The Next Generation Of Changemakers: Meet Welela!
Sara Billups & Welela Solomon
Through our Changemaker Challenge we are shining a light on young leaders making our communities and world better. This next generation of Changemakers inspires the Students Rebuild team every day and we believe they will inspire you too. Meet Welela!
Welela is a 16-year-old student at Lakeside School in Seattle. We chatted about a changemaker in her life, the importance of compassion, and her vision for a brighter future.
What issues are closest to your heart? What sparked that passion in you for those issues? Health equity, education, and creating equitable opportunities for all people have always been super important to me. I got that spark when I visited Ethiopia in 2011. I was only seven, but that experience had so much of an impact that I still do remember some specific moments where I was just like, “wow, there's so many things that I take for granted that a lot of kids my age don’t have, especially when it comes to education and healthcare.”
So once I came back home and started middle school, I started really understanding how important it is to do community service and volunteer in whatever way possible. I started to take those passions and memories from Ethiopia to drive that ideology.
Tell us a little bit about some of your community service and volunteer projects. Is there a project you are most proud of? One thing I've always been taught is you can always start small. In middle school, I just started by raising money for gloves, because they are inexpensive but crucial medical supplies. And I think that was one of the most important projects for me. It reminded me that, in order to make a difference or to make an impact in someone's life, you don't only have to go all out and think big. You can think about what you actually can realistically do. With the glove project, I really got to experience that balance of being a visionary—but at the same time being super realistic. We ended up sending more than 2,000 medical and surgical gloves to Ethiopia. It was amazing!
What would you say to a peer who is passionate about an issue but doesn’t contribute because they feel like someone else is already doing that? Or feel like there's no room for their voice? Team up and collaborate. I don't know who said this, but there's the idea that when you approach a challenge and overcome it, you always should bring someone up with you.
I think that's just a super important mindset to think about with community service. It's important to have a bunch of leaders together, with different ideas. Every person's voice is different and unique.
I've had so many people that I've collaborated with in projects who have the same type of mentality as me and have the same ideas as me, but the way we approach the project is different. And when we combine our two approaches, it creates something beautiful and even more significant. It can make more of an impact. If you think that you don't have any space, you don't have to worry about that. Just work with that person who already has created that foundation and help them build it up even higher.
There’s a lot of emphasis on change in the United States. Thinking about our current Changemaker Challenge, can you think of a changemaker in your own life who has inspired you?
My mom has played a big role in my life. She helped me start my first passion project back in middle school. Because of that, I started being aware of the privileges I have that may not be as common in underserved communities. And because of my mom, I really started change-making. In our country, there's a lot of racial injustice and white privilege. We have to work together with an open mind and become more aware as people, so we can start to make big differences and have more conversations.
What can educators and other adults can do to better support young people? The best way adults can support teens in their community is by connecting them with others that can help them make ideas even bigger. I mean, I’m a 16-year-old. Finding connected adults with ideas aligned to mine can help me flourish and create that idea into an even cooler thing.
Tell us about your experience with our Changemaker Challenge partner, Peace First. Peace First’s program is probably one of the most amazing things I've participated in, ever. The leadership skills I've been able to hone and the people I've gotten to speak to have been so cool. I’ve begun to set up a project through Peace First that will work with elementary and middle school students in low-income communities of Seattle. Through my project, students will be able to go through a mentorship program where they will learn and hear from adults in different fields of the professional world.
The other teenage participants are just a little bit older than me, have come from different backgrounds, and live in different countries around the world. Being able to connect with other students passionate about community service, leadership, and organizing is so amazing.
I never knew this before, but through Peace First I learned how important self-care and mental health care is while working as an organizer. Because if you're not okay with yourself and you're not comfortable in your own skin, it's going to be hard to bring up others.
At your age—and you may see this among your peers—there are some who will get involved in issues or causes, and others maybe will not. What do you think motivates some young people to take action more than others? Personal life experiences are a big factor. My volunteering road and realization about the importance of community service was because of an experience, visiting Ethiopia. And then family values. You know, I also grew up with the ideology that we have to lift another person up and help others, even if it's small. Just something as simple as spending an hour of your day volunteering at a food bank is super important.
Being compassionate, being kind, and being empathetic are super important. By doing service or volunteering, it will reveal a different part of you that you may have not noticed before. You won't really notice until you actually help another person.
What do you hope for the world in five years? That we are having more conversations. That we’ve actually talked to each other. Right now, we’re so polarized and we're not listening to one another. I mean, not only adults. I feel like as kids, we're always on our beautiful phones. I'm not going to lie. You know, I've been a person who gets super attached to my phone. But, I really do hope that through the pandemic and all that’s going on, we'll realize that there is so much we don't really know about each other or our country.
To learn more about Changemaker Challenge and participate to support organizations (including Peace First) who are working with students like Welela, visit: www.studentsrebuild.org/changemaker