What Makes GV Different

By Morgan Flake

Imagine leading 42 high school students through an airport and onto a series of planes to a foreign country. Are you experiencing mild panic?

As a program manager at GV, this is part of my job. I love my job—I get to work with amazing youth, speak Spanish, travel, and work for social justice. It can be stressful at times! There are many details to manage. Luckily, the GV structure makes it easier. As the spring immersion approached, every time I started to stress about the tasks ahead, I remembered the team of Junior Leaders that I would be traveling with and my anxiety dissipated. Now, it may sound pretty wild that an adult program manager is relying on a group of four teen leaders and a teen intern, but what GV does—the leadership we build in young people—is remarkable. And reliable. Not only could I count on the five youth to initiate every passport check as we made our way through the airport, to get students to write letters to self on the plane, to start games at the waiting area—I needed to in order to encourage their leadership.

At GV I’ve learned that we can’t teach leadership, we can only share it. By stepping back, supervising, and using what we call the “invisible hand” of leadership, I can guide and monitor quietly in the background while the youth step up to lead the group.

It is a beautiful and inspiring thing to watch. Emily, Tia, Anthony, Nancy, and Rory absolutely rocked this immersion. When something slipped my mind, like training the Leaders of the Day for the next day, the Junior Leaders reminded me, rather than the other way around. They were highly observant, making sure that every participant felt included. They came up with their own strategies to solve problems. They intuited the best response to situations: when to intervene, when to go with the flow, when to delegate a task, when to pump up the group. Their leadership was democratic. They encouraged each participant to do their assigned job (whether making sure everyone was drinking water or making sure we were mixing up between gringos and Guatemalans), so that they could build their confidence and capacity to lead. I never stop marveling at how unique it is to develop these skills through the experiences GV offers.

I only began to learn these skills in college, more so after college. These students are prepared to lead diverse groups through challenging circumstances before they even graduate high school. I can only imagine what they will accomplish beyond 18 years old. They will be senators, teachers, and scientists. They will be leaders in whatever field they choose to pursue.

The first year leadership program shapes empathetic hearts and critical minds. It creates meaningful memories that I have seen change a person more than any textbook could. The Advanced Leadership Program takes that growth and understanding, and amplifies. Students learn to facilitate conversations, resolve conflicts, build movements. I can’t wait to see how our first year participants who continue with GV through the Advanced Leadership Program will grow as they build their leadership over the coming years, and I can’t wait to read about them in the newspaper someday. But they don’t need to wait until some arbitrary age to lead—Global Visionaries youth are leaders already, today.

SPRING ’17 TRIP REPORT #4

From: Anthony Goss (Junior Leader, Spring Immersion 2017)

Reported on April 19, 2017, day 12 of the Spring ’17 Immersion

The phrase I have used most these past two weeks is “hace tres años.” It means three years ago and I have used those words to compare my first experience as a participant to my current experience as a Junior Leader.

“Hace trés años, me quedé con la familia Rodriguez.” Three years ago, I stayed with the Rodriguez family. I was a freshman in high school and terrible at speaking Spanish. I clogged the toilet during my first night with the Rodriguezes. There are moments I’d like to forget from my first time with the Rodriguez family, like the toilet incident and accidentally calling the mother, Elvia, ancient, and there are moments I want to always remember. This family, whom I had never met until then, showed me incredible love and kindness. They unclogged the toilet, prepared excellent meals, and dealt with my broken Spanish. Elvia devoted an evening to teaching me the proper pronunciation of silverware, and Alessandro, the 8-year-old, played wordless games of hide and seek with me and showed me the best way to pet the dog, Yogui. This family opened my eyes to the realities of living in a country where it takes a day to earn what one would in an hour in the US. I woke up every morning to the smell of fire; Elvia would get up at 5 am each morning to cook food to sell in the market – a way for the family to make extra money.

Hace tres años, the Rodriguez family wasn’t complete. Elvia’s husband, Armando, and youngest son, Tony, were away, working in the United States. The family kept a candle burning at all times, a silent prayer for their safety. My first experience with the Rodriguez’s taught me the love and hardships of the people in Guatemala.

Today, three years later, I walked alone down the long street of San Miguel and found their house by memory. I knocked on my old door as a different person. A leader, an experienced GV alumni with three years of Spanish under my belt and an acceptance to college. Their house was the same as I remembered it, but the people inside had changed.

Armando and Tony had returned, jailed then deported in the last few months by the Trump administration. I asked them where they lived in the US, and they laughed and said “jail.” Nestor, another son, had a second child but had lost his job and spent the last two years looking for work. Armando and Tony hadn’t found work either, and Elvia worked from 5 am to midnight making food for Semana Santa (Easter week). Finally, Yogui, the dog I have been so lovingly instructed to pet a certain way…. had run away and never come back. The family was still incredibly kind and humble, but I felt a note of sadness in their words.

