In June of 2015, I was given the opportunity to lead a group of young people on a 17-day journey through Uganda and Rwanda. The pinnacle of this life-changing experience came during the two-day youth summit that we facilitated at the Entusi Resort on Lake Bunyonyi in southern Uganda. At this summit, thirteen American students from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New Orleans collaborated with fifteen students from the Sonrise School in Ruhengeri, Rwanda to discuss how to be a community leader and create sustainable community development and change at home as high school aged students.
Prior to embarking on this cultural exchange and leadership opportunity, I participated as a volunteer with City Year in Denver, Colorado. City Year taught me many things about myself, the Denver community, and the impact that young people can have on the greater, national scale. One of the ten core values of City Year is: “Belief in the Power of Young People: We are committed to harnessing one of the most powerful forces for positive change at work in the world today.” The youth summit at Entusi exemplified exactly that value, but on a global scale. I saw students from different corners of the world discover the similarities between the difficulties that their communities face; I saw these students connect and understand each other’s experiences on a deeper level as they discussed the stereotypes and realities of living in North America and Africa. In the end, each student created a community change model that outlined an issue from their home community that they were passionate about changing as well as their concrete plan on how to implement change as a high school student upon their return home.
This experience gave me immense hope as well as impressed upon me the extreme importance of cultural exchange and youth empowerment, especially in the political climate today. Now as a member of the Greenheart Exchange team, I see my own belief in the power of young people playing out as I hear the positive stories of Greenheart participants not only learning more about American culture first hand but also sharing their culture with their host communities across the United States. I truly believe that my idealistic outlook on cultural exchange is based on the reality that I see on a daily basis when I hear our participants’ stories. It brings me enormous hope for the future of our country and our world that young people continue to be curious and brave enough to step outside of their comfort zones as they clearly have to ability to positively transform the tumultuous world in which we live.
Do you believe in the power of cultural exchange and empowerment? Then apply to join us for the Summer Work Travel program!