Amazing people can develop in the most desperate situations. For the last few days I've been given a special assignment to observe and evaluate 20 kids who are competing to be selected for the Global Youth Leadership Summit (GYLS) to be held in San Diego August 3-8. I've learned a ton about what can result given opportunity, encouragement and sheer determination.
A few more words about GYLS may be helpful. It is funded by the Anthony Robbins Foundation and is a 5-day program that provides participants ages 14-17 with an environment designed to boost their leadership skills that will change lives and communities. Kids come from all over the world. They have to jump through a lot of hoops before they are selected.
At CCF they must first be involved in the Junior Leadership Program, then progress to the Leadership Program at which level they assume many responsibilities to support the community. To name a few, they tutor, work in the food program, teach classes to other kids particularly on the week-end, deliver food in the Granny Program, assist teachers, assist in providing workshops in the community, and deliver shoes to the rural provinces. With all of this they must have good academic records.
The winnowing process brings the final number of copetitors to 20. They then form teams of 4 to research and present a topic selected by the teachers. The groups are rated after which there's an individual interview for each kid, this interview before 3 native English speakers. Talk about anxiety producing! Teachers also rate each student and all scores are then tallied to select the winners.
The personal stories of these kids makes their success all the more amazing. All of them come from extreme poverty. Most of them have lived in a CCF facility most of their lives, some from the age of 3. Those who live in the facility are considered luckier than the kids who live at home, CCF sheltered kids have food and clothing plus encouragement and are removed from the domestic violence which is rampant. The common notion is that kids who remain in the community have no chance and if you saw their community you'd see why. And yes, there were a few kids from the community who made it and attend classes at CCF and were a part of this program.
All expressed gratitue to Scott Neeson, the founder of CCF. Many said that without him their lives would be nothing. He has inspired them, believed in them, encouraged them and one kid described him as the father to all of us.
Every kid had worthwhile long range plans. After graduation, if a student is qualified, CCF provides funding to attend the university. Several have a dream to study abroad but all want to return to Cambodia to help their country change. All have a great cuiosity to see other places, meet people from different cultures and to learn whatever they can which they will bring home and incorporate in their own communities.
All of them said that in the future they want to have a good job so they can support their families. One girl said that after she supports her parents and younger siblings she would like to have her own family and be able to provide 3 meals a day for her children. Imagine growing up with never enough to eat.
One girl said that her greatest achievement after GYLS involvement was to change her father's mind. He's a scavenger and was of the commonly held view that girls shouldn't be educated and couldn't perform as well as boys. Through sheer determination she convinced him to let her go to school where she is an outstanding student. She said she learned how to talk to him in a way that he could accept what she was saying. He's become a believer in women's rights!
One kid has a talent with computers and his goal is to be the next Steve Jobs!
There are as many stories as there are kids. I wish every child in America could see just how privileged and blessed that they are. We are such silly people. Perhaps all of us would whine and complain less if we knew how hard life is for so many.
Note: No photo of the GYLS kids available.