Monday, 14 August 2017

From Stoke to Geneva and the World

From Stoke to Geneva and the World.

Swiss flag flies with Jet d'Eau on Lake Geneva
World YMCA is proud to support four key areas of advocacy to support its goal of empowering young people all over the globe (Health, Environment, Employment & Civic Engagement). These areas involve a ‘World Resource Group’ where leaders and young people share best practices and knowledge to succeed in spreading and supporting YMCAs global youth empowerment impact.
YMCA North Staffordshire

That’s the world, but a little bit about me and maybe, why me? I started in humble beginnings volunteering in my local YMCA (YMCA North Staffordshire) buttering up sandwiches for young people. Eight magnificent years later here I was in Geneva, sitting at a table at World YMCA, meeting with other YMCA leaders from different areas of the world and also in attendance was World YMCA Secretary General, Johan Vilhelm Eltvik. For more than a year, I have been privileged to call myself a YMCA Youth Ambassador. It is a role that has taken me to noteworthy events and places of global importance with an overarching goal of advocating on behalf of all young people.
Back - (Daniel, Myself) Front (Carlos, Lisa, Johan, Nader Lloyd) Outside World YMCA
The next step of my YMCA journey was to join the World Resource Group for Civic Engagement and through my years at YMCA, I have produced a strong passion about young people; how young people engage civically in their local and regional community in addition to their involvement with democratic processes. All the above has been strengthened through my visit to the United Nations ECOSOC Youth Forum in New York as well as attending a World YMCA Programme Innovation Camp (Youth & Parliament).

Swiss National Day celebrations
After a manic rush that preceded my landing in Geneva, I was finally there. From the airport to our meeting point, I was greeted in central Geneva with a carnival atmosphere – literally. Fireworks, people in the streets singing and dancing, a park full of people hovering around a large fire and a small concert. Clearly Geneva and Switzerland put out all the stops as they knew I was arriving, all the fuss wasn’t for the fact it was to celebrate Switzerland’s national day, it was just my welcome party. 

Why play one traditional Swiss horn, when you can play two
Geneva to the World 
We all arrived at World YMCA full of vibrant ideas and concepts that can help shape the way YMCA impacts and supports young people to engage in ethical social action, such action that develops and strengthens young people but also the communities and societies those young people live. We are a small, but growing group, Nader (Middle East), Lisa (USA), Daniel (Mexico), Carlos (World YMCA) & Lloyd (Africa) and I (Europe). We all support and advocate Youth Empowerment: To give youth the platform and tools they need (whatever that may be, depending on the young person’s starting point) to feel needed, trusted, and able to believe in possibilities, to further trust themselves to lead and believe they can make a difference, thereby becoming a change maker in the world. 

Stand and Deliver
The question may be simple but the answers are not, how do we get young people to engage civically? We didn’t converse around a table to make young people see civic engagement as a tokenistic opportunity. We deliberated on how young people need to be better equipped to create positive change through ethical action and how we (YMCA) one of the largest youth organisations in the world can aid young people to achieve that feat. 

A photo in the room, if ever we needed inspiring - 1894 YMCA Jubilee Celebrations at Windsor Castle, England 
It is early days for this Resource Group, but the journey has started. YMCA has a proud and strong history which has created the foundations for present. Now I look to the future. The future is uncertain, the future always will be, however with young people being active in creating positive change, I am optimistic that the future will be a positive and inclusive one. My fellow colleagues and I will take an active approach in making sure this is achieved – buckle up, I’m ready!! Are you? 
Sir George Williams

Friday, 30 June 2017

Change Agent Training in Switzerland - a tale of tents, hikes and an awful lot of rambling.


Beth Mather - Change Agent - YMCA Bolton.

Here is my blog about my recent experience of Change Agent training in Zurich, Switzerland. I'm sure there will be many entries giving you a detailed account of what we did and discussed, so I will try my best to focus on what stood out the most to me in my wonderful experience.

