During the summer, World Link conducts the Belarus Youth Leadership Program (BYLP) in partnership with American Councils and US Department of State. By participating in the four week summer program, the students develop an understanding of civic responsibility, the role youth can play, and a commitment to making positive changes in their own community through the theme of urban and community gardening. This subtheme provides a way to show students how simple garden projects can make a positive change in their communities.
This year 36 Belarusian and 12 U.S youth between the ages of 15 and 17 were selected to participate in the program. On June 28th, the conference was underway with a 6 day workshop in Chicago. This first week was packed with team building activities, public achievement workshops, cultural site-seeing, and visits to various community gardens and farms, as well as environmental organizations all around the Chicago area. Participants began to develop their own garden-themed service projects while being inspired by projects like Windy City Harvest Youth Farm and Uncommon Rooftop Farm. This year, participants had hands-on experience making bottle plant projects with children at Educare of Chicago; a school that helps at-risk infants, toddlers, and preschoolers learn the skills they will need to be successful in school through a sub-theme of gardening. Participants left Chicago; with a strong community of support from their peers, a formulated project plan, and the confidence to put those plans in action.
After their week in Chicago, the students were split into three groups and sent to three different host sites; one each in Colorado, Illinois, and Minnesota, where they would stay for two weeks. In the course of the two weeks, participants continued to learn more about the sub-theme of the program through more tours of local environmental organizations, gardens, and farms. They also saw several cultural sites and landmarks and continued to develop their projects through another Public Achievement workshop. Some host sites gave participants more hands-on experience by leading more projects like bottle plant projects with various groups in their host communities. The weekends were left open for the students to be able to enjoy quality time with their host families and their peers.
Once their two weeks with their host sites was up, Belarusian participants flew to Washington D.C for a week of civic education. Through sight-seeing and different civic related workshops in D.C, the students learned all about American government and politics. Participants even got to meet with senators and other government representatives on Capitol Hill. From there, participants went back to their home communities.
In September, participants will complete a small project with a local disadvantaged group, much like the ones they experienced and led during the summer program. These small projects will help them gain confidence and see first-hand how their small project can greatly impact their community. Participants will then take the steps to move forward bringing their larger scaled projects to life. In the spring, we know we will have many successful projects to share from this summer program’s participants and know they will truly be change-makers in their communities!