By Gil Harper, Africa Alliance of YMCAs
The African voice was loud and clear during roll call at the 18th YMCA World Council opening in Estes Park, deep within the heart of the Rockies mountain range in Colorado, USA. Amidst the resounding vuvuzelas and jubilant cheers each time an African country was called, there was a sense that the African unity and pride we have built over the years is only increasing each time we meet as African YMCAs, whether it be on African soil or several plane trips away from our dear continent.
Our participants from 14 countries joined nearly 1300 delegates to contribute to the total of 83 countries represented at this highlight on our shared global calendar.
Every four years, YMCAs from around the world gather at World Council. On the one hand, this is a constitutional pillar of the movement, and on the other hand, a time for learning, sharing and growth as YMCA staff and volunteers participate in dialogue and debate on issues affecting youth worldwide.
The theme for the 2014 World Council is ‘Empowering Young People’. Youth Empowerment is embedded deep within the DNA of YMCAs all over the world, and as such the different activities at the World Council are designed to strengthen the YMCA’s individual and collective ability to empower young people by using successful practical and innovative techniques shared by other movements.
When old colleagues and friends met each other yesterday at registration, it was with delight as well as determination to work together to ensure that the YMCA movement continues to reach new levels of impact for youth from community to global levels. At the same time, new meetings and friendships based on the common youth agenda were formed.
In an opening ceremony, which pulsated with youthful energy and dynamism, Change Agent Andreas Axelson from Sweden stated boldy that “we are here to change”. He echoed World Alliance President Ken Colloton in the call to continue to work against any injustice, especially youth injustice.
Keynote speaker Gabriella Scrimshaw inspired the audience with her personal narrative. Despite the hardships she has faced as an indigenous Canadian from a single parent household, she was able to draw strength from her mentors and her elders to make choices and live her life by embracing positive change.
She encouraged the YMCA participants to continue to carve a path for others to follow, and to ensure that they “walk in a good way”. So for us, the path is long and fraught with challenges but our mission is clear: youth empowerment. And the path we walk, we walk together as elders and youth to create a better world for the youth who follow.
President Colloton presided over the signing in of new YMCA members: Armenia, Haiti, Rumania, Cambodia, Cayman Islands and Georgia. He also announced the reappointment of Johan Vilhelm Eltvik as Secretary General for the next term.
So the African voice was loud! We were heard. Now, as the next few days unfold, we hope to use the spaces provided by the World Council to ensure that we continue to add our voice as we shape the global YMCA agenda and strategy for Youth Empowerment.