As I walked back down the long road, I became angry at my country for making people I care about miserable. I was mad that the racism and fear peddled by the current US administration had reached this quiet Guatemalan town. I was mad that it affected this family; a family filled with people willing to do hard labor, while my friends in Seattle weren’t even willing to get off of their cellphones. I was also feeling really sad. This stable family I met three years ago had an air of despair that no amount of food or smiles could mask.

Hace tres años, I was only prepared to experience the people and culture of Guatemala. Now, GV has given me the confidence and capacity to act. Sitting on the roof of the Rodriguez’s house, looking at laundry and garbage, I promised myself that I would use my privilege to make change. I recognize that I have a privilege to go to college, to not need to work 19 hour days to put food on the table, and to return to the US.

I was already planning on studying political science and international relations in college, but now I have extra motivation. Now, I have a family to fight for.

2017-04-19 16_27_13-Gvisionaries (@gvisionaries) • Instagram photos and videos

SPRING ’17 TRIP REPORT #3

From: Emily Black (Junior Leader, Spring Immersion 2017)

Reported on April 16, 2017, day 9 of the Spring ’17 Immersion

Take 2 in Guatemala.

The moment I stepped off the plane in Guatemala City I was hit with a smell I could only describe as ¨Guatemala.¨ It’s amazing how such a small thing like the scent of an airport I hadn’t been to in two years can make me wide awake at 1:30 in the morning.

The immersion has flown by. I cannot believe that there are only 4 days left. It feels like just yesterday I was here for the first time. But of course I wasn’t, because yesterday I was at Iximche (the Mayan ruins). Being so far into the immersion I can see the growth of myself and the people around me. People who didn’t know a lick of Spanish on Day 1 are now able to talk about colors, and for being here for just over a week, that’s impressive. The end is in sight and with each passing day it becomes more and more apparent that Guatemala hasn’t seen the last of me.

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SPRING ’17 TRIP REPORT #2

From: Nancy Curtis (Junior Leader, Spring Immersion 2017)

Reported on April 14, 2017, day 7 of the Spring ’17 Immersion 

Returning to Guatemala, I thought I knew exactly what to expect. When I arrived I was met by one of the hardest, most rewarding experiences of my life thus far. When I came to Guatemala as a participant in Spring of 2016, the hardest part every day was going to sleep because I was too excited for the next day. I was comfortable, engaged, and felt like the two weeks passed in the blink of an eye. I met new people, immersed myself in a culture nothing like my own, and learned more about myself than I ever thought I could. Now, exactly a year later, my immersion has been magnified tenfold. Every day, living in this culture that is still foreign to me, but I have grown to love, I find myself pushed like never before to mess up, learn, and grow. These three actions, which define my day to day life, have become my closest companions and greatest nemeses.

Working with the coffee harvesting team every day, I find myself stepping up to lead in ways I didn’t consider before. I have taught myself, or rather been taught by this immersion, that you can lead from 5 steps back. And that the greatest leaders empower rather than direct. Through working with Leaders of the Day ( first-year participants each lead their team for a day) I have grown my delegation skills while watching the leadership skills of the youth around me thrive. Not only does this help the confidence in leading of these youth, it also teaches them that they hold power among their peers. Although here that manifests as making bringing the team together (in GV Huddles!)  for group discussions or leading the celebration of our days work, their growth is directly translated into their lives in Seattle.

I now find myself in a unique position, one that makes me proud and uncomfortable at the same time. As the skills of the participants develop, they are stepping up to lead and their need to be taught and directed is changes. Although I know there will never be a morning when I don’t wake up and make a list of everything that I need to remember to do for the day, I’m gradually seeing the list shrink as my confidence in these students grows and I am comforted when I see their names appear next to each responsibility. I’m beyond proud in the leadership I see in this group of participants; the same leadership I felt emerge last year. Although we are only halfway through our time here and there are still a million more lessons coming, this immersion has allowed me to grow, thrive, and better myself as a leader and a person. I know that a week from today, when I wake up in my bed in Seattle, I will miss everything about this immersion: the people, the sun, the work, the food, and perhaps most of all, the challenges every day provides and the lessons I learn from each challenge.

