150 youth, ages 13-30, took part in the AYUDH Americas annual summit, “The Ripple Effect 2017--Create. Sustain. Engage.” Students and young professionals representing over ten different countries and 25 universities across the globe came together from August 2nd - 6th at the MA Center Chicago, strategizing about the youth’s role in worldwide issues, engaging in spiritual and reflective activities, and participating in workshops on sustainable development, nature, creativity, self-expression, music, sports, and world peace.
150 youth, ages 13-30, took part in the AYUDH Americas annual summit, “The Ripple Effect 2017–Create. Sustain. Engage.” Students and young professionals representing over ten different countries and 25 universities across the globe came together from August 2nd – 6th at the MA Center Chicago, strategizing about the youth’s role in worldwide issues, engaging in spiritual and reflective activities, and participating in workshops on sustainable development, nature, creativity, self-expression, music, sports, and world peace.
The youth-chosen theme this year of Create. Sustain. Engage. was a call to all individuals to serve as living examples of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the core message of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, by creating responsible lifestyles, sustaining these solutions, and engaging one another to impart meaningful change. Empowered, they found common ground with the understanding that not only do the SDGs belong to everyone, but also that this change must begin within each individual. Inspired by Amma’s message of unconditional love, service to humanity, and responsibility towards nature, these young leaders envision a life of sustainability as a life of harmony and compassion towards all sentient and insentient beings. United in a profound experience of unity in diversity over the course of the five-day summit, they developed projects to invoke lasting impacts and resonate a profound sense of responsibility in all.
Participants were greeted with an introduction to Embracing the World and Amma’s charitable projects on the first day led by Br. Shantamrita Chaitanya, one of Amma’s long-term disciples. On a tour of MA Center Chicago including the medicinal herb gardens and organic vegetable farm,
Participants on tour of ETW Center
Br. Shantamrita Chaitanya explained the philosophy of holistic living, stressing the importance of inner peace and a connection with nature, to foster the wellbeing of the world. The ceremonies were inaugurated with words of wisdom from Ron Gottsegan, President of M.A. Centers, who also emphasized that “It is only through self empowerment we can improve the world.” Br. Ramanand, Director of AYUDH Americas, also inaugurated the Ripple Effect 2017, in his address encouraging AYUDH members to remain ever optimistic and sharing that “life becomes interesting when you find the advantages within the disadvantages.” The youth also enjoyed spiritual talks and question and answer sessions with Swami Ramakrishananda Puri in which they learned to approach life situations either with the expectation of both good and bad results or with detachment from the outcome in order to develop the mental resolve to face any challenge, in this way not allowing external circumstances to impact our health and happiness. As Swami Ramakrishnananda Puri explained, “Aptitude must come with the right mental attitude.” Swamiji also described how we can play our part to restore harmony to nature by even small, everyday acts like remembering to turn off the lights, not taking excess that will go to waste, and being aware of and seeking to reduce our excess consumption. Swamiji gave the simple example of, when using a disposable container is unavoidable at for example a coffee shop, washing and re-uisng the cup a few times before throwing it away.
Daily yoga and meditation
Prayers for peace
Throughout the summit, participants also took part in group bonding exercises, promoting a community of love and acceptance, led by Br. Ramanand. Among these activities were a youth-led interfaith peace prayer where the participants recited hymns from different religions in their various native languages from around the world. Morning and evening were spent in silent reflection and prayers for world peace included Archana (chanting), bhajans (devotional singing), and meditation. AYUDH eagerly looked forward to starting their mornings with Amrita Yoga taught by Viveka Koichi Kanematsu where they learned to look within for peace, joy, and the confidence to daringly move forward in changing the world. Additionally, participants had the blissful opportunity of learning the IAM-20 meditation technique on the second day, graciously taught by
Dr. Sumana Lynn Williams, and attending guided practice sessions every morning thereafter with Chidroop Clive Pomery-Ward.
Participants learn IAM Meditation and its benefits
Participants also found bliss in opportunities for group and individual selfless service, getting to work side-by-side with the countless local and distant volunteers who came together at the M.A. Center Chicago to make the retreat possible, from the wholesome food and peaceful accommodations, to the transportation, finances, organization, and sponsorship. AYUDH expresses its deep gratitude and finds heartfelt inspiration in the pure devotion and loving service of all the volunteers and sponsors who worked tirelessly as Amma’s hands and hearts throughout the summit and beyond.
Malvika Iyer speaks on the importance of perseverance
The youth were joined and inspired by many special guests including Award-winning Disability Rights Activist and accident survivor Malvika Iyer who inspired the crowd with her personal stories and odds-defying accomplishments. Delivering a poignant address to AYUDH, Iyer motivated all to understand that “people don’t have disabilities, society creates them…Competing with people will only leave you unsatisfied. So find what makes you unique as an individual and work on being better for yourself.” Special guest Chatilla van Grinsven, a Women’s NBA star and prominent member of the Dutch National Basketball Team, also stressed personal empowerment through both mental and physical wellness. AYUDH participants were treated with many opportunities to work with van Grinsven not only on their basketball skills but also on their team building and self discipline with many sports tournaments throughout the summit. Participants also warmly welcomed back special guest Lucia Rijker, a champion welterweight, kickboxer, and fighter known as “The Most Dangerous Woman in the World”, with whom they learned to use exercise and self-defense to help hone in on their minds as well as their bodies. Putting her words “to achieve your goals you should have not only intention but attention” into practice, Rijker lead AYUDH in developing awareness and seeking inner stillness through concentrating on movement and physical activity.