As I finished work at my YMCA the day before my departure to Switzerland for my first international round of Change Agent training, I was filled with nerves, excitement and most of all curiosity. Having attended a few international trips in the past, I was sure I knew the basics of what to expect - as you'll read further down I was definitely wrong.
 My journey was surprisingly hassle-free, travelling on my own for the first time I was sure that I would miss a flight, or end up in a different country entirely! But I made it! Albeit, a sleeping bag short, but that was sorted relatively easily.

When I arrived in Zurich, I was greeted by some fellow Change Agents from YMCA England - Jess and Hannah - and we made our way to the YMCA Centre in Zurich. This actually turned out to be the first test of the trip, turns out none of us were that capable of following directions, but at least we got a nice look around Zurich!

Arriving at the centre, we were greeted by Adi, from World YMCA, and scouts from YMCA Switzerland, and had the opportunity to say our first hellos to the other change agents. Looking back it's surprising how quiet everyone was, that certainly didn't last long!

Our beautiful camp!

Amazing new friends <3
The whole group - what a beautiful bunch of people!**

Then began the first hike. Now, I like to think of myself as quite the capable hiker - I walk around an hour a day for my journey to work and also go on walks through the weekends, but the extra weight from my over-packed bag may have tipped me over the edge a little (or maybe it was the few too many beers I'd treated myself to at the airport... oops). Regardless of my near heart failure - I made it! And the camp was absolutely breath taking! We were able to put our bags down, and then were split in to groups to either set up tents, collect firewood, or complete other tasks that would keep the camp up and running.

Throughout the rest of the trip we had the opportunity to get to know each other, the work YMCA's from across the world do, and discuss how we can all work together to fight youth injustice and make the world a better place for young people.
We did this mainly through talking whilst we hiked, which was a great opportunity to get to know people we hadn't yet had the chance to speak too, and also learn from each other and become inspired through the struggles and triumphs we all face in our work.

There are two particular moments which really stood out to me in this trip, and I would like to share them with you.

The first was our hike and experience of the lake in Zurich. I was able to talk to some extremely inspiring and fascinating people during this walk, learning about issues young people face around the world and the amazing work the YMCA is doing to ensure these young people have the best lives and experiences they can possibly have.
 At the lake we had a barbeque and also had the opportunity to go for a swim! Well, I paddled due to my lack of confidence in my swimming abilities. I like Switzerland and everything, but drowning there didn't seem that appealing - so a paddle was fine. Whilst we were eating, I took a look around the scene that surrounded me. Here I was, in one of the most beautiful places in the world, surrounded by people who were all extremely passionate about and united by one organisation - the YMCA. There is something incredibly special about that for me, passion is a very strong thing to have, and once you find a passion I believe it is important to hold on to it with all the strength you have, because true passions are few and far between. The gratitude I felt then was incredible, I couldn't believe that I had been given this opportunity, and I was (and still am) so so thankful to everyone single person who played a part in to getting me to where I am today. Particularly a youth worker from Bolton YMCA who met me 10 years ago, full of teenage angst and ridiculously coloured hair, and who showed me (and still is continuing to show me) just how amazing the YMCA is. I do not think I will ever be able to thank him enough for this.

The second moment of the trip that really stood out to me was the 'friendship fire'. In this exercise, we sat around a fire and each had the opportunity to get a stick and three leaves. Each person stood up on their own and dedicated the stick to someone who wasn't there, and who had helped them in their journey. The leaves were meant for people who were in the circle with you, and who had really made an impact or inspired you over the past 5 days.
 At first, I found this exercise incredibly difficult - I had met so many amazing people... how could I possibly narrow it down to 3?! It seemed like a truly impossible feat - so I sat and watched as people stood up and expressed their own experiences from the weekend (I did eventually complete the task, had to split a leaf in half though!). Noting people who had made an impact on them, and most importantly highlighting the strong friendships that had been formed in a matter of days. It was incredible to see, and so emotional. I watched people who had struggled with their confidence towards the start, stand up in front of 50 people and talk about their experience and emotions, feeling a sense of wonder that so much can happen in 5 days.
 Now, 5 days can seem an awfully long time when you're having a bad week at work, or even when you are faced with 50 strangers from around the world, but by the end of those 5 days it's clear it really is just a drop in the ocean that never seems to last long enough. There will always be one piece of work left incomplete, or one person you wish you could have spoken too more. But that is the beauty of being a Change Agent in the YMCA. In September, we will all meet again to laugh and create memories, but we will also meet 150 other people who will also share this incredible experience, and I am eternally grateful for this opportunity.*

* As a side note - Any one who has met me and spoke to me knows I ramble - it really is a talent - a talent that clearly comes across in blog form as well! Either way, I hope you enjoyed my account. I thought it better to stop writing before my global link post rivalled war and peace in size.