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Spring ’17 Trip Report #1

From: Rory Murphy (Junior Leader, Spring Immersion 2017)

Reported on April 12, 2017, day 5 of the Spring ‘17 Immersion

“This year’s Spring cohort to Guatemala has been a whirlwind so far. Going on the immersion the second time, now as a junior leader, has been completely different than the first. There are a lot more responsibilities that I have taken. Even though it is very busy, I cannot articulate how much happiness the first year participants bring me. I had such a great immersion last year that I want to do everything in my power to make sure that their experience is just as good if not better. I saw my first glimpse of the so-called “special sauce” today. In the reflection our hospital team held after work, it got very emotional. The participants reflected on their emotions and status in the world. I felt such a bond like no other with the participants. I cannot wait to see where the rest of the immersion takes us.”

Something to Think About – from Our Offices in Guatemala

English: Guatemala has been seen as a big “finca” (farm) for the last 500 years since the invasion of the Spanish (it is not a conquest), and since then it has been established a system in which only a dome of elitist families who have control of our economy and politics set the rules that runs Guatemala. The new generations not only have the consequences of this system of exploitation, but also we must face the consequences of an internal war that left poverty and a debt that we still continue paying, leaving aside our education and health systems.

We now live in a society where corruption, abuse of power, injustice, suffering and pain are the norm of every day. We live in a country where the governors do business, create policies and undertake projects that only benefit themselves. We live in a country where the environment and life itself are less important than mining, hydroelectric, African palm, oil exploitation, etc. that have destroyed the mountains, valleys, severed and polluted rivers, and above all, displaced communities, denying them their right to work their land.

And yet, a bigger problem is the passive, indifferent, apathetic and silent society.  When people do not take a stand, they can, in a sense, be accomplices. Silence often is no different than taking the side of the oppressor or injustice. Our society has become quiet, submissive and fearful. They make us passive; just waiting for the coming of a messiah.  In other words, waiting for a president who will change it and improve everything.

GV Guatemala understands the importance to be agents of change; to recover historical memory, which allows us to create positive changes to the problems we are facing as a society. We propose and take action by empowering young people from any social and economic context to recover our history and think critically of our present situation in order to build a fair and just future.

GV intends to prepare the young “chapines” (Guatemalans) to understand the role a young person has in our society. We create that platform and tools so that they have opportunities in their schools and social circles to create actions that generate changes from their daily life.

GV believes that it is important that young people have access to programs, in which they can learn how to be empathetic to our cultural diversity – to understand the differences but more important our similarities. Our young participants strive to be cohesive – to be the agent of change that wakes us up to demand justice and not to wait for that messiah (President) to do our work. In addition to understanding how our gringo allies are facing their problems and understand that our struggles are tied and we must collaborate for a better world.

GV breaks the culture of silence, to hear our own voice and more important that the system hears all these voices where we ask for justice and equality for all Guatemalan and human being on this planet.

And as a Latino hero said: “Being young and not being revolutionary, is a contradiction even biologically” -Salvador Allende.

Spanish: Guatemala ha sido vista como una finca por los últimos 500 años desde la invasión de los españoles (no es una conquista), y desde entonces se ha establecido un sistema donde solamente una cúpula de familias elitistas que tienen el control de nuestra economía y política. Las nuevas generaciones no solo debemos afrontar las consecuencias de este sistema de explotación, pero además debemos afrontar las consecuencias de una guerra interna que dejo pobreza y una deuda que aún seguimos pagando, dejando por un lado nuestro sistema educativo y de salud.

Ahora vivimos en una sociedad donde la corrupción, el abuso de poder, las injusticias, el sufrimiento y el dolor son la norma de cada día. Vivimos en un país donde los gobernantes hacen negocios, crean políticas y emprenden proyectos que solo los benefician a ellos mismos. Vivimos en un país donde la naturaleza y la vida es tan poco importante que las mineras, hidroeléctricas, palma africana, explotación petrolera, etc. han destruido las montañas, los valles, secado y contaminado los ríos, y sobre todo, desplazado a las comunidades, negándoles su derecho de trabajar la tierra.

Y es que pienso que no sea estos los problemas más grandes, sino que ante esto los ciudadanos pasivos, indiferentes, apáticos y callados, son igualmente culpables, cómplices, ya que en toda situación no tomar un partido, es realmente tomar el bando del opresor, de la injusticia y la corrupción. Como sociedad se nos ha convertido en callados, sumisos y temerosos. Nos convierten pasivos, solo esperando la venida de un mesías salvador, ósea, un presidente que lo cambie y mejore todo.

Es donde entonces GV Guatemala comprende la importancia como agentes de cambio de recuperar la memoria histórica, que nos permita crear cambios positivos a los problemas que estamos enfrentando. Proponemos y tomamos acción en involucrar jóvenes de cualquier contexto social y económico, para que colectivamente podamos recuperar nuestra historia y pensar críticamente nuestro presente y así poder construir un futuro justo.

