YES Akademia- My experience, by Amy Faulkner

Article written by Amy Faulkner, October 26, 2016, while on her year abroad from Cambridge University.

Amy Bio Photo

Presentation : the diversity I have experienced through kaleidoscopic binoculars

My name is Amy Faulkner and I am currently on my year abroad in Paris and am interning for YES Akademia, a small for-social-profit global grassroots organisation. YES Akademia is an NGO committed to social profit on a multidimensional plane. It reaches within and beyond the hexagon where it was established in 2012 when founding Director Sarah Gogel brought the NGO from Boston to Paris to plant its roots in this bustling and highly politicised, bureaucratic bound country where it would soon blast through the clog of paperwork and completely redefine itself.

My experience working here has been, if I had to sum it up in one word, diverse. There is no end to what I have learnt so far and coming from knowing very little about the organisation beyond the main stages of their signature programme run for youth in France, I have plummeted from a rather vertiginous land in the clouds to land right in the core of the true raison d’être to this organisation. It’s been months of following travel blogs, braving emails in French, skirting around Paris to events and receptions, hellos and farewells and Nicaraguan hats to bring me to the present. How I perceive YES Akademia now is through kaleidoscopic binoculars in its multipurpose and catalytic engagement with youth.

Let me explain.

History and new look

YES Akademia, founded originally under the name of Global Potential in the US in 2007, is an association that opened up in France in 2012, working to empower 500 youth in France and partner countries every year (15-30 year olds). For those familiar with YES Akademia we call it YAKA, which also means hope in Wolof and in French is an expression that incites one to act. We have since September 1, 2016, a new logo in tricolour representing collaboration and convergence. With this bold new look and ambitions, we are going to launch a new partnership with a village in India this year, and many other exciting programs ! The signature programme ‘IMPOWER is currently recruiting the next leaders-to-be of the future from a whole range of different backgrounds to take part in a three-stage educational programme, dedicated to youth empowerment and leadership.

IMPOWER Signature Programme

The IMPOWER programme begins with a 8 month long period of workshops where the young people meet each week to discuss social themes as well as developing their leadership and entrepreneurial skills. Then, the ‘laureats’ enter into the second phase of the programme where they spend up to 45 days in one of our partner villages in Senegal, Haiti, Niacaragua, the Dominican Republic or India where they undertake small micro-development projects, internships and workshops as well as organising a forum in the village which is always a much anticipated event. The trips are specifically designed to encourage a truly culturally immersive and experience for the youth based on social justice, opening their eyes to another world that they might never have dreamed of experiencing. And finally the third phase takes place once the school year begins again in September. This is the time for the lauréats to undertake an independent and personal project, using the skills they have developed to make a difference to their community or communities abroad.

Kaleidoscopic Spiral of Goodwill- « un cercle vertueux! »

So, as for this kaleidoscopic spiral of goodwill to which I refer: the young people are trained and taught in a really diverse range of topics, encouraged to debate, form their own views, discuss, meet others in this dynamic setting. They are benefited as well as working to benefit others on their trips abroad: for them this is an eye-opening intercultural experience; for the locals they live with, they are a source of cultural learning too and an enthusiastic breath of fresh air who help to develop various aspects of their community life in a small but impactful way. They benefit also from firm new friendships, amongst themselves through the intense but rich and rewarding experience, and with the new people they meet abroad. These are contacts that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.

And finally they benefit others and are benefitted themselves through their own personal project: it is a project of self-development and one that gives something back to their community or to the world in a personal way. And this is all organised through the small but lively hub which is our colourful office in Pantin (just outside of Paris) where young interns like myself are benefitting (helping out this wonderful for social profit) and are themselves benefitted: my perspective on Paris has completely changed since joining the organisation and I have discovered a small family in the somewhat exclusive capital. Many people join the programme in search of something more, to learn and grow as a person, seeking a sense of community. They end up as a buzzing and socially engaged group of young people and the world gains 26 new visions of its future. Is there a word for a healthy vicious cycle? 

Inspirational and inspiring youth

I recently met one of the ‘lauréats‘ this year who travelled with us to Senegal called Nadjma Kara, a really lovely and enthusiastic 21 year old and listening to her talk about the plans for her project is truly inspiring. Najdma wants to inaugurate a sort of nursery school which would provide both educational and recreational support for young children in Comoros, a small island off Africa’s east coast. Both of Nadjma’s parents were born in Comoros and having visited several times herself, the small island is important to Nadjma’s story. Her life in Paris has made her realise that there is a real lack of this sort of opportunity for children in Comoros. Nadjma, however, recognises the difference this makes to a child’s social development at such a crucial stage of their lives. Before these projects have even begun to be put in place, it is clear to see that YES Akademia has helped to bring the innovator, the problem solver and the future change makers of our world out from the corners of society. Where have these people hiding?

Sofiane Bouarif is another ‘ancien laureat’ but from the very first programme, and another face to truly admire. Having come from being an aspiring young entrepreneur, he has subsequently remained with the organisation and joined the team as a member of staff, travelling to Nicaragua and Haiti. These trips have truly inspired him, opened his world up to the idea of boundless opportunity and allowed him to meet new people, grow in confidence under a truly cosmopolitan and dynamic structure.

Uprooting the Stereotypes to Uplift the Future

What these two laureates have in common is their home, what they do not, their heritage. Both Nadjma and Sofiane grew up just outside of Paris, in La Courneuve and Noisiel, the Parisian banlieues that are often times unjustly stigmatised in the media. The injustice only really became evident to me in my last couple of months working here. Meeting people like Sofiane, of Algerian heritage, and Nadjma whose parents are from the small island Comos, has imploded any misconception I might have construed from hearing about the marginalised suburban areas around Paris on the news at home in the UK.

Socially engaged, driven, inspiring, determined…I could continue for a long while yet on the glowing adjectives that I would associate with these young people. Nadjma is now currently working towards a degree in Law at UPEC university in Créteil and Sofiane is studying Economics at ENS, one of the most prestigious universities in Paris.

I have never felt more uplifted for the future of our world than I do right now.

Thank you YES Akademia.