** Cannot for the life of me sort these pictures out, so apologies for the awful layout!

Thank you for reading! Big love to all, God bless  💕

Monday, 5 June 2017

From Brussels to Bulgaria

When speaking to a young person about the issues they face, or the challenges they foresee in their future, you can almost guarantee that employment is going to be somewhere at the top of their list.

Critically, this is not just among those without academic qualifications, as young people from all walks of life are feeling the pressures of an increasingly volatile job market.

It was with these conversations in the back of my mind that I attended the European Youth Forum’s conference on quality employment and sustainable development as a representative from YMCA Europe’s Youth Policy Group.

Throughout the two days the notion of ‘quality jobs’ came up time and time again. Namely, what does a quality job look like in today’s society, or perhaps more importantly, in tomorrow’s society?

This question is made even more difficult when the issue of sustainability is put into play.

At a basic level, the answer is obvious – both morally, and within the context of Agenda 2030, it is critical that notions of sustainability are at the heart of everything we do, including job creation.

But when I think back to the conversations I have with young people it seems apparent, and perfectly reasonably so, that the needs of the individual often trump those of wider society and the environment.  For those struggling to make ends meet and find their way in the world, it is often a case of a job at any cost.

I think it can be easy to forget these young people as we involve ourselves in policy discussions. As we move towards big principled ideas we can overlook the needs of those we work with on a day-to-day basis and in the here and now.

The challenge we face as influences of change is how to harmonise these two perspectives.

I think it is clear that systematic change is needed so that young people are not faced with the dilemma of whether to choose between their principles and employment. So that sustainability becomes a norm rather than an external concept that only some are able to consider.   

As I work with my colleagues from across Europe in the European Youth Forum’s Expert Group on the Future of Work I hope that we will be able to provide tangible recommendations to help ease the pressure on young people and allow them to make their way in the world.

The future of work is uncertain. However, it is clear that the challenges presented in the coming years will not be confined to the boarders of the England, Wales, or the United Kingdom.

Even in the face of Brexit, we are still inextricably linked to our neighbours in Europe, and indeed the world. As such, we require a coordinated approach to meet the needs of the changing job market.

That is why conferences such as these are so important. They allow young people to come together from across Europe and utilise their shared experience to try and create positive change.

The European Youth Forum’s Conference on Quality Jobs and Sustainable Development may have only been a first step, but it was a vital one. I look forward to taking the outcomes forward with my European counterparts in the Expert Group. 

Friday, 2 June 2017

1st Experience with YMCA Change Agent's

I've put together a small blog of my initial thoughts reflecting on my First Change Agent training in Avignon, France!

Change Agent’s is a YMCA global leadership programme for young people.We covered many subject areas that would enable us to develop, plan and deliver new projects to reach more young people in our communities, YMCAs and countries.

When I think of France prior to the Change Agent Programme - I think of great cuisine, fine art, baguettes, frog’s legs and snails. As you'll read these initial thoughts of France will change on the duration of the programme. 
The first challenge on the Change Agents program was getting there, no direct flights resulted into 2 planes via Birmingham and Brussels to get to Marseille, a train from Marseille to  Avignon and a taxi to YMCA Avignon. The total travel time was 10 hours! 

The first thing I learned on the program was that EVERYTHING IS A TEST, which our leader Adi and Romulo were quick to remind us the group of! 

My initial dismay at the length of my travel was dispelled by my roommate Konrad from Lithuania. It took him some 30 hours to get to Avignon. I quickly realised that the lengths that people had travelled to this programme it was unmissable and a great opportunity to develop my leadership at my YMCA.

