Thursday is the International Day of Happiness. So what is the secret to leading a happy life?
If you ask me, it’s giving back! In 2006, I founded Kids Have a Dream, a global youth empowerment project which organises dream workshops for ten- to 15 year-olds. In collaboration with local teachers and youth workers, I have been able to collect dreams from more than 3,500 young visionaries from 28 countries, from Baghdad to Bangladesh and Tokyo to Turkey. This is my story.
I was 24 when I started Kids Have a Dream, and you may ask how a new university graduate can start her own global humanitarian organisation with no money and a corporate consultant job to take care of. The trick was a focused design, an Internet connection and a little help from my friends.
To make it sustainable, I had to use only local resources and to make it scale it had to be easy for everyone to participate. Today, all you need to organise a Dream Workshop is a group of youths, a local elder, paper and pens. But most importantly, I needed a powerful and relevant question: What is your dream for the future?
This question captivates the imagination!
At the end of each workshop the participants share their dreams with each other and discuss how they can take the first step towards mking their dreams come true. Then the drawings are sent to me, so I can share them with the world through social media and in exhibitions – most prominently by illuminating the remaining parts of the Berlin Wall during the 25th anniversary of its fall on November 9, 2014.
It has been an incredible journey, having spent the past seven years collecting, exhibiting and discussing dreams and our common future. I have seen how visions change along with growing GDP and improved access to education, but also how media, political uprisings and stagnating societies affect the youth beyond what most people expect.
One recent experience is close to my heart. On January 11 this year, I collaborated with Global Compassion, an African NGO, to organise a dream workshop in Santchou in the western region of Cameroon. What stood out were three drawings. Three students stating ”I have a dream… to be a computer scientist.” It was the first time I had seen that dream appear in a workshop in Africa. What is even more remarkable is that two of them were girls!
One of the girls is Lomo Jessica from the Government High School in Santchou. It is the first high school in Santchou, but it does not have computers and neither does Jessica’s family. So where does her dream come from? Clement Awanfe Ngueto, the founder of Global Compassion, said: “In Santchou some of the families have TVs in their homes, and the youth look at news related to computers. The government of Cameroon has also started to do more communication campaigns about connectivity as a priority for development.”
The campaign seems to be working, but it is not the only reason: Role models have an important part to play as well. Ewoukem Ivan also wants to work with computers. He wants to use them like the secretary in his school. Also, he said he has seen them being used by “white men” on TV. Role models have inspired Lomo Jessica too, but not adults. During a family holiday in Douala she saw a girl of her own age use a computer at home.
It looked like fun!
Owning or working on a computer may be a sign of prosperity, but to the youth from Santchou it is much more than that. Magnou Ange wants access to a computer to talk with other children from abroad, whereas Makem Alang (14) has even bigger plans. He wants to become an entrepreneur and use a computer to spread his business.
These are not dreams from kids in Silicon Valley, London or Berlin, these are dreams from young people in a remote village in western Cameroon. The world is changing fast, and right before our eyes. The future carries so much promise, if we are able to connect Jessica and her friends with their European and American counterparts.
* If you would like to support the youth in Cameroon, please support Global Compassion provide access to clean drinking water here.