Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Key to Impressive Stuff


April 9

From generating electricity by playing soccer to creating a farm in a school to collect rainwater and increase agriculture productivity, from solar-powered lanterns in Kashmir to using better architecture to improve health outcomes in Bolivia – the Clinton Global Initiative-University (CGI-U) is one of the most inspiring and wide network of young, passionate people. Look at cgiu.org to find out more about the cool projects going on all over the world, designed and led by individuals as young as college freshmen!

When I filled out the extremely long volunteer application, I didn’t think too much about how awesome the event was going to be. And my pleasure at being part of the photo/video committee was short-lived because right after that I saw I was signed up for 8 hours on Friday and 12 hours on Saturday. Like come on, I’m a grad student. I have 15-page papers to write about important social issues with minimum solvability and practicum and laundry!
And prospects continued to look dismal – I had to buy khaki pants, I bought a pair that was too big, and the volunteer shirt was not exactly really stylish either – and it was all men’s sizes! Come on, aren’t you developed countries supposed to be all about female empowerment? Make guys wear shirts that don’t fit them!

BUT then Friday rolled by and I got my special volunteer card – as a photographer I got special credentials that actually had my name on it! (And when I use these exclamation marks I am not being sarcastic. I was quite excited about having my name and CGI-U photographer on the card!).
It started off with little joys, like free lunch, and beautiful weather, and a cool job assignment (taking photographs of participants with the ‘commitment’ board. Everybody smiled with teeth! That’s how I could tell they were really excited to be there). And then I got to hear Bill Clinton for the first time (at least that I can remember) and live! The theme that echoed again and again at the conference: you need passion to succeed.  

It might be a clich̩ but then you hear it from people who have accomplished things as diverse as a nonprofit in Afghanistan that is educating young girls to Twitter that has some hundred million users and they all have one thing in common: a dream and the belief that they can make the dream come true. And just like that, the clich̩ becomes a living reality sitting in a suit Рor a trim skirt Рon a stage in front of hundreds of kids waiting for inspiration. And for someone to tell them that yeah, sometimes having passion is really all that you need.

It was really a great weekend for the event. Our campus was lovely, with trees blooming tiny white and large pale pink flowers – crabapple and magnolia. The sun was out, the jackets were off and Frisbees and soccer balls being tossed around. There were young kids in groups, stepping out of their comfort zones, talking to people from across the country and others who had flown in from Greece and Israel and Turkey. As a social work student, I’m not really a stranger to people with determined desires to change the world and make a difference. But this was extra cool because there wasn’t just talk about self-awareness sessions and lobbying and social justice. These kids had awesome ideas on how to reform agriculture and conserve the environment, ways to use technology to link demands in the developing world to demands here in the US and create symbiotic relationships; there were plans to educate girls in a country thousands of miles away and to empower women by teaching them how to start their own business, there were solar-powered cookers for an orphanage in Nepal and nutrition-interventions in Cambodia. Just a plethora of innovative ways to make this world a better place!

It was also such a great change to be surrounded by optimism. Like the founder of SOLA (School of Leadership-Afghanistan) said: “I wouldn’t be doing what I do if I wasn’t an optimist.” And the energy was contagious, and this positive energy is a great start. If we get depressed about the horror and starvation and sadness in the world, we won’t really be able to do much. And sitting around moping and being a cynic is definitely not the way to change lives!

Other than the general positive vibe, there were definite other perks of volunteering: a picture (of all volunteers) with Bill and Chelsea Clinton, seeing cute secret service guy several times, hearing business and social entrepreneurs talk, seeing Colbert live, and having Matthew Perry say hi to me. And he made that awkward Chandler face too as he walked by me, caught my eye and said, “hi..!” I said hi back, of course. *dramatic sigh*
Of course I might have preferred cute secret service guy saying hi to me but hey, I’ll take what I get! 
No regrets for that 20-hour weekend volunteering! 

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