Many of the people who I had spoken to about my journey at both my YMCA and friends thought I was going for a jolly in France away from work. I can assure to all people reading this blog that it was not a jolly (although we enjoyed fantastic sunny weather, nice pool and visited the fantastic city of Avignon). We participated in informative workshops focusing on leadership, strategic planning, resource management and the global issues of young people.  

Although these workshops were fascinating, the best part of the programme was hearing the amazing stories of people's journeys with YMCA across Europe. One slight cause of embarrassment for the English contingent was our terrible bi-lingual skills compared to the rest of participants across Europe. I did feel that their English is better than my Brummy. As the next programme is in Portugal & Thailand I may learn some useful phrases.

It was universally evident that despite the vastness of different projects throughout YMCA’s across Europe, the young learners on the Change Agents programme was passionate about seeing change in young people’s lives. I will return to Birmingham fired up to make a difference in my YMCA.

When I now think of France - I think of hope and a desire to see change in the fortunes of young people’s lives!

Be the change.
Communicate the vision.
Inspire impact.

Tom, YMCA Birmingham

Thursday, 1 June 2017

The life of a World YMCA Change Agent Trainee

Engaging with YMCA on an international capacity always captivates me. I find the mixing of shared values and diverse cultures incredibly powerful, to the extent where I become extremely proud and honored to be involved in such a movement. A movement which while 173 years old, is still as significant as the day it was founded in 1844. Avignon, in France, was the setting for a group of European Change Agents to train as global leaders to be the change, communicate the vision and inspire action, so that the next 173 years of YMCA is just as momentous.  

Palais de Papes, Avignon

The time came for me to venture from YMCA North Staffordshire, in Stoke-on Trent. France was the destination for the start of our two-year journey, a journey which will see my fellow Change Agents and I from across Europe, and the world, embark on a shared mission to create change, and spread the positive messages that surrounds YMCA’s movement. 

For the first couple of hours I was making new friends, in total there were 50 young leaders from 22 countries including  Kosovo, Armenia, Syria and Palestine to name a few. It is so powerful to share stories, significant past moments, moments that have moulded us as people and our YMCAs. We were all welcomed pleasantly by YMCA Avignon and YMCA France, we all enjoyed their hospitality, and the interactions with the volunteers of YMCA France.
Welcome message from YMCA France and YMCA Avignon

A session and reflection led by Romulo (World YMCA)

The Change Agent programme is organised by World YMCA. It was introduced in 2012 and is a Youth Empowerment Leadership programme. I am one of hundreds of Change Agents in the 2017-18 cohort. This event in Avignon wasn’t just a big meet and greet, its purpose was to share knowledge of our practices in the countries we represented. We worked in group sessions on issues such as political injustices, global issues (Health, Youth Employment, Civic Engagement, YMCA global governance, our identity as a movement, leadership and strategy planning. Some sessions were led by World YMCA’s Romulo and Adi as well as other leaders in Cedric (YMCA France), Sofia who is a World YMCA Change Agent graduate and fellow YMCA Youth Ambassador, Gerald (YMCA Europe).
Sofia, leading a session on Day 2

The days were long, we started early and finished late but the passion and information sharing  meant that time was well devoted. Even after the official programme was over for the day, conversations and stories ran further into the night. The diversity that runs through YMCA is truly immense. The cultural evening also proves this, this is where we have a chance to engage in songs and dances from across Europe, as we did at another event last year. England’s contribution was a good ol’ hokey cokey, which judging by participation and the smiles on people’s faces, it went down well. 

One of the many traditional dances from the Culture Night
I return to YMCA North Staffordshire with pride, inspiration and hope for the future. I look back through my book that is bursting with notes, ideas, concepts and thoughts. I can sit here reflecting and easily recognise I have developed as a person in less than a week. I know that I can say, evidenced by what I saw and heard that we as a group of leaders can be the change not only around Europe but around the world. 

