5 lessons in grace and humility with gap-year students

By Angela Jia-Yin Ng, Communications and Fundraising Fellow

Thousand Currents hosted an event with 35 high school students and facilitators at the OpenGovHub in Washington, D.C. last Friday. Our guests were from Thinking Beyond Borders, an organization that coordinates global gap year programs to develop students’ cultural competencies and build their capacities to make social change. For the past year, the students lived and volunteered in countries in the Global South, and they were in D.C. for the culmination of their program.

Katherine Zavala and Jennifer Lentfer (center) talk with students from Thinking Beyond Borders at the OpenGovHub on March 10, 2017. Photo credit: Angela Jia-Yin Ng/Thousand Currents

In true Thousand Currents  fashion, Jennifer Lentfer, our Director of Communications, and Katherine Zavala, our Regional Director for Latin America, sat with the students in a circle and shared about how we at Thousand Currents strive to embody our Theory of Change in our work with our partners.

Jennifer also moderated a panel with Stephen McGrath from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, Nada Zohdy from Global Integrity, and Stacy Whittle from Free Range, where they discussed a variety of topics related to their work experiences in the social good sector. Many of the students in the room had expressed interest in beginning a career in international development, and we are glad for the opportunity that Thousand Currents  had to participate in this exchange of ideas.

Panelists speak to students at the OpenGovHub on March 10, 2017. Panelists (left to right): Nada Zohdy, Stephen McGrath, Stacy Whittle, and Jennifer Lentfer. Photo credit: Katherine Zavala/Thousand Currents

The discussion was definitely a fruitful one for both the audience and the panelists! Take a look at some of the biggest takeaways:

1) Remember why you do the work that you do.

“Our souls are in this,” as Jennifer put it. Everyone has a “fuel for their fire”; their personal connection to their work and why they do what they do. What is yours? If you know it, claim it and own it, because that is your truth – or at least one of your truths. We all come to this work because of hearts, and not just because of our minds. It is okay – and good – to bring your whole selves to your work.

2) If you feel burnt out, remember that there are people who want you to burn out.

And these are the people who are working for the things that go against our values and beliefs. So don’t give up! You are needed.

3) Be careful about “preaching to the choir”.

We shouldn’t be satisfied talking only to people who are already inclined to support our causes. We need to engage with people outside our regular audiences and find creative ways to tell them why and how our work is relevant to their lives!

4) You may never be able to fully convey to others what you’ve been through and what you’ve learned, and that’s okay.

It is sometimes difficult to share your story, especially if the ones hearing it are holding on to narratives that are different from the narrative that you are trying to share. If you are talking to someone and find that you are faced with a statement that you don’t agree with or believe in, try asking the question: “Why do you think that?” You might be surprised at the response that you get.

5) Be open to learning from everyone.

And we mean everyone. Don’t do yourself the disservice of assuming that you can only learn from a few people in the room. Humility will find you if you let it. And if you let it, you will find that you can learn something from anyone, regardless of their age, nationality, race, class, and other identifiers. There is so much that people all around the world can teach us, regardless of what our assumptions and prejudices may tell us.

Panelists Nada Zohdy, Stephen McGrath, Stacy Whittle, and Jennifer Lentfer speak to students at the OpenGovHub on March 10, 2017. Photo credit: Angela Jia-Yin Ng/Thousand Currents

We thank our panelists from the OpenGovHub community and our guests from Thinking Beyond Borders for sharing their wisdom, thoughts, and experiences with us. We enjoyed our exchanges very much. And to the students at Thinking Beyond Borders, we can’t wait to see what you will do in the future with the knowledge and skills that you have under your belts! All the best from us at Thousand Currents!


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