Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Leadership Academy!

Writing this on my way back from the third and final session of YMCA Europe's 2018/19 Leadership Academy in Malta.

Got the call to help out on the facilitator team with Illenia (our Advocacy, Projects and Fundraising Officer at YMCA Europe) being off on maternity leave and feel privileged to have been given the opportunity (even if I am a poor substitute for Illenia!!!).

The project (now in its second year) brings together young people from across Europe to equip and prepare them to become future leaders within the movement and beyond.

The third session kicked off on the topic of communication, introducing those attending to the theory that sits behind it, through to practical tips on things like public speaking.

With these seeds planted, day two and three moved the group into the topics of advocacy and campaigns.

Put into teams, and put through a series of exercises, we tasked the group with developing a campaign from scratch on topics of their choice.

The teams researched the evidence behind their topics, identified solutions and asks, pulled these together in policy papers and then created a social media activations for their campaigns.

With such a big task (and so little time to do it!), you never really know how these things will turn out, but I was completely blown away with what the teams managed to produce.

You'd pay good money to a marketing agency or consultant to create what they did, so I hope one day these campaigns see the light of day. I genuinely think they could stimulate real and lasting change on such important issues as climate change, gender equality, mental health and addiction.

But with anything like this, it is not all about end point, it's also about the journey. To be just a (very!) small part on this journey with young people there was amazing. People from such different countries and backgrounds working together, coming to common understandings and ideas and creating lasting bonds.

Like with any international experience, the welcome and seeing first hand the work of the local YMCAs is always a very special part (plus got another photo of a YMCA sign for the collection!!!).

The work YMCA Malta, and the challenges faced by the people they work with, mirror so closely to work of YMCAs in England and Wales. Given these ties, there must be opportunities for our national movements to work together more closely!!!!

Anyway, I'll stop rambling on, think you get the gist - it was pretty special and am grateful for the welcome from YMCA Malta, the facilitator team, most importantly the young people.

On a personal note, traveling back I feel part broken, part emotional wreck. This might well be my final international experience at YMCA, if it is, I'm glad I got to spend it with such an amazing and inspiring group of young people who epitomise exactly what makes our movement so very special and the part I'll miss most.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Four ways to make the most of your experience at the World Council, after you've gone home

The jet lag has passed, inbox cleared, and I’ve began putting together our Christmas campaign in the middle of this heatwave. It’s easy to return to our day jobs, but I needed to take five minutes to ask myself a question.
In what other organisation, could I, as a 27 year old fundraiser, have an opportunity to sit side-by-side with CEOs, trustees and other young people, and discuss issues that matter?
The answer is none.
The World Council was a forum that allowed me to discuss (and to be listened to), to learn, and at times even challenge. I’m lucky to have experienced it, but how can you and I continue to make the most of these opportunities, after it’s all over?

Make the most of meeting those within your own delegation
I have got a bag full of business cards, and I bet you do too. Now is the time to use them.
For me, meeting colleagues from across the country was invaluable. I was able to find out what they do for young people in their YMCA, what projects they run, and learn about why they are passionate about this movement. I’ve started to plan visits to YMCAs I’ve never been to, and now I know which of my colleagues I can contact, I’ve already got two meetings in the calendar!

 Make the most of having made international contacts
You can experience YMCA anywhere in the world – seize the opportunity!
In Chiang Mai, I met the Chair of the National Board of Korean YMCAs who invited me to meet him during my holiday. Days after the closing ceremony, I was sitting in Seoul, with Anh and Kim of the Korean National Council.
We enjoyed a delicious meal together whilst discussing the campaigns going on in England and Wales, and Kim told me how his father fled the North aged seven, and that the ban of crossing the border had prevented him from meeting his paternal family for his entire life.
Our Korean colleagues explained their hopes to bring a YMCA into the North of Korea. The government forbids South Koreans to cross the border to the North, and vice versa, so there had been meetings in China with North Korean Church leaders. They were passionate about giving the youth of the North the same opportunities as those in the South, who were already able to access the YMCA youth clubs. Their excitement was touching.
They also proudly told me that the current South Korean president, Moon Jae-In, previously worked for YMCA!
With YMCA175 being hosted in England next year, we will all be able to have an international experience at home.

