New Shoes from Bethlehem…

The date is Tuesday 22nd of November this year. I m deep into the deserts of Palestine, a few miles south of Bethlehem. The sun is shining, it is hot, and I am half running across a deep valley. Without any warning there is a muddy area just ahead of me and a few seconds later I find myself searching for my shoes in all the mud. I find them, but look quite dirty and messy after a while.  

I forget all about my dirty shoes and trousers when I stand above a beautiful byzantine mosaic, almost shining out of the sand and dust, in the middle of an undiscovered church ruin. I put my ears to the ground and I can hear the sound of a donkey walking through the desert, I hear it through the centuries, because the donkey I hear, walked though this same valley two thousand years ago, carrying a young girl called Mary and her baby son, Jesus.  Josef and his small family from Nazareth in Galilee were fleeing to Egypt. They were young; they were migrants, on their way to become emigrants and then immigrants to Egypt, homeless, poor, displaced and very young.

I listen to the sound of the donkey walking through the desert and I think of all the young migrants and immigrants, all the displaced and uprooted young people we work with in the YMCA. I look through the centuries and see Josef and Mary and their baby son Jesus and I see them as the people we work with and for in the YMCA. We work with people like this small family every day, and we do not know when it is the Prince of Peace, the Son of God or just another kid from Brazil or Palestine. We work with them all, because we are all inclusive. We work with them, if they ride on donkeys or look really muddy all the way up to their knees.

I listen again, and I look through the centuries, I hear the donkey and I see the family walking past me in the valley below. I want to shout to Josef and ask him to be careful with the muddy area ahead of them, where I just lost my shoes.

But my mouth is shut; my voice is silent. For what I hear is the donkey carrying the Hope of mankind, what I see is Mary holding the child from Isaiah chapter 9, versus 6: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

In silence I see the small family disappearing behind the sand dunes on their way to Egypt. The sound of a donkey in the desert…

Christmas is Incarnation. Meaning God becomes like us. God comes very close to us. Tuesday the 22nd of November this year God came very close to me when I almost heard the sound of the donkey and could almost see the holy family passing by me in the valley below the beautiful mosaic I was admiring in the desert.

It was nothing religious in my feelings when I walked into the shoe shop in Bethlehem late that evening. I had not been very successful cleaning the mud from my destroyed shoes, and the trousers looked like the trousers of a beggar. I had to flash my credit cards to be served at all. I felt very much like an old and dirty donkey coming in from the desert…

Now I have new shoes from Bethlehem. The shoes preach to me every day while I walk around. They are good shoe sermons for down-to-earth YMCA people. The sermons are about hidden byzantine mosaics shining out of the dust, they are about donkeys carrying the Prince of Peace. They are about all the hidden treasures and all the blessings in disguise!

With this little Christmas tale from the desert outside Bethlehem I send my best Christmas greetings to all of you. To those of you I met during this terrific year 2011 – thank you for your smiles and care and friendly conversations. To those of you I did not meet face to face – I look forward to share time with you next year and walk side by side on the NEW WAY.

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR FROM A WHITE CHRISTMAS IN GENEVA!

Story of Empowerment – Harold Yeboah – Ghana

As an African child, like any other kid around the world, we are born with the ability to dream and to utilize the power of our imagination. We dream of becoming pilots, astronauts, International superstars, scientists and artists known worldwide. But a lack of opportunities and avenues to pursue our dreams forces us to push them to the back of our minds and imaginations as we go through our schooling. We have to keep altering our dreams until finally we end up burying them. The failure of the system to support our dreams reinforces our conclusion that we were unrealistic and our imagination too grand. The YMCA’s role in all this has been on my mind lately. For me, the YMCA’s work in helping to bring out, develop and nurture the talents in Young people, empowering them for the African renaissance provides us another dimension of hope in renewing our dreams or developing new ones.

When I was 13, my brother and I followed a couple of friends to the Saturday meeting of the Junior Members of Tema YMCA. My idea was to take part in their activities, which were mostly fun and interesting, while enjoying the candies, cookies and drinks that were provided at every meeting. We continued like this till our youth leader traveled outside the country, his return was unknown and no replacement was arranged. With no one to organize our meetings my friends and I left the YMCA. After my Junior High School education, I gained admission into a boarding school for my senior high school, so I left Tema in pursuit of academic excellence. By now I had forgotten about the YMCA.