GV pretende preparar a los jóvenes chapines a comprender el rol como joven tiene en nuestra sociedad y crear esa plataforma y herramientas para que tengan incidencia desde sus escuelas y círculos sociales y crear acciones que generen cambios positivos desde la vida cotidiana.

GV cree que es importante que los jóvenes chapines deben pasar programas, en el que podamos ser empáticos a nuestra diversidad cultural entender nuestras diferencias pero más importante nuestras similitudes para cohesionar y ser ese monstruo que despierte para reclamar justicia y no esperar más a ese mesías (presidente) que haga nuestro trabajo. Además de comprender como nuestros aliados (gringos) están enfrentando sus problemas y comprender que nuestras luchas están atadas para un mundo mejor.

GV rompe la cultura del silencio, y oímos nuestra propia voz y más importante que escuchen todos estas voces donde pedimos justicia e igualdad para todo guatemalteco y ser humano en este planeta. Y como lo dijo un héroe latino: “Ser joven y no ser revolucionario, es una contradicción hasta biológica” –Salvador Allende.

What if our Presidents had participated in Global Visionaries?

A CALL TO ACTION

Our President calls for America First,

And then bans people of a given spiritual faith of particular countries from entering this country–which was founded by the religiously persecuted.

Now, This Land is Your Land, the lyrics of folk singer Woodie Guthrie echoed in international airports in response.

Our President calls for America First…but how do you define “America?”

U.S. participants in GV soon discover that Guatemalans [chapines] think of themselves as “Americans.”

Guatemalans are offended that we as U.S. Americans have co-opted that word, that identity–“American”–as our own.

“American” encompasses North, Central, and South Americas with a rich diversity of ethnicities.

Thus far, the policies being advanced by the current White House Administration are contrary to GV’s mission…

Empowering young people to become global citizens creating a just and sustainable future.

Consider this: What if our Presidents had participated in Global Visionaries?
My wish, my dream, my hope, my vision: all of our elected leaders do so.
Our response to this current reality is this:

As public education is under attack,

We will raise more money for scholarships for low income youth and youth targeted because of their race and ethnicity.

>We will empower youth to think critically, listen empathically, and act powerfully.

As a wall between Latin America and the U.S. is proposed,

We will build bridges to strengthen the bonds and understanding between citizens of Guatemala and the U.S.  Mending and reconciling the violent legacy of a 1954 CIA coup d’état.  We will support families in our GV community and beyond who have undocumented members. And we recognize our privilege as U.S. citizens to be able to fly over such a proposed wall. And the responsibility that comes with that privilege.

As Muslims from select countries are banned from our borders and the Constitution disregarded,

We will provide opportunities for youth to build friendships by breaking down stereotypes about one another, creating a space for deep listening and sharing of their most precious life stories and experiences, leading to life-long friendships they otherwise would not have had.

>We will empower youth to think critically, listen empathically, and act powerfully.

As LGBTQI communities are under attack,

We will continue to make GV a safe and sacred place/community where everyone is loved and respected for who they are.

When we are presented with “alternative facts,”

We will increase our participants’ confidence to think critically for themselves
To do their own research; to not scapegoat others.  To see how change begins with oneself and to understand that our existence and survival depends on our recognition that we are all interdependent.

>We will empower youth to think critically, listen empathically, and act powerfully.

When brown and black bodies are threatened and incarcerated,

We will provide Anti-Oppression – Pro-Justice trainings, so that every youth participating can gain the skills to become an ALLY when they fall in privileged categories, and learn to overcome internalized oppression when they fall in the targeted categories.

When women’s rights and their right to control their own bodies are at risk,

We empower young people of all genders to raise their voices strongly.

>We will empower youth to think critically, listen empathically, and act powerfully.

When our ability to create a sustainable future is jeopardized,

We will plant trees, provide youth the skills and motivation to reduce their ecological footprint, and powerfully voice their opinions on what kind of planet is desperately needed —using an array of platforms to get their message across.

When we are told to keep our mouths shut if we disagree,

We will host free workshops for the community at large to learn how to make one’s voice count in D.C. and locally. (Feb 16, Thursday, 6-8:00 pm is first one and we will lobby on Feb 24, Friday.)

We, this beloved and inspired GV community, have been at this for 20 years now. And, will be for the next 20….

>We will empower youth to think critically, listen empathically, and act powerfully.

Allow me to say before I close: I have just returned to GV after taking three months off to take care of my health. I am deeply grateful to the staff, the Board and the entire GV community for forwarding our collective work.

