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.
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.