Right from my childhood, my dream was to become a Pilot and a very Influential person in my country even though I was good at drawing. I pursued a science course with the aim of following my dreams. It was also for the fact that I could not see the avenues to enable me develop my talent to be the next Leonardo da Vinci. Although people praised my drawings and kept telling me to pursue visual arts course in Senior High School, no one could clearly help me understand and map the way forward after visual arts. So I forgot about this and concentrated on becoming a pilot. In my final year in Senior High School, I applied and received a brochure from an aeronautic school outside Ghana, since there were no schools for training commercial pilots here. I got so disappointed after seeing the financial commitments involved in this because it was too huge for an average Ghanaian family like mine to handle this. Gradually, this dream died out. Most young people in Ghana suffer similar plights, and for me this is sad for Ghana and for that matter, Africa.

While I had forgotten about the Y, they had not forgotten about me! One afternoon, not long after I had graduated and returned home, I was contacted by a lady named Ivy about coming back to the YMCA to teach the youth choreography and drama. Apparently, some friends in church who then belonged to the Tema YMCA Youth wing told her about my involvement in similar activities at church. So I agreed to go and help since I would be doing something I loved doing and did with ease. I became a choreographer for the dance troop that preformed at YMCA functions and the annual Kids Fun Fair. I also had the opportunity to develop my passion for singing through the Tema YMCA Acapella group. Our Acapella group not only performs here in Ghana but in Europe! Dreams seemed possible.

Although I was involved in all these activities, I struggled with my shyness, lack of self-confidence, and the fear of challenges. These qualities were prominent amongst young people then. This was as a result of our socialization as Ghanaians. Also our educational system did not practically instill the opposite of these qualities in us. But then again, the YMCA was there for me. The then chairman of Tema YMCA had a policy to give the young members leadership opportunities. He would put us on committees and expect that we perform duties assigned to us. He sometimes even asked us to chair our local branch meetings in Tema, and our elders were present. I remember when he once took me along to one of the YMCA meetings in the capital city to take notes and report on the outcome at our local YMCA meeting. This was a very big deal for me and boosted my self-confidence. I was not alone; my friends were growing and taking on new challenges as well. Through the mentorship of our branch chairman we took on more and more leadership roles. I accepted the youth chairmanship of my local branch and other roles were assigned me at both the regional and national youth levels. I am currently the National Youth President of the Ghana YMCA. Before joining the YMCA, I would never have thought I could do this. I had become a leader in my community, and the voice of the youth.

One of the most amazing experiences for me was the YMCA World Council in Hong Kong last year. It gave me a different perspective of our work at the YMCA and our ability to cause positive change in the lives of people globally. I was so inspired by everyone I met. It was an experience like no other.

My work with the YMCA has become what I am most passionate about. My world revolves around what I do with the Y because this is where my happiness lives. Through the Y, I have discovered a different side of myself. There has been a transformation in my life and deep within me, this is what the YMCA stands for.

I sometimes ask myself, where would I be if not with the YMCA? I thank God for my life and for the YMCA. Through the YMCA I have come to realize that the young people have a voice and a role to play in taking on global challenges. I have a voice and a platform from which to speak. My dreams seem possible.

World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day is observed globally on 1st December every year to raise awareness, remember those who have passed on, and recognize advancements such as increased access to information, treatment, and prevention services.

The global theme for 2011 World AIDS Day is ‘Getting to Zero’. The global fight against AIDS has now reached 30 years. This year the global community committed to focus on greater access to treatment for all. It also calls upon governments to keep the commitments they have made to fight the deadly disease.

YMCAs around the world have been addressing HIV/AIDS at local, national and global levels. YMCA actions range from peer education programmes to research and public advocacy, all focused on the specific needs of young people, women, and children.

The World Alliance of YMCAs encourages YMCA National Movements to join the global community in the observance of World AIDS Day 2011.

Please share with us any stories or images from World AIDS Day 2011 at your YMCA by contacting:
office@ymca.int