Friday, November 18, 2011

World Youth Summit: Barranquilla, Columbia

Seva Football is one of over 15 groups in Edina's Youth Serving Youth program at Edina High School. The program gives students opportunities to develop leadership, community service, and social awareness. 
Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

November 2, 3 am: I woke up. I copied my presentation onto three different flash-drives. I placed one in my backpack, one in my bathroom bag, and one in my back pocket. That way, if my belongings were stolen in supposedly dangerous Colombia, I would still have my powerpoint presentation.

November 2, 3 pm: On the last leg of the flight, I kept thinking to myself, why would there be an international conference for young people in such a dangerous location? I decided I would go to the conference, not talk to anyone, give my presentation, and come back to Edina.

November 2, 5 pm: I arrived in the homeland of Shakira and Sofia Vergara. I was in Barranquilla, a coastal city in the north of Colombia. I’d never seen so many security guards in my life. After going through customs, I saw a sign that read "IAVE World Summit Transportation." I followed the people with the signs onto a bus with fellow volunteers. As I walked down the aisle of the bus, I saw airline tags from South Carolina, Peru, Netherlands, and Poland. The streets outside dazzled with fluorescent lights, women walked in four-inch heels, and the McDonald’s was packed with local teens. When I arrived at the conference hotel, I met up with other volunteers from Minnesota and Canada; we ate a Colombian meal outside in the hot breeze.
November 3, 7 am: I ate a tropical breakfast at the hotel and stepped onto the bus for my first day at the World Summit. The conference was held at a prestigious Colombian university called Universidad del Norte. When I arrived, soldiers guarded the entrances of the university; I flashed my conference ID to get in. All 830 of the conference attendees were in a large auditorium space inside the university. At the front of the auditorium was a big banner that said "International Association for Volunteer Efforts Second World Youth Summit." I went to the table that said "Presenters." I found the room I would be presenting in the following day, and I learned the names of my fellow presenters. After that, the conference officially started. I listened to the president of Partners of the Americas, Steve Vetter, and the founder of Global PovertyProject, Hugh Evans, speak about the importance of volunteer efforts. During a break after these presentations, I got to talk with both men, and I got to meet a ton of other volunteers from around the world. I met a lot of folks from Colombia itself, a few from Peru, many from Jamaica and St. Kits, a handful of North Americans, and some Poles. I realized that Colombia’s citizens were not as dangerous as I thought they were; they were some of the warmest people I have ever met. I knew I would meet many more people from around the world in the coming days. More presentations by successful philanthropists were followed by panels targeting specific service issues. I attended a panel whose presentations were about how to best use social networking to promote service efforts. Following the panels were breakout sessions. In these breakout sessions, all conference attendees were randomly placed in small groups to discuss how to launch an online network of volunteers in the future. During these breakout sessions, I definitely had some of the most meaningful conversations about how to maximize sustainability in volunteering and how to promote volunteering in any given community. Later that night, I watched a beautiful cultural program in which dancers and singers from Colombia performed. I went to bed that night fulfilled, but a little nervous for my presentation the next day.

November 4, 6:45 am: I went downstairs to eat breakfast. Paul Teeple, the director of a multinational organization called A Ganar, approached me. A Ganar uses soccer as a medium to help at-risk youth in fourteen Latin American and Caribbean countries get employed. We had a long discussion about what more my organization could be doing both in the US and abroad. He would also be chairing the Sport for Development panel that I would be speaking on later that day.

November 4, 2:30 pm: It was time for me to give my presentation about my Youth Serving Youth group, Seva Football. In the face of two other multinational organizations led by adults, I felt like a toddler. Regardless, I spoke about Seva and how we use soccer to promote women’s empowerment in India and Vietnam, and how we make those programs sustainable and meaningful. I spoke about our programs in Minneapolis that use soccer to promote school attendance and discourage gang membership among our large Hmong and Latino communities. Mr. Teeple spoke about A Ganar. The other panelist, Jos Dirkx, teaches young women in South Africa about sexuality alongside soccer. Hearing what other people around the world were doing with soccer really warmed my heart. Learning the different ways in which soccer could be used as a meaningful tool for youth development was also very inspiring. After the presentation, what seemed like a hundred people shook my hand and took photos with me. However, one woman, Stybaliz Castellanos, was not interested in taking pictures. She told me about an impoverished community in Manatí, Colombia that had been displaced because of incessant flooding; families were living in tents made of canvas or, worse, garbage bags. Colombia wasn’t just the sparkling streets I had seen; there was a suffering community nearby. Ms. Castellanos told me about how the children there were playing soccer with a dented yellow wiffle ball. I was convinced that Seva could do something to help. Ms. Castellanos was the director of a program called Univoluntarios; it is made up of students and faculty from Universidad del Norte who regularly volunteer in Manatí. We decided Seva would send soccer balls to Univoluntarios to be distributed among pickup leagues in Manatí.

November 5, 7 am: I took a half-day trip with a few other Minnesotans to the historic Colombian city of Cartagena. I saw ancient forts and the gorgeous Caribbean Sea. However, I wanted to go back to the conference. On my last day, I listened to more presentations and had more discussions about service. I shared more experiences with people from around the world involved in innovative service projects. At the end of the day, I watched a Jamaican dance-off and said goodbye to all the wonderful new people I had met.

November 6, 8 am: I packed my things, checked out, said more goodbyes, and snapped a few more photos. I went through customs and boarded the plane. The conference made me really think about how to make Seva’s projects more sustainable and motivated me expand Seva in a meaningful way.

November 7, 2 am: I was back in the frozen tundra of Minnesota. I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth. I pulled out my toothpaste in one hand and a flash-drive in the other. I was reminded about how, in three days, I saw the whole world come together in a single country. My boundaries are no longer limited to Minneapolis or India or even Colombia; I can start more initiatives anywhere from the Dominican Republic to Denmark and continue to promote soccer, knowing I have a network of individuals who will support me.

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