On the afternoon of Dec. 1st, nearly 50 youth leaders from El Salvador and Guatemala arrived at the 7th Annual SERES Youth Sustainability Summit, greeting facilitators and one another with smiles and laughs despite the hours of travel many of them had spent in order to arrive at Casa Adulam in Guatemala. Five days later, sad faces and emotional goodbyes as the youth leaders returned to their respective countries were evidence that the summit and the relationships formed throughout the experience had truly made an impact on many of the participants.
“My experience in this sustainability summit has been very constructive, since the knowledge that we’ve acquired here we’ve built together as a SERES team, and as young people,” said Julio Tojin Vázquez, participant from San Miguel Uspántan, Quiché, Guatemala, echoing the thoughts expressed by many participants who stated that the summit strengthened their abilities as local leaders and their relationship with the SERES network as a whole.
SERES facilitators and administrators, like Antonio Cruz Sánchez, co-founder and El Salvador program coordinator, expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to work with the group of youth leaders that participated in the program and are constantly seeking to mobilize the SERES network.
“For me it’s a very special moment, knowing that we’re in the 7th annual summit of Central American youth leaders. I’m very, very excited to see this energy among the young people, this enthusiasm, and to see that they’re achieving great transformation in their communities,” Sánchez said. “I feel like we’re doing something that is changing the world, that’s creating a great transformation of the kind that we need in these communities, and in our countries.”
Many of the participants said that the tools that they learned at the summit would continue to be useful upon returning to their communities, as they seek to establish support for their action plans and mobilize other youth in their sustainability efforts.
All of the attendees participated in workshops for communications, finances and entrepreneurship, movement and coalition building, and voice and diction. Additional, optional sessions offered on Monday of the five-day event provided skills related to sustainable home design, water treatment, agro-ecology, sexual and reproductive health, and nutrition.
SERES partnered with several other organizations, such as WINGS Guatemala, who provided the workshop for sexual and reproductive health, and Plataforma Global El Salvador, whose movements and coalition-building workshop was cited by many of the participants as providing some of the most useful and readily applicable skills for their action plans in their local communities. Many other facilitators with professional experience in various areas of sustainability education contributed by designing and teaching workshops and classes, including: Antonio Aguilar of CASSA, Juan José Asensio, Gabriel Paniagua, Erick Torres, Ana Fion, y Yenia Posadas, and Bayron Solares of Save the Children Guatemala.
“One of the things that I notice the most are the tools that SERES gives to us to be able to replicate in our communities,” said Vázquez. “And the different workshops also about how we can reach more people, how we can empower more youth, how we can make our local plans known at the regional level.
Diego Salomón Ajcot, from Uspantán, Quiché, Guatemala, agreed.
“These workshops have motivated me a lot. They’ve made me experience a little bit more, and understand how we can be change,” Ajcot said.
Other programs throughout the summit included a workshop on the first day facilitated by Play for Peace, and an “Inspiration Panel” in which several Guatemalan activists shared their experiences and how they built their careers.
In line with SERES’ Theory of Change, which seeks to connect personal development and discovery to civic leadership, youth leaders also participated in “The River of Life” personal discovery activity, and the “World Cafe,” facilitated by SERES director Corrina Grace, which inspired the summit participants to dive into thoughtful, passionate discussion about the essence of leadership and their roles as local sustainability leaders in the social and political contexts of Guatemala, El Salvador, and the region as a whole.
Creating and fortifying an international network
Many of the participants remarked on the community that was created by the youth summit, through both formal and informal dialogue and exchange among the 42 youth leaders coming from different regions, and different ethnic and educational backgrounds, from within two separate countries.
“The truth is, it was a really beautiful experience, since I had almost never done a program like this,” Ema Lopez, of Uspántan, Quiché, Guatemala, said.
“It’s very important to exist with other people,” she added. “In this way you obtain a lot of knowledge, new experiences, that each person has. We each share in this and that is really nice.”
“I learned a lot,” agreed Bryan Esteban Jiménez Jorasán, from Jujutla, El Salvador. “I’ve become more aware of the environment, and the environmental situation in my country, in different areas, and also the environmental situation in Guatemala.”
Many participants talked about the goals they have for their projects in their community. They plan to use to use the skills that they developed at the summit in order to move forward in implementing their local action plans.
“In the year 2017, we want to empower 150 young people in San Miguel de Uspántan, and we want to reach 10 communities of the municipality,” said Vázquez of his action plan and goals as a SERES youth leader in his community. “Within a year I want to return to SERES but with more young people, with a wider and more fortified network in Uspántan.”
Presentation of Year-End Awards
At the conclusion of the summit, three groups’ action plans, in three different categories, were awarded a 500 USD-prize in recognition of their achievements and impact. The action plan “Youth Leading Uspántan” focused on reforestation, environmental education workshops, and healthy stores in Uspántan, Quiche, Guatemala, won in the category of gestation and organization; “The Network 4.0.1,” a group from Guaymango, El Salvador, won in the “inspiration” category, after their video received the most likes from their peers in the Somos SERES Facebook page; and the third prize was for an action plan to comprehensively raise awareness about the environment in Papaturro, El Salvador, which won in the category of impact.
But in the words of one participant who spoke in an open reflection space for the participants on the last night, everyone who attended the summit is already a “winner.”