Some story sharing after dinner with Jonas (Czech Rep), Emma (Greece), Chloe (Sweden), Mike (England), Yauheniya (Belarus) and myself 
Out and about around Avignon with volunteers from YMCA France

In Avignon, we were just one group of Change Agents, we are joined by fellow Change Agents from around the world (Asia, Africa, Pacific, Latin, South and North America) and I can’t wait to meet these fellow colleagues September 2017 in Portugal. 
The whole team in Avignon. World YMCA Change Agent trainees and YMCA France volunteers

P.S Always double check your train journey, so when you board a train anywhere or in my case Marseille, you make sure you don’t end up 214km away and again as in my case in Valence - the complete opposite direction. Four Change Agents leading by example. #BeTheChange 😊 

You can keep up to date with my progress by following me on:
Facebook - Jerahl Django Hall Twitter - @JerahlHall  Instagram - @Jerahl92

You can also follow my local YMCA (YMCA North Staffordshire) 
Facebook - @ymca.northstaffordshire  Twitter - @ymcans Instagram - @ymcans

Thanks for reading, have a great day! Jerahl

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

My first YMCA Change Agent experience

It's quite difficult to find appropriate words to articulate my experiences from Avignon, France; however as a Communications Officer for YMCA England & Wales, I will try my best. As many a blog on this website will tell you, and for some reading this, a YMCA international experience is incredibly powerful – especially your first - and something you will never forget.

Joining up with trainee Change Agents and YMCA France volunteers to explore the city of Avignon.
In unfamiliar territories, with people who are often strangers, from vast cultural backgrounds and far removed from the realms of our comfort zones – one unifying theme becomes apparent quite imminently: a will to empower young people.

These last few days marked the start of a two year journey to become a YMCA Change Agent, and I’m feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information there is to digest and process as I return home.

Change Agent trainees Tom Truman, YMCA Birmingham and Jerahl Hall, YMCA North Staffordshire in the garden at YMCA Avi
Joining me were young colleagues from our national office, YMCAs across England, volunteers and staff from across Europe, Kosovo, Palestine and Russia. In total 22 nations were represented.

As a global leadership programme for young people we covered many subject areas that would enable us to develop, plan and deliver new projects to reach more young people in our communities, YMCAs and countries.

Discussing politics in our respective countries and the impact it has on young people.
This wasn't just a series of PowerPoints and lectures though, as the schedule was full of self-facilitation, delivery by inspiring participants and graduate Change Agents, management of our own learning, and through conversations that would start in the scheduled agenda and often end up continuing until all hours of the night.

However, I believe one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal as agents of change is the art of storytelling. Our first full day began with two hours on the subject. To both share our stories and with space to contemplate how we develop an emotional connection to them - that in turn can, and does, drive change.

Dren, from YMCA Kosovo, and myself.
And so I listened to the stories of what motivates those around me, who and what inspires them and their personal experiences of being a young person in their countries. I learned of political oppression and dictatorships, of fear to speak out, triumph over adversity, of those individuals who we have loved and lost that drives us forward every day.

These anecdotes continued into every aspect of the training, and I'm sure will continue for a long time to come. Stories that truly humbled me, and at times left me shocked, but helped me to develop a much deeper understanding of the diversity and differences in our world.

Change Agents and YMCA France volunteers together

I look forward to new-found friendships growing in the coming months as we now look ahead to our global gathering in Portugal where our Africa, Asia and Pacific counterparts will also join us.

I will return to our National Council offices with pages of notes, a renewed sense of vigour and motivation, ideas for collaboration with new friends by my side, and confident in YMCA’s global potential to be a movement for immeasurable societal change.

Cedric, YMCA France, supported by Adi, World YMCA, to 'Surf the Change' in an exercise of trust led by Change Agents and volunteers from YMCA France.
Be the change.
Communicate the vision.
Inspire impact.