AYUDH was also delighted to welcome back Sienna Nordquist, 2015 Global Community Champion for Women’s Economic Empowerment and activist against human trafficking, who
engaged AYUDH with an interactive United Nations-style forum to give youth a voice in solving simulated global problems that are all-too-real for many nations in the world today. Expanding many people’s perspectives on what reality is like for many cultures outside their home countries and motivating youth to take an active role, Nordquist explained, “You have to choose your battles. Fight them. And have faith in yourself that you can make a difference.” AYUDH also welcomed former Youth Observers to the United Nations, Donya Nasser and Nicol Perez, who held a joint discussion with participants. Nasser spoke on the power of galvanizing younger generations, who embody the potential of our future, to secure equality and justice for all. “I don’t want to speak at the youth…I want to speak to them. We can’t work to fix the world until we have a conversation” she said. Perez advocated strongly that “the country won’t change unless the people are willing to see the change,” and stressed the importance of the role of young people in advocating for social justice.
United States Youth Observers to the United Nations– Donya Nasser & Nicol Perez
AYUDH this year also welcomed David Balakrishnan, composer, violinist, and founder of the Grammy-winning Turtle Island Quartet, to share his musical and inspirational experiences with the participants. Balakrishnan entranced his audience with incredible pieces that he had composed, carefully crafting the notes and blending together different genres of music, and held an informal music jam session with AYUDH members who also had a musical flare. Continuing the tunes over the remaining days of the summit, Tara Murphy, Chris Keniley, and Sundjata Johnson held a workshop on African drumming and a group African dance session outdoors under a canopy of late-afternoon sunshine that got heartbeats racing, blood pumping, and laughter echoing across the landscape. Participants tuned into the pounding rhythms, connected with the music and one another, and found a means to spread the joy in their spirits as they danced together with nature, expressing a profound sense of acceptance and love towards all.
Culmination of our music workshops– AYUDH sings 2017 Theme Song
Team-based activities like a scavenger hunt and race around the Ashram, nature walks, sports, and other games filled the Ashram grounds with the love, laughter, and energy of young hearts. Among the workshops offered were African drumming, soap-making led by Mahana, recycling & compost led by Beth, tree health led by Ralph, hands-on projects around the Ashram led by Darius, and music composition led by Sharini. On one of the days, AYUDH members even teamed up with the Chicago-land Amrita Bala Kendra (ABK) children age 12 and under to help the little ones craft their own initiative to promote love and peace with an activity to personalize and distribute 100 teddy bears to local children in need that they nick-named “Bears for Change.” When the ABK members distribute these teddy bears, they will make an effort to extend their friendship to each recipient, in this way getting to know the needs of others and promoting a sense of unity in diversity from an early age. With this, AYUDH members strived to embody the message of sustainability and individual responsibility to create, sustain, and engage ripples of peace and goodwill beyond generational, cultural, and geographical lines.
The summit highlighted a Youth Parliament on Saturday, August 5th in which young delegates from Brazil, Canada, Cuba, India, Mexico, Kenya, and all around the mainland and non-mainland United States of America discussed their region’s take on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and each country’s progress and challenges affecting local youth. The delegates were guided by an esteemed panel of special guests including Swami Ramakrishananada Puri, Br. Shantamrita Chaitanya, Malvika Iyer, Lucia Rijker, Chatilla van Grinsven, Sienna Nordquist, and Mohammed Khader, Chief Strategist for Youth Caucus of America. The Youth Parliament was led by former Youth Observers to the United Nations, Nicole Perez and Donya Nasser, and an update on the astounding progress of AYUDH chapters across the Americas on last year’s initiatives, AYUDH Connect, AYUDH Grow, and AYUDH Teach, was delivered by Elizabeth Vidya Corley, AYUDH Americas National Coordinator. One special highlight of the morning was a speech by three invited ABK representatives, ages 10-12, empowering even the youngest participants to have a voice for change. The ABK children spoke on what issues they thought were most important for the world today and on which Sustainable Development Goals they hoped AYUDH would focus for the year. The Youth Parliament was recorded live and can be viewed at https://www.facebook.com/AYUDHNorthAmerica/videos/1993443667597575/.
The summit culmunated in AYUDH collectively developing the three new initiatives that AYUDH chapters around the Americas will commit to for the 2017-2018 academic year. This year AYUDH Americas will focus on Sustainable Development Goal #2, Zero Hunger, with AYUDH Aware, an initiative to cultivate awareness about hunger and food wastage and mentor the next generation to sustain efforts to feed people suffering from hunger as well as consume responsibly. The second Sustainable Development Goal chosen, no doubt in part due to the sincere wishes of ABK representatives at the Youth Parliament, was #5, Gender Equality. AYUDH Empower towards this goal will creatively employ social media to lead global awareness campaigns on the entire range of genders and identities in order to help people around the world find common ground and empower all members of society to create and foster communities of love and acceptance. Finally, towards Sustainable Development Goal #4, Quality Education, participants developed an initiative called AYUDH Educate. Hearing Amma stress the importance of both education for livelihood as well as education for life, AYUDH members will not only teach others skills for school and work, but also strive to inspire values like compassion, love, wellbeing, stress-management, harmony with nature, and peace. In this way and as Amma says, AYUDH youth will lead the way in spreading the courage and wisdom needed to face the challenges of life and become future professionals with the livelihood skills, mental strength, and heart to uplift the world. Please find out more and follow the progress of AYUDH Americas initiatives at http://ayudh.org/our-initiatives/ and join us on Facebook at facebook.com/AYUDHNorthAmerica.