I recently gave a keynote speech on storytelling for changemaking and #MeWeSyria at the Global Citizen Initiative Youth Summit in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was a special opportunity to meet some incredible young social entrepreneurs and scholars from all over the world. We explored the definitions of 'changemaking', and addressed the social issues that most affect them.
As the world observes International Youth Day this week, I wanted to feature the direct voices of young changemakers who are unafraid of challenging the status-quo, who refuse to accept the way things are, and who are innovating alternatives for fighting poverty, discrimination and environmental degradation.
Abdirahim | Somalia
Abdirahim was not 'supposed' to be here. Being from Somalia comes with immediate travel restrictions, even when a person such as Abdirahim is a rising young scholar and invited to participate in the Global Citizen Youth Summit in Boston. "Each time I get deported back, I am basically told I am less of a human being," he says.
Beyond the politics of his travel restrictions, there are other factors for why it is nothing short of incredible that I am sitting with this 19 year old young leader outside the Harvard the Faculty Club in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Abdirahim refused to let his surroundings and the failures of the generations before him define his life path. "My first experience in school was a madarasa... Our classroom was under a tree and we had slates and wood for pen and paper. I used to put sugar in the charcoal and water so that I tasted sugar when I used the pen."
"I do not know my exact age because of all the fire in the sky," recalls Abdirahim. He is referring to Blackhawk helicopters. The increasing violence between rival clans, and the subsequent rise of religious extremism constantly displaced Abdirahim and his 29 siblings. The poverty and war surrounding them made it even more difficult to have a consistent educational journey.
Eventually, Abdirahim pushed forward with his love of books and was able to get a scholarship to attend a high school in South Africa. "Falling in love with books colored my world," he says with a smile.
He wants to be a leader and symbol of pride for his country, which he feels is lacking in positive symbols to look up to.
I ask him and many youth two common questions: If you had a stage and could say one message to your peers in your country, what would that message be? And what if you had the same stage but could say one message to the outside word?
To the first question, Abdirahim says: "There is a lot of beauty in knowing your world. Culture might stop you, but keep asking 'why?' and do not be afraid to ask questions."
To the second question about addressing the outside world, he says something very fitting for this week as the world observes Youth Day: "There is potential in our youth and you should not banish my generation for things the generations before us did. Give youth a chance to prove themselves and give them the tools they need to make the world better."
"My meaning in life is instigated by my extended family and loss." Takunda's 12 year-old cousin and friend died of AIDS some time back. "That could have easily been me," Takunda says. "I could have been in her place. That set me on a path honor her life."
At 15 years-old, Takunda, a student from Zimbabwe, co-founded an NGO called 'Circle of Influence, Project for Society'. He is mobilizing other interested youth volunteers to get engaged in helping orphans and less privileged youth in the community. Takunda believes in the power of helping one person at a time. Even though he is just a teenager, he is already helping pay the tuition fees for two orphans in school, and collecting stationary at his school to donate to poorer schools.
When asked to define what a changemaker is, Takunda replies: "A changemaker is someone who makes a personal decision for their lives to be a part of the solution...part of the fight for a better world."
And what if he had microphone to speak to the younger students in his community in Zimbabwe? "I would tell them that we are masters of our own souls. What you do is up to your will. We should not be limited to the situation we find ourselves in. It's about the action you take from the power within you. We can do what has never been done before."
"I never knew what gender inequality was because I was raised in an all women run household. I started noticing gender inequality when I started going to school actually," Nuhamine says.
Nuhamine explains that only 18% of young girls in Ethiopia are in school, with 82% out school. She wants to launch her own social venture that creates women-led youth mentorship for girls to keep that 18% in school and pursuing their dreams.
For Nuhamine, there is immense responsibility she carries with being a part of the 18% of girls in school. In her eyes, 82% of her country is depending on her and peers to use an education to improve their communities.
But according to Nuhamine, traditionally girls in Ethiopia are more encouraged to get married and do household chores than they are encouraged to perform well in school and pursue their dreams. With her mentorship web platform idea, she wants to inspire girls with real-time female mentorship and fight social inequality.
A changemaker for Nuhamine is defined by his or her courage. "A changemaker is someone who has courage to not follow a pessimistic view and the courage to say no and take initiative," she says.
Her message to her fellow peers in Ethiopia is simple yet powerful: "Love yourself."
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Above, a new Youth Venture video where more young game-changers explain their changemaker journeys and what changemaking means to them.
One of the biggest needs expressed by youth is the need for technical expertise for launching and sustaining their own social innovations and ventures, and most importantly, they need mentorship and positive role models to help them on their changemaker journeys.
To truly advance people and protect our planet, the entire youth ecosystem--teachers, parents, employers and institutions--needs to step up to value an support young changemakers, and better ensure youth are integrated in decision making processes at home, in the classroom, at the office and in policy making arenas. Let's build a world with more Nuhamines, Abdirahims and Takundas. Let's build an 'Everyone a Changemaker' world.
Mohsin Mohi Ud Din is the Director of Storytelling for Ashoka's Youth Venture and the Founder of the MeWe Storytelling Initiative (#MeWeSyria). Follow him @mohsindin. Follow Youth Venture @Youth_Venture. Support Ashoka here. Check out Ashoka's Youth Years team here.
Learn more about the Global Citizen Initiative Youth Scholars and support their important work. Follow the young scholars' projects here.