Friends in Johannesburg, Sweden, Indonesia keep young Pittsburgher inspired
I am still being inspired by two experiences with One Young World
My first experience with the youth leadership summit was of course here in Pittsburgh in 2012.
I was already part of Duquesne University's Community Engagement Scholar program as a graduate student in the School of Leadership and Professional Advancement. But after One Young World I got more involved with community service, volunteering at FOCUS Pittsburgh's drop-in center, where I helped to teach a class on how to look for employment. Some of the knowledge I brought back from the Pittsburgh conference helped me help these adult learners, letting them know that there are different resources and tools out there – and that there are places willing to help them do something with the rest of their lives.
I also think it helped me grow professionally, since I became communications manager at UrbanInnovation21
, an economic development organization where we work to connect all of Pittsburgh to the region's success, with several programs to encourage tech businesses to enter particular neighborhoods, and to help Hill District and Homewood businesses.
Then I arrived at OYW Johannesburg in October 2013. It was an overwhelming shock to see how metropolitan Johannesburg, South Africa, really was. My colleagues and I found a shopping plaza nearby – Nelson Mandela Square. With restaurants, souvenir shops and a grocery store, not to mention the Sandton Convention Center (where the OYW summit was held), all attached, I felt right at home, as if this were Pittsburgh.
The OYW summit began at First National Bank Stadium (FNB), Soccer City, in the Soweto area of Johannesburg. I thought Heinz Field was a pretty large stadium, but FNB definitely had it beat. The sound of vuvuzelas being played by local students filled the stadium as the ultimate welcome to the motherland. We were greeted by Katlego Maboe, South Africa’s Expresso Breakfast Show host, and I was extremely moved by his MC skills and wonderful singing.
Each day consisted of sessions on education, global business, human rights, and leadership and government, just to name a few. In the education session, it blew my mind that women in certain countries were still denied the right to an education. Listening to my peers speak about their experiences, the challenges they've faced and their personal growth made me think of how lucky I am, a woman who had the privilege to pursue an education beyond high school and the undergraduate level. There is hope for women and young girls across the world, and I am reminded to raise my voice and stand up for my rights.
This year, the 42 presenters, or counselors, included my favorite, Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, founder of the micro-credit Grameen Bank. I was looking forward to hearing how his organization has continued to make such a huge difference in the lives of underprivileged entrepreneurs. As the summit got underway, I was also anxious to hear such counselors as: Kofi Annan, the seventh secretary-general of the United Nations; Ahmed Kathrada, South African politician and former political prisoner; Antony Jenkins chief executive of Barclays; and Lily Cole, model and philanthropist.
I greatly appreciated Arianna Huffington being able to speak this year in person. Her message was very clear, genuine, and special to me. Get to the top, she said, then "Take a nap!” As passionate as we are about our work, our projects, the boards we may sit on, and the extra-curricular activities we are involved with, it is okay to take a break from it all. This is something that I will continue to share with others: the importance of balancing the three most important things in life, family, work and school. Keeping a line between the three and making sure they don't cross paths with each other is important. We have to take care of ourselves before we can serve and take care of the community around us.
During OYW, I was able to visit the Apartheid Museum, which was breathtaking to learn again about how South Africans dealt with racial segregation. It breaks my heart to even think about it, because I know people who lived through that period of time and have heard stories of their families' struggles.
My colleagues and I were also invited to a braai, or BBQ, by my dear friend, Tshepiso Ramotsehoa, life and business coach at Liqueed Coaching in South Africa. The braai was intended to welcome OYW delegates and ambassadors who arrived in South Africa early. I was able to catch up and reminisce with young leaders I met last year at the Pittsburgh summit. I also met new leaders who are working on really great projects, such as one to take young girls on camping trips for the first time, allowing them to experience a different part of life than they have ever known. I have yet to go camping, but it is definitely on my bucket list.
Traveling to The Cradle of Humankind capped my entire visit to South Africa. Not only was I able to visit the site where at least 40 percent of fossils have been found for our ancestors, but it allowed me a glimpse of the country's rural area – something I had been seeking from the beginning.
Since Johannesburg, one local friend has helped to start a new nonprofit aimed at mentoring young African-American women, and I have helped market it over the last few months. And I am bouncing new ideas off my OYW friends from Sweden and Indonesia. They are doing a lot of health-related initiatives, especially fighting AIDS in South Africa and other parts of Africa. Another OYW friend in St. Lucia has started a program to bring needed items to families devastated in a flood.
It seemed as if I had only been in Johannesburg for a day or two. But I had learned once again the importance of being able to stand up for what I believe in and, if there is something that I don't necessarily agree with, to speak up.
Photographs courtesy the author.