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It was January 2013, 7 months ago, and I was sitting in the main office of the Academy of Agents of Change on the second floor of the Lonesome George & Co. store here in Puerto Ayora – Galapagos. I was waiting for Diana, Heidy, and Bryan to come over so that I could explain a bit more on what the Academy was about and discuss all the activities we would be doing in the next couple of months. This was going to be my first meeting with them and I had high hopes that these three youngsters would become our first possible candidates for the Academy. The three of them arrived at the office and I still remember how young and full of energy they looked. I told them about the outings that we would have every month and how each module represented an important aspect in their development as future Agents of Change. I could tell right then from their looks of curiosity and anticipation that they realized that even though our outings would take us to neighboring islands of Santa Cruz where we would go snorkeling and camping in the highlands, or to mainland Ecuador to visit the main campus of Outward Bound, this wasn’t simply a camping program. They realized that behind all of the various outdoor activities, there was an underlying theme that spoke of social responsibility, of strengthening our bonds with the islands, of entrepreneurship, and of individual growth. They also realized that becoming an Agent of Change meant taking a step forward and committing themselves to action by designing and creating their own social initiatives which would undoubtedly take time and effort and, most of all, dedication.
It’s been 7 months since I had those first meetings with Heidy, Diana, Estefanía, Sugeidy, Bryan, Nory and Melissa, and along the way, I have truly seen what the Academy has meant for each of them. I will always remember one day, after I had organized an activity in which each Agent had to go out and speak with people from Puerto Ayora that could provide support and information regarding their initiatives, how Bryan, the youngest of the group at 15 years of age, visited me at my office. As he sat on his chair, the first thing that he asked me was, “Guess who I asked for information regarding my initiative?” “Who?” I said. With a huge grin on his face, he answered back, “The Mayor!” Apparently, Bryan had walked into the office of the municipality and simply asked if he could see the mayor! Bryan received permission to do so and went straight in, introduced himself, and began talking about what he wanted to do with his initiative and how he was planning on changing his community. It takes courage for a single adolescent to interview an adult, let alone the mayor of a municipality. A couple of days later, Heidy also came and told me that in a week, she had managed to find a sponsor from a local radio station that was more than happy to give her all the support for her radio program “Youth Without Boundaries.” She had talked with a group of friends who wanted to be part of the program and had even built a Facebook page to start marketing her initiative.
After these meetings, I quickly became aware that Bryan and Heidy had become empowered young adults who were committing themselves to their social initiatives, realizing that their voices and ideas should be heard and taken into consideration by all within our community. The fact that they had mobilized a group of teenagers and that they were convinced they could positively influence their community were all relevant to the underlying themes behind the main idea of the Academy, supported by Outward Bound and Ashoka’s Youth Venture methodology: That these young participants could harness their passion and strength, spread their wings, and proactively go out into their community to find solutions to the various social issues that spoke to them the deepest.
On July 21, 2013, all the Agents presented their initiatives to a panel comprised of leaders from our community and just like Bryan and Heidy, the rest of the class – Nory, Diana, Estefanía, Melissa, and Sugeidy – had all gone through innumerable experiences that changed them for the better and prepared them for that moment. As each one of them stood and presented their ideas of ways to improve our local community, I was excited to see how much these young adults had accomplished and how motivated they were about their initiatives. Each one had his/her own setbacks during the 7 months; they struggled with the amount of homework they had, they didn’t know exactly how to get certain aspects of their initiatives off the ground, and on a couple of occasions, they even lost their motivation. But they were able to get through those trying moments and kept working on what they wanted to achieve. That day in July, they all maintained an open discussion with the panel, answered questions, and received recommendations on how to improve their own initiatives. Even though they were nervous and tense, they came through with flying colors, presenting clear, practical and innovative plans to positively impact their communities.
This year’s generation of Agents of Change has gone through incredible experiences. Each one is taking away something different from the program. However, all will undoubtedly apply what they have learned in their own ways to better their future lives. They will continue working on their initiatives knowing that there may be moments when they feel frightened or nervous at the prospect of challenges ahead. But I am quite certain that they will rise to those new challenges. They will remember all the things they were able to accomplish throughout the Academy program and draw strength from knowing that they spoke to the mayor, climbed mountains for the first time, mobilized a group of friends, presented their initiatives to a panel of experts, and dreamed of ways to shape the future of their communities.
Robert Balfour, Program Coordinator – Academy of Agents of Change