to find support in turning that ambition into action. But when I came across Plan International USA’s Youth Leadership Academy (YLA), I knew it was the perfect opportunity for me to build my leadership skills and learn more about myself and the person I want to be.
My week at the YLA was life-changing in so many different ways. Apart from my leadership development, I was surrounded by students my age, who like me, are passionate about cultivating change in their community. Traveling across the country to the nation’s capital for the YLA was overwhelming at first, but as soon as I connected with my peers, I felt more at home than I had ever felt before.
The YLA’s workshops and sessions helped me think critically about the type of leader I am and how to better work in a group environment. Plan’s staff emphasized that everyone is a leader, and everyone leads in different ways. This idea really resonated with me, because I always thought that group work had to be done with one person in charge. Now I know that it’s most important to understand everybody’s unique leadership styles to utilize their full potential.
Aside from better understanding myself, the YLA provided me with the resources to help me create a project that I could take back to my own community. I learned from my peers that their high schools had feminist or women’s clubs, and so I thought, why shouldn’t mine? This was something that I had always wanted to do in my own community, but I never had the support or courage to do so. With help from my assigned YLA mentor, a Youth Advisory Board member with Plan, and the network of support created as a result, I took this idea back to my school. I launched the first Women’s Empowerment Club, dedicated to empowering women across our campus to do things that they wouldn’t have imagined possible before.
At the weekly club meetings, I lead a group of students in activities to educate and inspire us to use our voice and skills in our community. These activities include spreading awareness through social media and watching TED Talks about motivational women who have made changes. I also lead group discussions about what we all took away from the content. Throughout the upcoming year, we plan to attend San Diego’s annual Women’s March, and host a drive so people can donate feminine hygiene products for a local women’s shelter.
The YLA allowed me to realize my potential and find the courage to create something in my community that I never thought I could have done.
While doing so, I’ve become part of a strong network of support with the YLA members, who have become some of my closest friends. I continue to be inspired by them, and I will continue to strive to make my community and our world a better place.
Bailey is a senior in high school in San Diego, California. In the summer of 2019, she attended Plan International USA’s Youth Leadership Academy, which allowed her to expand her knowledge regarding youth leadership at a local and global level. Bailey has a passion for social and economic justice, gender equity, and environmental sustainability. In 2020, the Youth Leadership Academy virtually convened 62 diverse students to address social issues, build a network and create projects to help communities. The YLA was made possible through the support of our 2020 sponsor, The Body Shop.