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Let’s Light Up the World

Afiya S. Williams

On a recent rainy day in Brooklyn, New York, I curled up on my couch to scroll through the day’s headlines. As each article seemed to create more anxiety, fear, and confusion, I shifted to my work email at Global Nomads Group, where I am a program manager. I was excited to see a message from Khagendra, a student who recently joined our youth advisory board in my inbox. I clicked on it immediately.

Khagendra is a student from Nepal who recently joined GNG’s youth advisory board. He is a budding entrepreneur with a love for technology, making short films, and teaching himself new computer skills. He wanted to discuss how he might better serve his community during these trying times in world history. He noted that his own love for technology could help him provide support to others who want to learn more about computers so that they might have more employment work opportunities. He wants to make change for the better for his community, his country, and the world more broadly. At 17 years old, he is already a true changemaker with a growing client list of community members.

Khagendra is just one of the many young people that I know through GNG who are making a difference in the world and this is why I love the theme of this year’s Students Rebuild challenge — change-making.

Together with Students Rebuild, GNG is shining a light on people taking action to make the world brighter. We are paying special attention to those who are making positive change in big and small ways. We’ve grounded our understanding of a changemaker in the definition put forward by Ashoka, a global organization that identifies and supports the world's leading social entrepreneurs. Ashoka defines a changemaker as someone, youth or adult, who is taking creative action to solve a social problem.

I’d actually say that every year we celebrate changemakers. Though our work might focus on a critical issue affecting youth, what we truly highlight are the stories and efforts of people who are taking action. And this year is no different. With the world experiencing unprecedented events, pain, and strife, I find myself looking once again to the acts of community and the voices of young people for hope and inspiration.

To celebrate youth changemakers, GNG has created the Changemaker Chronicles. We are excited to focus this challenge on collecting and sharing stories of the people in our lives who are making a difference. This year, youth are our filmmakers. We’re inviting young people across the globe to create short videos that honor someone in their life who is having a positive impact on the world. With the Changemaker Chronicles, we are honoring friends, classmates, parents, and teachers—truly anyone who is doing good in the world.

This has been a year like no other. We are in the midst of sharing one massive, life-changing experience that will permanently impact our reality. We are enjoying less of our out-of-home-lives and managing adjustments in our new at-home realities. Existing global issues like hunger and poverty are exacerbated and already vulnerable populations are facing harsher setbacks at faster rates.

In addition to battling a global health crisis, many of the countries where we live are experiencing social unrest and violent conflicts in response to oppressive political and institutional structures. The times are tough, and far too many people are impacted negatively and in need of help. This pandemic and the concurrent global tragedies have underscored the important fact that despite our race, culture, or location, we are all connected and our survival depends on our collective efforts.

Alongside this surge of difficult events, I am grateful that I am also witnessing an outpouring of empathy, support, and care for others. From the neighborly sharing of home supplies to the emergence of new community initiatives that connect people in need with real solutions, we see that tough times truly can bring out the best in us.

Teachers who were stretched thin before the pandemic are now managing new realities and unpredictable changes in how they need to teach. Activists are facing new challenges as they work to ensure their communities are not overlooked. Young people are designing technological solutions to support elders in their neighborhoods. Once passive citizens are now organizing groups towards change.

The best part about the Changemaker Chronicles is that there is no one problem or one solution that gets the spotlight. Youth can let us know what is important to them by letting us know who inspires them. Though we do not know what lies ahead, we know we can light the way forward with the everyday acts of changemakers.

Invite the students in your life to shine a light on people making a difference. With a quick one minute video, they not only make someone feel special, they also help to spread positivity to others during this challenging time. Their video will join our 10-year-old collection of global stories which demonstrate how anyone can light up the world by taking action in even the smallest ways. Whether youth want to honor an adult role model or a peer like Khagendra, who is teaching work skills to people in the community, their light is helping us brighten the world.