Youth empowerment organisation GYEM is helping to create a generation of switched on youths – but just don’t call them kids.
The room is positively fizzing, a hive of creative energy and activity as the youngsters write ideas on sheets pinned up on the windows and walls, and neon post-it-notes decorate the walls and floors. It is the last day of the Global Youth Empowerment (GYEM) Social Innovation bootcamp, and after six days the 16 young people who have been taking part in the workshops are preparing their final presentations and ideas with verve and vigour.
GYEM was co-founded by 23-year-old Seaon Shin and her mother Yunsun Chung-Shin. Seaon and her family moved to Dubai from America with her mother’s job at Zayed University. In her teens, Seaon had an identity crisis and was unsure of her future, like many others, and so a programme to help young people discover their passion and find direction. The project used to have a centre in Dubai Festival City, which was shut down in 2011. Since then the group has been able to mobilise and run its set of self-discovery and youth empowerment sessions from various venues around Dubai and in schools and universities.
Maher Khani is the programme’s new CEO, and on the day we visit, he explains how the XYZ programme works. ‘X looks at the youth’s creative innovative spirit and creative confidence. We had them going out and observing problems, and coming up with a solution and creating rapid prototypes. These activities help break down the intellectual barriers that we put on ourselves – sometimes we say I’m not that creative or I can’t be innovative.
‘Y is the second workshop – it’s all about self-discovery. We help to break down any emotional boundaries that may be holding us back. Here we learn things like our values, passion, purpose and a two-fold purpose: what’s my purpose and how do I connect that to how I connect to the world.’
Maher shows us around the ‘Self Museum’ – created by the young people, it’s a wall covered with the expressions and notes about who they are and what they care about. Another wall has a circular cut out with the word ‘why’ in the centre. Maher explains that the session gets them to look at what they value and assess if the way they live is true to those beliefs. It’s some lofty stuff for ‘kids’, but just don’t call them that.
‘You get yelled at for that,’ jokes Maher.
‘I was 35 when I started asking myself these kinds of questions, which is why I really value this programme. I was a banker for 14 years and then I moved into coaching and training three years ago. I left banking because I got coaching and started asking myself these questions. If someone had spoken to me at 16 about my values and passion it would have changed my life. It changes everything once you know what your values are and what your purpose and passions are.’
Passion is a theme that runs vividly through the programme, and culminates in the Z phase. ‘Z is about impact and commitments and coming up with creative, wonderful ideas and how to make them realities.’
In the workrooms, pop and dance music blares from the stereo, and the group has been tasked with pitching its passion project to a panel of advisers. After six days of thinking about what they want out of life and what their passions are, the group members are working together to come up with apps, blogs and business ideas that they care about and may benefit their communities.
Roshan Thomas, 16, and Myriam Bekkoucha, 14, are working together on an eco-project. ‘We had to connect our passion with the problem and what we like. We both have the same passion,’ says Roshan as he talks through their plans for an upcycling blog. The pair looked at the audience, revenues and communication methods, much like they would for a business plan.
But the youngsters don’t consider it a chore at all. ‘I think the best thing is the experience of coming here and meeting new people and just the open mindedness. It’s an encouraging environment and a really good atmosphere, and I keep on discovering things every day,’ says Roshan.
The structure of the projects seem very business focused, but Maher insists there’s more to the organisation than that. ‘We use those skills to help them structure ideas. If you start from a place of structure, then you can break that structure and stretch yourself out. It’s just giving them a start.’
GYEM is open to anyone aged between 14 and 25, and you don’t need to be the next Mark Zuckerberg to get involved. GYEM hosts weekly hotspots on Saturdays, and this is open to both members and non-members. There are also skill sessions for members, so their ideas and projects can be supported after the boot camp, giving the youth of Dubai a bright future.
GYEM, www.thegyem.org or like on Facebook for details of forthcoming hotspots www.facebook.com/TheGYEM/events (050 677 6831).
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