After preparing for a couple days before all the students arrived, the South Asian students presented on their cultures for the international students. You can read more here, and see a few student interviews here, beginning with Olga!
The 360Plus Foundation would like to thank and congratulate everyone who made the 2019 Leadership Collective possible. We are very proud of the 39 students from 9 countries that took a leap out of their comfort zones and traveled together for over 3 weeks. Surely the experience was tiring at times, thrilling at others, and ultimately something that will be a major milestone in the lives of every participant, setting the foundation for exploring opportunities and perspectives that are global in nature.
This year’s journey started in November of 2018 when we opened the 2019 Leadership Collective application. Every year we aim to expand the reach of our applicant pool, making a concerted effort to bring new viewpoints into the program through youth from around the world. Our vast international network helped connect us to many new countries resulting in applicants from North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Ultimately, we were spoiled for choice in our final selection of youth leaders from around the globe.
From March through June of 2019, the selected cohort worked on the 360Plus Leadership Collective’s online curriculum. Students learned about India, studied concepts of citizenship, mapped their assets for taking action to make positive change, and built an intercultural community by learning from one another. By the time July 1st came around, students jumped into a mysterious travel experience and they did so as a group that had prepared through a shared a common experience in the Leadership Collective’s virtual classroom.
India greeted the travelers with rain. Flights were delayed and rerouted. The news of flooding in Mumbai made for an exciting but nerve racking commencement of our journey. International students from South Africa, Lebanon, Bulgaria, and Madagascar were all part of a complex logistical nightmare caused by the closing of the Mumbai airport due to rain. Furthermore, India immediately tested the group arriving from the USA with a two and a half hour bus ride that had wet seats, bugs, and a constantly leaking roof in the middle of the night from the Mumbai airport to the Kautilya Leadership Center at Kharghar. Oh monsoon! The comfort of the centre was a welcome refuge after the long journey around the world. The students passed their first real test of resilience as travelers, and arrived with a positive optimism.
The group buzzed together that first week. No amount of rain could damper the electric feeling of youthfulness coming together every corner of the world. Students shared, laughed, and learned from one another throughout the relentless rain. A real community was built. With nobody being in familiar territory, social dynamics were reset, inhibitions were left at home, and vulnerability was turned into a catalyst for human bonding. By the time we left the comfort of the Kautilya Leadership Centre, students had the comfort of knowing and trusting one another.
Teams from local NGOs Akanksha, Magic Bus, and Pratham patiently waited for us in Mumbai as our buses sat bumper to bumper on roads that had turned to rivers. All three groups arrived late, but into welcoming arms. Being hosted by these remarkable organizations and the youth that worked with them was the first opportunity that the 2019 Leadership Collective class had to engage with other groups of young people to learn about their stories, their ambitions, their dreams, their challenges, and their success. It set the tone for what would follow – two weeks of engaging with and learning from the youth of India.
After an overnight train ride, the Mumbai rain was traded for the Ahmedabad heat. It felt good to be dry, and for the trip leaders, it felt great to be greeted by old friends; we were hosted by 360Plus Leadership Collective Co-Founder and Founder of Sauhard, Gaurang Raval. Sauhard put together an intensive 11-day program focused on a plethora of topics around youth citizenship. Students visited communities and learned about the following civic issues: Youth Inclusion, Caste and Politics, LGBTQ Rights, Environmental Sustainability, The Chhara Tribe and Political Theater, and Mental Health.
Our time in Ahmedabad concluded with students filling a gallery with photography that represented stories they had captured as they explored the various topics around Youth Citizenship. Members of the community came to see the work and talk with students about their art and their experience in Ahmedabad. That interaction with the public was our farewell to Ahmedabad as we boarded a flight that very evening for New Delhi.
We arrived at India’s capital in familiar fashion, staying at Vishwa Yuvak Kendra Youth Hostel, just as every Leadership Collective class has in the past (it’s practically becoming a tradition). On this final leg of the journey through India, students partook in some much earned site-seeing. We took a day trip to the Taj Mahal. In Delhi we saw the Lotus Temple, India Gate, Rashrapati Bhavan, and tons of monkeys! Students also got the chance to stock up on handicrafts at Dilli Haat market, where their haggling skills were put to the test.
The 2019 Leadership Collective concluded with some guided time for self reflection on the experience and how each student could take what they learned about themselves, and about the world, back to their communities. Our goal from the outset was to empower youth with leadership skills, knowledge of youth citizenship, and a newfound sense of their place in the world. As a firsthand witness, it was easy to see every participant gain skills, knowledge and confidence from their time starting the course last March until the completion of their journey through India. Only time will tell if that growth sprouts into their communities and futures. We are hopeful that it will.
It’s hard to believe that there are only two months between now and the likely opening of the 2020 360Plus Leadership Collective application this coming November. We are back to the drawing board looking at how we can grow, improve, and innovate for the next step of this unique program. We have quite a few exciting ideas, but we would also like to hear from our community of supporters and alumni.
The above are sketches of the learners prepared by an artist in Ahmedabad which were used to create a sendoff card for each of them.
Yesterday night was our goodbye party. We were saying goodbye to the Leadership Collective, our friends, and to India. It was a bittersweet moment full of laughter, smiles, and music. Instead of spending the night sad, we all chose to live and be with each other one more time. I will never forget the people I met on this trip, and the impact they made on my life. Although I’m ready to go back home, I know home doesn’t have Phila. Home doesn’t have an Ashley or a Stefani and so forth. I will miss everyone deeply because they all helped me grow and evolve as a person. I hope one day all our paths cross one another again. Until then, It’s not a goodbye India, it’s a see you soon (: