When I first started as the Youth Outreach and Marketing Coordinator at Plan, I thought that I was going to have to work hard to get teenagers interested in global issues. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was wrong — that is, I was wrong to think that teenagers weren’t interested. They were. They told me, though, that they just didn’t see what they could do in order to really (honestly, seriously) make a difference. How could they make a dent in something as big and complex as global poverty, gender equality, or clean water? It was, and still is, pretty daunting.
That’s me with youth activists and Plan staff from El Salvador in Washington, D.C., who participated in the 2012 InterAction Conference.
They also told me that they get a lot of messages that discouraged them from contributing solutions to world problems. For example, they heard that they are too young. Or told that they are naïve. Or that teenagers—their entire generation—were lazy and apathetic, so why bother?
Those messages are wrong, too. As Plan’s youth programs have proven to me, there’s no reason why teenagers cannot, or should not, be a part of our work to create a world where all people live in just and sustainable societies. They have extraordinary vision, skills and voices to offer the world. They are powerful—if only we don’t discourage them from speaking up and taking action. That’s why we offer them steps to take, and ways to get involved, so that they can see themselves as changemakers.
Me again, with the youth leaders nominated by Mayor Angel Taveras to attend the 2012 YUGA Leadership Summit–as well as their teachers and guidance counselors who were there to support them!
I’m honored to have worked alongside young people at Plan. I got to collaborate with them in many ways, from helping them share their stories on our blog to strategizing with them for their awareness-raising campaigns in their schools. I’ve found that they have a unique perspective on our world—a perspective that’s more flexible, more optimistic, and more oriented towards justice than many of the adults I know.
I admire the energy and enthusiasm of the activists in our programs, as well as their earnestness. It’s not that they’re ignorant of what they’re up against; it’s just that they refuse to give up in the face of challenges. Once they know that others believe in them—organizations like Plan and the Youth Engagement and Action Team that I’m a part of—then they can believe in themselves, too. And the results are amazing.
I loved to see a young man planning a Walk4Wells campaign with his YUGA-affiliated student group in Connecticut. I smiled when I had a long conversation with a young woman in Texas who’s passionate about fair trade and who wants to connect with students in El Salvador through the School-2-School Linking program. And I got even more pride when I think of all the activists who took part in our YUGA Summit in previous years, and the great things that they have yet to do in their communities all across the United States.
With Plan Staff at an elementary school in Washington, D.C. that was putting on a Walk4Wells for the National Day of Service!
It can be hard to look beyond a young person’s doubts and insecurities to see his or her potential. I know this from experience. But we want others to see the potential in us, too, and so we owe it to them.
And so, in honor of International Youth Day on August 12, I encourage you to grant more power and more responsibility to the young people in your life. Trust them. If you’re a little uncomfortable, that’s okay. It’s just your adultism slipping away. Offer them opportunities for empowerment, and support them as you do, and I guarantee that they will surprise you, delight you, and inspire you.