September 8, 2017  |  

Live from Portugal

We’re just over halfway through the YMCA Change Agent’s Global Gathering at YMCA Setúbal, in Portugal. There are 149 young leaders from YMCAs representing 49 countries.

 While I have been reconnecting with those I met at our regional training in Avignon (read my post about this), I have been discovering new stories about the people around me and hearing from those around me about the impact, challenges, and work of the largest youth movement in the world. 

We have participated in workshops delivered by World YMCA, YMCA Europe, the Asia Pacific Alliance of YMCAs alongside a programme of workshops and sessions led by Change Agents working and volunteering at YMCAs around the globe. 

 What has really stood out for me is despite the vast differences in what our different cultures would traditionally find acceptable and familiar, and the potential for barriers in communication that this presents, there is an overwhelming amount of understanding and respect that is unifying us.

 The other night after dinner YMCA Setúbal arranged live music for us, and while I started writing this blog, I looked across the outdoor area and noticed that regardless of our backgrounds  people were dancing together, cheering, laughing, sharing their experiences and stories as if we had all been working together for years.  

 We also spent time in different parts of the region undertaking activities supporting the local environment, clearing invasive vines, improving community spaces and historical monuments, in the heat of the Portuguese sun it was hard graft but impressively in three hours – as a collective – 19 days was given back to the local community.

 Since we arrived, Johan Vilhelm Eltvik, Secretary General of the World Alliance of YMCAs, has spoken to us about YMCA’s journey and the untold story of injustice towards young people and the Portuguese Government’s Secretary of State and Minister for Youth and Sports welcomed us to the country. We’ve attended workshops on everything from how YMCA India engages young people in Global Citizenship; YMCA’s 2018 World Challenge; YMCA Sweden’s Stop Poverty campaign; YMCA Victoria’s Bridge Project in Australia, working with young offenders to support them into employment and much more besides.

 Alongside this, the seven English Change Agents have also been presenting on Civic Engagement, our mental health campaign #IAMWHOLE and sharing information about our work in Birmingham, Derbyshire and Sutton Coldfield.

Karina from YMCA Fairthorne Group, who trained as a Change Agent in the previous cohort, has been supporting the facilitation and getting up just that little bit earlier than most to make sure people start the day the healthy way!

 We also visited the Portuguese Parliament, in Lisbon, welcomed by politicians from all the political parties. They hosted a panel presentation, where Change Agents put questions to them on how they are empowering young people, and what more can they do.

 While we are not yet finished I want to extend warm thanks to the staff and volunteers at YMCA Portugal, and especially YMCA Setúbal (notably Antonio and Tiago), also to my colleagues and friends from around the world who have made this experience of discovery and learning so far such a poignant one.