Continue to feel inspired.
Remember what gave you that ‘wow’ moment.
I met a man from a Pacific Island whose main source of income for his YMCA was selling chickens. I met a seventeen year old girl from Hong Kong who came from family living in poverty, who was being supported in her education by YMCA. I met a gentleman from Palestine who talked about the impact of conflict on the young people in his country and how his YMCA was there to support them.
These people are facing different challenges to us, but meeting them made me realise that we’re the same. And we’re all linked by one movement. That was my ‘wow’ moment.

Realise our impact
Our work has an impact on the rest of the world… be proud!
People would explain that in their country they are facing issues such as dealing with an HIV epidemic, child marriage or living in a war zone. I’m ashamed to say I had started to think that people would not be interested to hear about issues being tackled in my country.
But then, Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda's keynote speech changed my mind. She spoke about injustices facing young people including poverty, sexual violence and exploitation. She then went on to discuss that she feels frustrated that tackling mental health difficulties is not prioritised in her country. This stopped me in my tracks - it hadn’t occurred to me that this was a worldwide issue.
We are fortunate to have the resources to do something to help in this country; something that can be shared with the rest of the world. I started to notice people from all continents posing for photos with a circle drawn on their hand, and felt moved.
YMCA’s work in this country is amazing. It took going halfway across the world for me to realise that. And I’m so grateful that I did.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Small Seeds by Stephanie Hillier

We came from all over the world
Into a group we were hurled
We explored stories untold
And watched the ideas unfold

Young people need to lead our service
It’s essential as our communities deserve this

The theme was young people in the driving seat
We welcome their learnings to talk, to greet
Let’s guide them and watch them grow
And their ideas and passion will clearly show

They are the key to prevention
The possibilities too many to mention
Education and mental health to meet Individual needs
Big change will come from these small seeds

With heart at the centre of all we think
We will ensure young people don’t sink
Connect, listen, trust and empower
Young people can stand as strong as the tallest tower

In any language  empowerment sounds like opportunity and hope
Young people, YMCA can throw you that rope
Grow strong and claim your right
The world needs your insight

By Stephanie Hillier
YMCA Norfolk

An empowering Massage (Message)

I was pummelled yesterday afternoon! Taking advantage of a break in the programme and inspired by Duncan and Emma (YMCA England and Wales Board members) I decided to go for my first Thai Massage. Entering the shop near to the conference centre I was ushered into the room where there were other people receiving their very own treatment. An hour later I had been pulled, pushed, thumped, twisted and stretched. I had bones crack that I didn’t know could be cracked and I found soreness that I didn’t know existed until it was worked on. However, despite the workover I emerged feeling relaxed, energised and motivated to return with vigour to the conference.

In some ways the World Conference has been a bit like a good Thai massage. We have been thrown into a room of people we don’t know, we have been challenged about youth empowerment and had our opinions stretched by people from different countries and cultures. We have learnt about things that we didn’t even know were issues but in so doing we have been motivated to return to the UK in the next few days with a fresh energy and vigour. 
So as we approach the end of this wonder World conference I wonder what your ‘take homes’ will be. What is it that you will return to your work in England and Wales with that you have learned and gained from your time in Thailand that you then want to share with your friends and colleagues. For me personally there have been several key things, some of which I thought I would share with you here:
  1. This is an exciting movement to be part of. Whilst many of our Associations in the UK are over 100 years old the work of the YMCA is still expanding and reaching new countries and communities around the world. I was particularly struck by the story of the YMCA in Kosovo which is now older than the country itself, having been established by a 23 year old young lady just 10 years ago!
  2. Mental Health is a global issue: In our small group we have shared the challenges around mental health and how different countries are trying to respond to the challenges. We have talked about how the YMCA can achieve a greater impact by working together, sharing resources as well as a focus to make a difference
  3. Inspired young people create inspiring events: the opening ceremony and the facilitation of the small groups are just two ways I saw the global Change Agents add some creative skills and compassionate heart to the conference. As a English and Welsh movement we need to make sure we continue to put young people at the heart of what we do.
  4. It is our turn next: the next global YMCA gathering is in London in just over 12 months time. YMCA 175 is set to be an important event in London that will connect thousands of young leaders from across the world. We need to follow in the footsteps of the YMCA Chiang Mai in looking to put on a quality event that will have a legacy that builds towards 2044. 
There is much more I have enjoyed, not least the many dozens of YMCA stories from people from countries such as Malaysia, Czech Republic, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Germany, Hong Kong and Japan.

