I like to ask older people, “What do you wish you had done in your twenties?” Among many surprising and sometimes abstract answers I receive, the most common is: “go spend time in a foreign country (one that sounds really foreign to you). It will change your perspective about life.”
Late May, a day after my (last) final exam, I boarded the plane to India. Like many people who choose India for a summer vacation, I really had a lot to look forward to (including but not limited to the Taj Mahal).
Except that mine wasn’t a vacation. I was going to help run our very first YLC Conference in India. What a privilege!
The experience was totally unprecedented: I met awesome strangers who didn’t mind carrying my heavy bags at midnight, took long drives, got annoyed by honking horns, ate nice (and I mean really nice) food, survived through hot afternoons, learned to dance the Indian way, and above all, spent time with some of the most brilliant and passionate students of our generation.
Most of these students did not know each other. They all came from different places and high schools in New Delhi and seemed to have totally different backgrounds and lifestyles. However, these students shared a genuine drive for social change. From the very first day of our workshop, I had no doubt that the next 4 days were going to really change my perspective about life.
Throughout the week, I got to sit and moderate conversations between high schoolers about some of the most pressing issues in India. These students knew quite well that the change in their communities can only come about as a result of their hard work and cooperation. I remember staring at one of the students, as she explained the mental health issues facing teenagers in India. When she was done, I felt like I just lived a day in the life of a child with a mental health condition. But more than that, I knew for a fact, that with such passionate servant leaders, it’s just a matter of time before the future of mentally ill children changes.
Friday came very quickly. (Or otherwise, Indian weeks are pretty short.) It was time to sum up a life-changing week. As I sat in the back of the room, thinking of a few words to utter to this small bunch of future leaders, Margaret Mead’s quote crossed my mind: “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”
I stood up, got my group together, thanked them for a week well spent and murmured the quote to them the way I remembered it. I went through a range of feelings as I watched the students internalize that quote. I knew something had just clicked in their hearts. I could see that they were ready to go out and change the world.
As the time got too close, I posed for pictures (which I am really not good at), picked up my bag and left the room with Chris, Tiffany and Kelsey (colleagues who never cease to amaze me). I was sure my life was not going to be the same. I was changed. I was inspired. I was encouraged. I was ready to go change my world. But most of all, I was thankful to LIHC's Youth Lead the Change for giving me the opportunity to do such a meaningful trip.
-Jonathan Iyandemye, YLC India Director