If you want to read stories of young people working with YMCA in England and Wales, head to our website. Discover more about World YMCA’s Change Agents programme. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Experience Penang

 ‘Experience Penang’ is one of the Global Alternative Tourism programmes organised by the Global YMCA in conjunction with their local partners and in this case it was with Penang YMCA.
I spent seven days being immersed in the Penang culture. I experiences floral, forna, food, sights and sounds in a truly wonderful place with quite wonderful hosts.
On my arrival at Penang airport I was met by two super people, Michael Cheong, Programme Executive and Rhona from the programme department who took me to Penang YMCA where I would be staying for the next seven nights. On arrival I was quickly checked into my very comfortable room, got the free Wi Fi codes for the week and was then taken to a local venue were we had some wine. A very welcome rest after some eighteen hours travel.

Although this was a holiday for me, I want to share one person’s experience of the tourism opportunities available through YMCA that at the same time supports the work of local YMCAs. In this blog I don’t want to list everything we did on the holiday but maybe just illustrate some of the highlights.

The Food was abundant. I don’t think I have been offered so much variety of food. Mainly eating from street vendors in local cafes and restaurants. 

My hosts were really keen to offer me as much of a food experience as I could handle. Their kindness was incredible, especially as I am on a mission to lose weight. They were really very patient with me considering the number of times I had to say no.
Even though we mainly ate food from street vendors I did not experience and tummy upsets at all.

In terms of highlights, next to the food was the day spent in Penang Hill. Here we took a vernacular railway up through the clouds and spent the day taking photos of flora and forna.

We ended the day watching the moon rise and capturing the Cityscape with an incredible range of colours in the sky.

On our first full day there was two major religious festivals taking place and in the morning we went to the places where preparations and floats for a procession were being prepared. Later in the evening we watched a cacophony of colour and light pass just outside the YMCA.

During the day and on many of the other days we visited countless temples and museums which really gave me a wonderful exposure to the diversity of cultures and faiths that make up the community that is Penang.

The benefit of being hosted by young people from local YMCAs is you get a first-hand authentic experience from people who live in the communities and whose only agenda is you give you a wonderful experience of their home. They are not in it for commercial gain.

They are not restricted by regulations that doesn’t allow them to take you to certain places or where there is commercial gain if they take you to certain places like restaurants or bars.

It also gives the opportunity to share some of each other’s culture. Michael introduced me to a wonderful little wine bar and I was able to treat him to ‘Afternoon Tea’ at the top of Penang Hill.

We had seven full days of visits at a very easy pace. It truly enabled me to ‘Experience Penang’.

On the last evening we joined a group of volunteers who, every week, feed homeless people on the streets of Penang. It felt a privilege to be given the opportunity to participate.

Finally it was time to depart. I have been involved in YMCA almost all my life, certainly for more than forty years. I should know by now that YMCA attracts wonderful people to work and serve at all levels. Penang was no different. We had been hosted for a special dinner with the Board of Penang YMCA, the CEO gave up an enormous amount of time to ensure I had a great experience and sampled the culture and life of Penang, Janice and Rhona from the Programme department also contributed to the experience I had.

The gem in the whole experience was Michael Cheong, the Programme Executive with Penang YMCA. This is a young man who has been with YMCA in a professional capacity for just three years and personifies everything I have grown to know and love in the people I have met in YMCAs across the Globe. He was there to pick me up at the airport, he was with me every day of my visit, he greeted me every day with the same bright welcoming smile, he introduced me Penang in a way were I felt safe and relaxed and it was very enjoyable. He gave me a number of tutorials on photography and made sure I never ran out of wine. And then bid me farewell at the airport as I was leaving.

It is people like Michael Cheong, Mrs Ong, the CEO, Janice Chong that, together with thousands of others around the world that make YMCA probably the greatest movement that exists today.

The World YMCA runs a series of Global Alternative Tourism experiences each year. Why not jump on board and check these out for yourself. They are open to anyone and not just ‘YMCA’ people.

You will not be disappointed and at the same time you will be supporting the work of local YMCAs

You can get more information here

Finally, during my visit I went to the War Museum and was reminded of some of the wicked things people do to others. Even today we see that happening on a daily basis across the world.

Within YMCA I have found people with good human values who share love and  respect for others. I witnessed this in Penang YMCA. It is people like my hosts on ‘Experience Penang’ who work to make the world a better place.

Thank You!