To tell you the truth, I had absolutely no idea what One Young World was until Tuesday, September 27th, when I arrived at volunteer orientation. I remember reading about the volunteer opportunity from my editor at Wingd via email, or Facebook post, or maybe it was a text message… What I know for sure is that two weeks prior to the One Young World summit, I agreed to volunteer on the social media team, despite the fact that I had absolutely no idea what I was signing up for. I even tried backing out of volunteering at the summit the night before because, at the time, I could not justify missing a couple days of school.

Everything changed on Wednesday when I saw the line-up of keynote speakers. Everything changed when I started meeting delegates and asking why they were attending the summit. Everything changed when the magnitude of this once in a lifetime opportunity dawned on me. On Wednesday afternoon, I pressed pause on my life, laced my Nikon camera around my neck, and didn’t look back.

oyw 2016

These are the lessons that struck a chord with me over the summit.

  1. Holding a camera in your hand is a tremendous conversation starter (and unparalleled networking tool).
  2. Climate change isn’t on your mind until It’s the only thing on your mind.
  3. Women are the most under-utilized resource in the world.
  4. Individuals should be defined by who they are, not who they love. As long as people are living ethical and happy lives, it’s no one else’s concern.
  5. Refugees are humans, like the rest of us. They are just people who have been dealt a different hand from life’s deck of cards.
  6. Extremism is fuelled by fear.

extremely together and kofi annan

I’d like to elaborate on this lesson in particular because I was surprised by how extremely fascinated I was with regards to everything peace and security.  Attending a French Catholic high school in Southwestern Ontario, it’s fair to say that I was sheltered from the social dynamics of the outside world. Extremism had never occurred to me. ISIS had only crossed my mind as a far off threat. It wasn’t until I heard from   Extremely Together: A Kofi Annan Foundation Initiative , that I came to understand the serious reality and allure of extremism worldwide.

The words of one Extremely Together member, Fatima Zuman, will forever be engrained in my brain: “education is my battlefield”. Extremism is what happens when individuals are infused with negative messages for long periods of time. The Quilliam Foundation and #ExtremelyTogether are two organizations that work tirelessly to educate youth about the facade of extremism. Not only that, they seek and promote a multicultural world where everyone feels accepted and embraced. These two work in collaboration to counter extremist propaganda by educating the public through first hand accounts and eye-opening narratives of overcoming hate with love. Basically, teaching love not hate.

one young world 2016

Last lesson I learned, but not least:

  1. It all starts with a dream.

In my second year of university, I faced a scary new reality. I was unsatisfied and failing my classes, my daily thoughts were plagued by a health scare, and I realized the importance of unconditional love no matter how far away. The honey-moon phase of university life had reached its inevitable end, and for the first time in my 18 years I had to battle a foreign concept: failure. I met a fellow International Development Student at a conference and she suggested that I register to volunteer for WE Day. I had heard about this initiative by Free The Children before, but resigned myself to ignorance because I could not simply par for a ticket to attend. That night, stirred by her inspiring words, I signed up and gave it a shot. Why not? It was just a one day commitment. What else could the cosmic forces of the universe throw my way?

From the very moment I stepped foot into the arena with my roommate as energized crowd pumpers, I was on a high of altruism, empowerment and social justice. WE Day is a spell binding event filled with everyday heroes, inspirational stories, celebrity guest appearances, and the unshakable feeling that you can be the change you want to see in the world. Craig Kielburger is one of those Canadian figures that I rank up there with Terry Fox and David Suzuki. Ever since I had seen a documentary of Craig Kielburger at 13, I was amazed by his determination and commitment to making the world a better place. His story inspired me to study international development. So to be there, being a part of his brain child, was mind blowing.  I could not believe that I had proved my one local and one global action to “pay my ticket” to WE Day. Attending WE Day re-invigorated me with the resolution that I can be the change.  I can make a difference.

Kate Robertson and David Jones, the founders of One Young World, once had a dream to gather and engage youth from all over the world and give them the opportunity to network, debate global issues, and create a strong generation of future leaders. Marc Kielburger passionately recounted the dream his brother once had of seeing a world without child labour and one that provides education to all. It was with tears streaming down my face as Marc stated “WE Day go’ers, will one day, be attending the One Young World summit”, because I was one of those WE day go’ers present at a One Young World summit.

I’m extremely grateful that I skipped school to spend four days looking through the viewfinder of my camera because I have a dream too, and it all starts with a dream. The next step? Being the change I want to see in the world. Here we go…