As I return to work, I am acutely present to the urgency and importance of our mission.
As an Israeli Rabbi whom I sat next to on a flight once told me: “You [U.S.] Americans have a Statue of Liberty on the East Coast. What you need is a statue of responsibility on the West Coast to balance it out.”

This is my call to action and with this, I express my immeasurable gratitude for your support, your action, your investment and the collective responsibility we feel to:
Create a space for youth to lead the way;
Defend everything we stand for in our mission;
Partner with us as we empower youth to critically think, empathically listen and powerfully act.

In solidarity and in peace,

Co-Founder, Chris Fontana

Soon, GV will feature commentary and perspectives from the GV Guatemalan staff and Guatemalan youth leaders. Guatemala elected a stand-up comedian for their President a year ago. They have had, sadly, a wealth of experience with “strongmen” as their leaders.

Summer Immersion Update – From Mykal!

This immersion has been a roller coaster for myself as a leader. I have  been up and down and at times I didn’t know if I was up or down or how I felt. At times I felt as if I wasn’t fit for the role of Junior Leader, and during other times, I felt like I knew exactly what to do and how to do it.

I have realized on this immersion that I am too hard on myself, like many others in the United States. I have to learn how to not keep measuring myself against what everyone thinks is perfection. I know that I still have a long way to go as a leader and realize that I am still learning along the way to becoming a great leader. It definitely does not happen overnight. I have learned that I can’t “should” on myself or anyone else because that would mean I am not looking to the future and how to become a better leader. I would still be looking at what I or someone else did or didn’t do. We are only ready to do something when we do it. And I think I am ready to begin a new chapter, or book, if you will, with what I have learned on this immersion and will be taking back with me to Seattle. This day and this immersion has been a gift, a really special one that I didn’t know I needed in my life at this moment. I would especially like to thank Maria Fontana and Dalton for having me realize what a gift this immersion has been as well as my mindset shift in order to grow as a human being. One thing is for sure, it’s not in the genes (jeans, haha).

Con mucho amor,

Christopher Mykal Green

Summer Immersion Update – From Denisse!

What defines a leader?

To me a “leader” signifies one who works side by side with others, one who understands, reflects, and shows empathy. A leader is an equal, a comforting shoulder, and a genuine smile.

This immersion has challenged me in ways I had no idea it would. I went through three different phases: confusion, frustration, and then lasting understanding and confidence in my continuous self-growth. I’ve not only seen myself break down socially constructed barriers, but I’ve also had the honor to be a witness to little changes as well as complete 180 degree turn arounds in others throughout this immersion.

Listening to the participants discuss topics that can be very intimidating in such an open-minded manner is truly inspiring. Not only do they question the “why?” “who?” and “what?” but they also find actual solutions; short term plans as well as long term plans. With this group, encouraging and establishing that everyone and anyone matters is a popular topic. I think change begins when we realize the power we all hold within and the strength in solidarity. One person can make a difference.

I would like to thank the GV Summer 2016 group for teaching me to be patient, in tune with my emotions, and to always dance like no one is watching.

Summer Immersion Update – From Naomi!

Coming into this experience I wasn’t quite sure what to expect or what it would entail, but I feel as though I’m starting to catch on more. Working in the hospital again this year has been incredible. To be honest, I feel as though it has almost been a bit harder this year. For the first two days that we spent in the hospital, I found myself leaving with a sense of panic. I kept on feeling as though I had no time to spend with the patients and the friends I had created last year and also make time to create new connections. Last year I left here with the idea of applying to Youth Board, which provided me with the small sense of hope that I might return. This year, though, I realize that it would be very difficult, if even possible, to return in the coming years and visit my friends in the hospital, which is a terrifying and sad thought.

Things have been really great though overall and I’m still a bit overwhelmed and astonished that I’m actually back here. Leading is definitely more exhausting than I could ever have imagined. I feel like the Junior Leaders have many behind the scenes responsibilities, which are difficult to notice from the outside, so I don’t have a perfect image to replicate. Many of the responsibilities and tasks we have are fairly simple and would be quickly accomplished by one person, but in the effort to foster teamwork, we delegate different parts of the job to different people. It is very important and provides the participants with an opportunity to practice their leadership skills. It is just a much more tiring process when you have to delegate, check in, confirm that the job was completed, and reflect for each individual task. It absolutely pays off, though, when you see someone that was once shy and timid share, open up to the group, and blossom in the work they are doing and people they are interacting with. It really is incredible. I can’t wait to see how other develop as well.

-Naomi Rothenberg (Mercer Island High School Class of 2016, incoming first year student at Willamette University)

Enabling young people to become global leaders, creating a just and sustainable future.