The only truthful way for me to illustrate the International Youth Initiative Program (YIP) in Sweden, I believe, is with the story of my own experience as participant, alumnus, co-worker, and then contributor. With each passing year, and each group of individuals passing through the program, YIP becomes ever more diverse, and continues to prove that it is what you make of it.
I heard about YIP in the winter of 2007 from my sweet mother who came across a display ad in an anthroposophic magazine (it may even have been LILIPOH!). Two years separated me from the end of my high school experience, and I had confided in her my yearning to return to a learning environment while also expressing my disillusionment and unease with the college and university circuits I witnessed my friends navigating. I longed for deep relationships and a community of peers that could relate to my strivings toward social engagement.
I received the acceptance letter from YIP on my twentieth birthday. As I packed my bags I was unaware that I would be one of 40 participants, aged 18 to 28 years old from 18 different countries, pioneering the inaugural year of the program.
The eleven months I spent in YIP changed my life. (The time for current participants is now ten months.) From living together in one large house on a biodynamic farm; from travelling to India on an internship of my own design; and from planning and executing a conference with 300 participants, I learned and changed and grew. One could argue that any year in any life spent doing anything has the potential to be life changing, and I would agree. But this was a fundamental shift in how I experienced my present and viewed my future. It was a process of being laid bare to the world, stripped of any facade, and doing so with a community of peers, some younger and some much older than I; and doing so with mentors, willing to remain at my side and support me no matter what my state, witnessing and encouraging my becoming.
In addition to this experience of personal growth and connection to a vast community of engaged individuals, I left YIP with the practical skills to organize, facilitate, and communicate on a large scale. The program is organized into one-week intensive courses led by experts in their respective fields, such as Consciousness and Mentoring, Politics and Governance, Ecology, Technology, Portrait Painting, and even Knife-Making. The diversity of the curriculum reflects the diversity in the participants—where they come from and what their experience is. This is part of the reason I am telling my story of YIP and not the story of YIP.
Moving forward, I felt supported by a community that had my back, that I could turn to for advice and inspiration at any moment, and with that confidence I went on to organize a music festival, start writing a book, manage the front-of-house at a brewery, and collaborate on a Zimbabwean agricultural initiative.
Over the last ten years, other alumnae have gone on to become mothers, fathers, educators, carpenters, social workers, chefs, activists, lawyers, musicians, campaign managers, baristas, filmmakers, composers, dancers, farmers, postal workers, community leaders, sales people, photographers, inventors, computer technicians, and fashion designers; and that is just to name a few. There are now more than 300 alums from approximately 35 countries, each engaging uniquely with the world, but each moving through life with a deeper understanding of what we are facing as a global community and of the value of relationship.
Several years after my graduation from the program I returned for two years to join a team of six in organizing the program. Through that experience I learned what it takes to support and hold such a diverse group of individuals the way that I had been held, a perspective for which I am very grateful. And over the last few years I have returned as a course leader, experiencing what it is like to be in the presence of these brilliant minds and hearts and hands for just a moment on their journey, becoming part of an extended community of support as they move along their way.
I am now days away from turning 30 years old. In many ways, and among many other things, I am a seeker. I seek out goodness and justice in the world; and where it is lacking I attempt to create it, alone and together with others. And although I have been chewed up and spit out several times along the way, I do my best to remain confident that goodness will ultimately prevail. I believe that in no small part my experience at YIP has played a role in the development of this conviction.