Sailing for change

Cedric Dzelu

A YMCA Change Agent reflection on global training

It is the story of the Young Men Christian Association (YMCA), but essentially the story of young people, of how 150 YMCA Change Agents flew from 60 countries from various airports around the world to Japan. How they sailed across the Atlantic Ocean through the Philippines to Singapore then  finally went home with a sense of fulfilment, well equipped and with many life time experiences that will come in handy in their quest to face the future in transforming themselves and bettering the lots of others and their society.   

The first global gathering of Change Agents (cohort 2),which has been christened by some as the Asian Trip,  is part of a two-year international youth leadership development program at the heart of the World YMCA. It is primarily aimed at equipping young leaders across the world with leadership skills, community development tools and international grooming to better equip them to be impactful change makers in their societies. 

This forms the third encounter of such a huge commitment which took place in three different countries and even on the ocean from the 20th August to 1st September, 2015. Before meeting in Japan, Change Agents had a pre- continental or what is known as regional training, Change Agents from African countries met in Senegal in May for such training which was replicated on other continents or regional groups.  

The Peace Boat, an organization that sails around the world even to conflict areas, was home to the Change Agents as they conduct their training on board the Ocean Dream ship whilst it embarks on its 88th voyage around the world, setting off from Yokohama. Peace Boat is strong in the global effort to end violence, conflict and hostility in the world hence constantly engaging the diversity of its passengers to live, work together, share ideas and learn from each other as they enjoy a life time voyage taking them to jaw breaking natural and historic sites. 

Training was conducted by the most renown youth development experts of the World YMCA and some of the high ranking World YMCA officials like Johan Vilhelm Eltvik, the Secretary General of the World YMCA, Andrew McKenzie, Romulo Dantas, Bob Tobin, among others. It was a training that held the interest and invited the participation of the Change Agents as the four thematic focus areas (Education, Health, Civic engagement and Employment) were thoroughly treated using making tools, techniques and structure to take Change Agents from one point to the other. 

In brief, the training focused on telling the story, the YMCA story and the story of young people across the world of how the YMCA has committed effort and resources in eliminating the injustice young people face around the world in their pursuit to live as humans.

One exciting moment of the training was the ‘fish bow’, it was fashioned in a World Economic Forum manner where a topic of global concern or regional attention is placed for discussion and Change Agents take up the seat in turn, as many times as the want,  with a space of about two hours to address these issues and to profess solution. One of such issue is LGBTQ; indeed it was an open and frank discussion which reflected the difference of cultures yet made room for tolerance of opinions and inclusivity. 

After three days of training whilst sailing on the Atlantic Ocean, the Ocean Dream ship made a one day stop at Cebu, the land of smiles in Philippines. Undoubtedly it was a humbling moment for many of the Change Agents who have not come face to face with the injustice faced by young people and for those who have encountered it were troubled that it is a global phenomenon. Change Agents were shared into three groups with different task and area of focus, some went to a rehabilitation centre, second group to the trade market, then the other to the mangrove area where periodic typhoons has kept the people in constant fear and on the toes of mercy. 

The sum of the reports from these outings is evident that many young people are struggling and are constantly confronted with injustices that makes their growing and learning an awful experience hence requires a global and concerted effort to help countries and organizations tackle such challenges. 

Change Agents from Africa participated fully both individually and as a group. The bonding and learning that took place in Senegal in May during the African regional training manifested its relevance through their participation throughout the program. This reflected in their different group work, group challenge and the Cebu cultural nights which was the climax of a show of collectivism in telling the story of the injustices face by young people in Africa through a poetic performance by the African Change Agents in a drama sketch manner. 

The African Change Agents were true to their commitment in making famous the Subject to Citizen  concept as a vehicle in driving the change by sharing the ideas and philosophy of S2C and invited other Change Agents from different continents to share in the concept and to contribute to its fruitfulness. 

The last hours of departure was as emotional as anyone can imagine especially when the program has succeeded in breaking many barriers making Change Agents to freely and willingly engage among themselves and even other young people on the ship. The departing words of Romulo Dantas, the Executive Secretary for Youth Empowerment of World YMCA, is as refreshing and inspiring and more of a divine calling: “The YMCA needs you”. Undoubtedly true, the YMCA needs the Change Agents to continue to empower young people around the world and to write away the many instances of injustices in the world.


By Cedric Dzelu, YMCA Change Agent from Ghana


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