Just as emerged from my Thai massage with fresh energy and I am now empowered to take the message from this land of smiles and conference back to my YMCA in London knowing that there are many others doing the same to all the continents across the world. I hope you do too!

My first YMCA World Council

Written by Richard Hughes

YMCA World Council is a difficult to thing to express in words. But I’m going to give it a try, so here it goes.

The sheer size and scale of the YMCA is truly phenomenal.

I often find myself going through the motions of writing down in reports that we are largest and oldest youth charity in the world and talking about the millions of people we work with each year.

But it is only when you come to World Council that these words truly come to life.

In what other spaces in the world can you sit with colleagues from Liberia to talk about your different experiences of developing a youth manifesto for an election?

In what other spaces in the world can you catch up with colleagues in Uruguay to talk about the stigma that still surrounds mental health difficulties?

And in what other spaces in the world can these conversations happen within a few minutes of each other?

Of course every country faces their own unique circumstances.

But what has been both eye-opening and amazing from World Council so far has been uncovering the common issues and challenges that young people face across the world.

The more conversations I have with my colleagues around the world, the more determined I am to do more.

The next few days I just need to work out how!


Thursday, 12 July 2018

Inspiration & Creating Change

I cant possibly start this blog post without mentioning our defeat in the World Cup last night. As much as it was disappointing, watching the game with YMCAs from across England & Wales created a real sense of unity as we were collectively rooting for England. This made me think that this is similar to all YMCAs working towards the same mission to Empower our youth for good.  It was an experience I will never forget.
Day 4 of the conference started with our group sessions. I know i may be bias but I have been blessed with a wonderful group who are equal parts passion and drive. Today we started by discussing those that we have met through the YMCA that have inspired us. This posed quite the conundrum as so many people have inspired me during my time at YMCA Birmingham.
My managers and colleagues have always believed in me, encouraged me to progress and have the confidence to try new things.
I have been completely inspired by my group at the world council. We have all shared amazing stories about our YMCA and have many similarities regarding our mission to Empower. I have been humbled by the difficulties that some YMCAs face yet the drive and compassion to support their communities, does not waiver. It has made me appreciative and inspired me to want to work more closely with other YMCAs to ensure we are able to achieve the biggest impact.

We also discussed how important it is to ensure we maintain contact and we have even discussed visiting other YMCAs to share our particular expertise.

I am excited to announce that we have created a WhatsApp group in order to maintain contact and continue our conversations after the conference. We will all be returning to our YMCAs to share best practise we have learnt. We want to encourage inter-YMCA communication at all levels. We spoke about owning who you are and what you know and sharing this.

I was also fortunate to pin trade during the group...which I love doing and was gifted a Bombay YMCA t shirt. I love a souvenir!
After group sessions we attended the 'Our Journey Together' and the partnership forum. This was regarding the partnership with YMCA and the Harlem Globetrotters. The presentation was brilliant and what I learnt is that they too have a mission much like the YMCA to Empower people. I especially liked that there is an awareness of gender equality and now one of their most popular stars is a woman. Howard Smith said that they aim to 'create memories worth repeating'. This really resonated with me. To top it off we listened to the stars and how the ymca impacted on their lives in a positive way. I believe we do not always know the impact we can does not necessarily take an army to bring about a positive change. 
The icing on the cake was a sweatband...remember I love a souvenir. 

We have been working hard on our I won't be giving away any spoilers, but we believe our presentation is symbolic of what we are trying to achieve. Watch out for group 14! 

One of my favourite parts of the day is when we get to meet and network with other YMCAs. I find it very powerful and inspiring to listen to others and it spurs me on and makes me proud to be a part of the YMCA movement. This is also a fabulous opportunity to pin trade. 
Would you get the offer of free hugs at any other world council...i don't think so!

