Changing the world sounds like a lofty task, one that no person in their right mind would say that they could reasonably accomplish during their high school careers, most not even in their entire lives. This is the attitude I had until I joined YouthRoots. I figured that if I could do something in my life that felt like it was helping someone, that would be good enough. If I could major in something in college that at least had a positive impact on those around me then I was doing what was expected, maybe even more when compared to some. But I quickly learned that I was all wrong.
When I went on a retreat with YouthRoots, a super cool organization that is all about teens changing the world while in high school, an idea that at the beginning of the weekend sounded crazy, but by the end of the weekend sounded much more attainable. The weekend started out with the practicalities of how we would go about changing the world, lessons on philanthropy and how YouthRoots and the organizations that we would interact with are set up and run, and how that affects the flow of money from them to us and from us to the communities that we aim to help.
We then started to get into the good stuff, the stuff about how the teens ourselves had the skills to do what needed to be done, about our leadership potential and capabilities, about our strengths that we brought to the group and could continue to work on throughout the process, building us up until we thought we could really change the world. In the middle of the weekend we talked to a man named Paul, who has started some really amazing organizations in India and Nepal. He discussed with us passions, and how we could take the things that we are passionate about and turn them into practical jobs, ways that we could use what we love to do to change the world. Though that was the topic of his lecture, the thing that most stood out to me was how he described changing the world. He said, “there isn’t one world, just 7 billion people’s perception of it. So, if you can change how one person sees the world, you have changed the world.” These sorts of goals also tied into the Ted Talk that we watched on “lollipop moments.” The speaker discussed how on the first day of college he was handing out candy and was joking with the crowd as he was supporting a cause. One joke that he made included a freshman, whose parents were there to help her move in. She later told him that that moment changed her life and made her confident that she could handle college. This story gave me, and everyone in our group, an amazing understanding of how a little moment could change someone’s life forever. The speaker also said that he had no recollection of that moment, meaning that he didn’t realize he was having any effect at all on someone else’s world, he was just trying to make someone smile.
Thinking about changing the world as a teenager can be terrifying. I don’t know anything about the world, so it’s hard to think about trying to change it. My view of other cultures has been limited; though I have gotten the opportunities to travel I have rarely ever immersed myself in cultures other than my own. I have seen relatively few places and know little about many people’s life stories, I don’t know much about how religion plays into people’s lives, or how to make scientific discoveries that can cure cancer, but I do know how to make someone smile. I know how to help someone through stress or sadness, how to pick someone up when they are down, dust them off, and send them off with a well timed sarcastic comment. These aren’t skills that we think of when we think of what could change the world, but they may be more important than many others. It isn’t up to large corporate owners or well known scientists to make change in the world, it’s up to us, armed with smiles on our faces and love in our hearts, to change someone’s world in the ways that we know how.
These are the lessons YouthRoots has taught me, but they have also given me the skills to create foundational change. Expressing my passions for issues facing people my age and creating or funding ways to solve them gives me more devices to inspire change, in one person’s eyes and in the community as a whole. YouthRoots gave me knowledge, skills, and inspiration, so that I, even as a teen, have the power to change the world.