Youth Empowerment And An Inner Transformation
Posted by Giang Dang on Sep 18, 2018
Growing up with activists as parents (or vice versa), it was the norm to be switching from global politics to - what I ate at school - to why some NGOs need to stop relying on donors so much to - “can we go to the beach tomorrow?”. I read whatever my parents read, from pretty early on and I guess that shaped me into who I am now and shaped my views of the world greatly. ~But my family was my world~, things were simple.
Looking back, it probably was around 6th grade when I started really feeling overwhelmed by outer forces. I read Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn and my bubble burst. To be aware of so much suffering in the world that before didn’t cross my mind. I started getting into feminism and women’s rights, I had weekly coffee meetings with my teacher discussing gender issues and women in history. It was all very exciting and scary at the same time.
During a trip to Bali, (with the lovely ladies in my family!) I had the chance to visit the Green School and learn about their education philosophy. I was absolutely blown away and confused as to why every other school hadn’t yet adopted their model. I wanted to garden, to invent, and to see my inventions come to life.
In Bali I learned about the two young change-makers Isabel and Melati, leaders of Bye Bye Plastic Bags, and was incredibly inspired by all the things they’d done at such a young age. I wanted to do all these amazing things too! I wanted give a TED talk! (When I found out my mom had also given one it only hardened my determination)
So whilst feeling completely crushed by the weight of the planet and the things (I felt like) I had to do to save it, I found myself role models, people I wanted to be like. I alternated between periods of feeling lost and times when I felt a sense of purpose.
7th grade, a few friends and I started an after school club called the Green Shoots Earth Ambassadors and we kicked off with an anti-plastic straw campaign. I was and still am in pain whenever I see the beaches covered in plastic, it really was a slap in the face to see all the coral pieces we loved to collect disappear from Cham Island. We started out as a group of 5, me being the only one over 12. Surprisingly, at the very beginning we were almost all girls, with big dreams, big visions to rid Hoi An of all its single-use plastic.
We learned so much last year. I didn’t enjoy being a leader as much as I thought I would, saving the planet was a lot of work already. But I noticed the little ones looked up to me just as I looked up to my parents and Melati. We made many mistakes, (we still do!) but it was and is such an empowering experience. I am so grateful for the young ladies’ critiques, ideas, and the youthful spirit they bring to our sessions together. Now, Green Shoots Earth Ambassadors has transformed to less of a leadership model but instead a “laddership”, we support, we share what we know, and we teach each other (and the teachers too).
I’ve learned that there are different forms of activism, no matter how small. From changes I within myself like practicing stillness through mindfulness sitting to switching to a more conscious vegan diet, activism has become so much more than what I want to do, because of the people I look up to. Beyond that, activism will become what young people are. It’s our planet after all, we’ve inherited it from our parents, wounded, and it’s up to us to heal.
Joy, to me is connection with nature and loved ones. I can’t think of anything more exciting than a room full of young, innovative, open-minded and determined people. I am so grateful to be able to grow up in such a beautiful place, surrounded by loving family and friends. Being so lucky comes along with gentle reminders to give back to mother earth and share what I know and what I have with others.
And to be kind, I’ve learned that it’s not the big, grand things that bring true happiness, it’s the little things :) I hope to grow and strive, to learn, there is so much I’m yet to know.