The final forum I attended today was Movement Strengthening...specifically about our mission. I left there thinking about why I do the work that I do, why my YMCA does the work that we do. The answer is that we have the drive and determination to make a positive impact on the youth we work with. 
Group 14 #DreamTeam

I cannot wait to get back to my YMCA and share all the ideas I have. This has been a truly inspiring experience, I have a renewed desire to become involved in more campaigns, to build strong networks and to better the work that I do. 
I believe everyone should have the opportunity to attend a world conference. 

Thank you 
Adele Biddle 

Wow what a day!

Wow What a Day
It is now 21:00 and after a very quick shower this is the first opportunity we have had to sit down and think about our blog.

Where to start, well if we are doing things in chronological order we had better start with the group meetings.  For Peter this started with a fascinating discussion about how the YMCA in Chennai are supporting the Tamils, ether returning from Sri Lanka as returners or refugees (it is important to understand the difference between the two) with the refugees needing a lot of support with conflict resolution and training.
Peter was also inspired by Gritt (from Denmark’s) passion to get the young people of Denmark involved in recycling.

Beth felt her group really bonded today.  When talking about the problems facing the young people in YMCA’s globally and the challenges local branches are feeling, the group discovered that from England to Peru, Panama to Sweden, across the pond to Canada and back to Germany and Romania many of the challenges are the same.  Many YMCA’s are beginning to open doors, invite the community in and become more inclusive, but for a lot of the group, really understanding our young people and what they need is a challenge. 
Olivia’s group agreed and recognised that mental health is a real issue across the globe. Feeling as though a high standard of training is a must, to understand the different areas of mental health, but also how to support those who have a mental health illness.
After lunch the YMCA party, which consists of 6 of us, all headed off in different directions to join the group excursions.  After a tour of Chiang Mai walls, Peter’s group went to a temple where he was honoured to plant a tree and as a result become wedded to that temple.

I say honoured but this was not a ceremonial placing a spade full of dirt on prepared plant but 15 minutes of proper graft in the hot sun.  Still it’s a good job done and Peter says he will now need to make regular trips back to Chaing Mai to check on its progress.  I wander if our YMCA will pay for this?
Beth’s group visited the Mon Tha Than Waterfall in Doi Sutep – Pui National Park, followed by a visit to the Buddhist Palad Temple.  Beth really enjoyed visiting the national park and getting out of the city for a few hours.  The nature trail (although muddy) was great fun and the group managed to spot butterflies, dragon flies and some great fluffy caterpillars.  However, the highlight of Beth’s day was the visit to the Temple, hosted by Prof . Dr Wasan Jompakdee from Chiang Mai University and one of the Temple monks.  The Temple was in the middle of the forest, surrounded by natural beauty and the group were taught how to correctly enter and leave a Temple, praying three times, and learnt how to sit correctly, keeping your feet facing away from the front of the temple.  Beth’s favourite quote of the day was from the Monk she met at the temple who said ‘Nature is an international language, listen to the waterfall, birds and forest and hear them, let them become your friends’ – Beth is taking this back to Fairthorne Manor to use with her Forest school group!

Olivia, Georgia and Katy’s group got the opportunity to visit YMCA international centre Chiang Mai where they had a presentation on Human trafficking and how they have been helping to tackle this problem since the new law was brought in, in 2008. They have come up with a great approach to this piece of vital work. After the presentation they got to have dinner with all the delegates in their group and watch a fantastic performance from the change agents.

Before they Visited the YMCA centre, they had a great time at the Elephant PooPoo paper park where they were taught how to make sustainable paper using Elephant poo. They were all very surprised that it didn’t smell bad and no chemicals or machinery were used. They then got to make the paper themselves and decorate their own note book to take home. Overall, they had lots of fun and found it very knowledgeable. This has given them great ideas on how we can use the same approaches within their own, early years and housing, work.

A final thought to end on

That’s it, its getting late and we need to prepare ourselves physically and mentally for tonight’s game.
Come on England
The Fairthorne Team