This piece was taken from The Huffington Post blog. The writer was inspired by the young leaders he came across when he was invited to deliver a keynote speech at the Global Citizen Initiative Youth Summit in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He spoke to our young leaders Abdirahim and Takunda about their definition of a changemaker.
Abdirahim Ahmed Mohamed | Somalia
Abdirahim was not ‘supposed’ to be here. Being from Somalia comes with immediate travel restrictions, even when a person such as Abdirahim is a rising young scholar and invited to participate in the Global Citizen Youth Summit in Boston. “Each time I get deported back, I am basically told I am less of a human being,” he says.
Beyond the politics of his travel restrictions, there are other factors for why it is nothing short of incredible that I am sitting with this 19 year old young leader outside the Harvard Faculty Club in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Abdirahim refused to let his surroundings and the failures of the generations before him define his life path. “My first experience in school was a madarasa… Our classroom was under a tree and we had slates and wood for pen and paper. I used to put sugar in the charcoal and water so that I tasted sugar when I used the pen.”
“I do not know my exact age because of all the fire in the sky,” recalls Abdirahim. He is referring to Blackhawk helicopters. The increasing violence between rival clans, and the subsequent rise of religious extremism constantly displaced Abdirahim and his 29 siblings. The poverty and war surrounding them made it even more difficult to have a consistent educational journey.
Eventually, Abdirahim pushed forward with his love of books and was able to get a scholarship to attend African Leadership Academy in South Africa. “Falling in love with books colored my world,” he says with a smile. He wants to be a leader and symbol of pride for his country, which he feels is lacking in positive symbols to look up to.
I ask him and many youth two common questions: If you had a stage and could say one message to your peers in your country, what would that message be? And what if you had the same stage but could only speak one message to the outside word?
To the first question, Abdirahim says: “There is a lot of beauty in knowing your world. Culture might stop you, but keep asking ‘why?’ and do not be afraid to ask questions.”
To the second question about addressing the outside world, he says something very fitting: “There is potential in our youth and you should not banish my generation for things the generations before us did. Give youth a chance to prove themselves and give them the tools they need to make the world better.”
Takunda Ushe | Zimbabwe
“My meaning in life is instigated by my extended family and loss.” Takunda’s 12 year-old cousin and friend died of AIDS some time back. “That could have easily been me,” Takunda says. “I could have been in her place. That set me on a path to honor her life.”
At 15 years-old, Takunda, a young leader from Zimbabwe, co-founded an NGO called ‘Circle of Influence, Project for Society’. He is mobilizing other interested youth volunteers to get engaged in helping orphans and less privileged youth in the community. Takunda believes in the power of helping one person at a time. Even though he is just a teenager, he is already helping pay the tuition fees for two orphans in school, and collecting stationary at his school to donate to poorer schools.
When asked to define what a changemaker is, Takunda replies: “A changemaker is someone who makes a personal decision for their lives to be a part of the solution…part of the fight for a better world.”
And what if he had microphone to speak to the younger students in his community in Zimbabwe? “I would tell them that we are masters of our own souls. What you do is up to your will. We should not be limited to the situation we find ourselves in. It’s about the action you take from the power within you. We can do what has never been done before.”