Thursday, November 6, 2008

YES! JAMS THE HEALING POWER OF COMMUNITY[tt_news]=1563&tx_ttnews[backPid]=500&cHash=0f816a1642

Today's leading organisation for Youth Leadership was born in a time when the Nancy Reagan called to the young generation to “Just Say No”, a 16 year old Californian youth found there’s something fundamentally wrong in this, and thought the much better way is “Just say Yes!”.

At a time when the Nancy Reagan* called to the young generation to “Just Say No”, a 16 year old Californian youth found there’s something fundamentally wrong in this, and thought the much better way is “Just say Yes!”.

In 1990, Yes! ‘Youth for Environmental Sanity’ was born, and this was the birth moment of something extraordinary. Beginning with local environmental actions, Yes! soon started touring the U.S, visiting high schools and speaking to more than 650,000 students, bringing them a special message :

“Young people are not the leaders of tomorrow. We are the leaders of today. And we are going to show you how.”

The experience of encounters with young people of different backgrounds, sharing the aspirations for positive change, has brought Yes! to the next step, which they have become known and famous for : Yes! Jams.


Yes! is bringing young, visionary leaders together. Not for a talking head seminar, but informal, week-long gatherings. Full of dialogue, sharing their stories, pains and dreams, of playing and art, of caring and joy. Now, what is so special about this? Often, individual leaders and innovators – naturally - have few or no one to understand their feelings, their drive, motivations and aspirations. No one to the pressures they are subject to. This is especially true for young leaders.

“You stand out… and the moment you stand out you are in the bulls eye of criticism…”

Visit the Jam Bios to get an impression of the qualities and strenghts in young people. Instead of asking ‘Can Young People Change the World?’ we should ask ‘Can the World Do Without them?’

At the age of 12, in response to the pervasive violence Colombia, war-torn for the past 50 years, Mayerly Sánchez Clavijo founded the Children’s Movement for Peace in Colombia, responsible for a national youth newspaper about peace, peace and human rights education of over 25,000 children, the participation of young people in the formation of public policy, and the government’s establishment of “peace zones.” It is no surprise that Mayerly has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize 3 times.

Faten A. Olwan Abuseed has lived through two intifadas and been personally subjected to the violence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Ramallah, West Bank, Palestine. She was shot by a soldier while performing journalism duties, microphone in hand, and witnessed the murder of her boyfriend. Faten was an award-winning reporter for Tunis, and is currently correspondent for television and radio stations. As Ahmed Qureia’s, Palestinian Prime Minister, media coordinator, she hopes her work will contribute to the re-establishment of communication and trust between Israeli and Palestinian people.

At the young age of nine, Kimmie Weeks came face to face with civil war, human suffering, and death. He can still vividly recall eating roots and wild leaves when his family did not have access to food, drinking infested water, and nearly being buried alive after epidemics had wrecked his emaciated body. Over the years, Weeks has formed partnerships and led organizations that have lobbied the disarmament of over 20,000 child soldiers, provided education to over 1 million students in West Africa, health care and recreation supplies to children. When the Liberian government attempted to assassinate him for a report he had issued on its involvement in the training of child soldiers, Kimmie was forced to flee Liberia at the age of seventeen.

“In Nigeria, the hopes of millions have been pinned on me. Everything I do is under the spotlight. If they want to sell papers, they put me on the cover. If they want to gain popular support in an election, they ask for my endorsement. Where does someone like me go when we need a safe place to be and learn? To renew, deepen the foundation of our work, and sharpen our focus? To share experiences, lessons and build relationships with others that can advance our thinking, approach and capacity? We go to the YES! Jam, which gives us all that and so much more.”

Hafsat Abiola, Nigeria, Founder of Kudirat Initiative for Democracy. Her father, elected president, died in jail. Her mother got killed for civil engagement. Hafsat is now working towards one goal : the empowerment of one billion young women worldwide.

Yes! Jams help share and release passions, pains and feelings, find comfort, support and hope. Whereas they appear strong and inspiring, activists do experience pain and doubt, and this is no weakness. It is natural, and their courage lies in daring to face the winds. The challenge in activism is how to carry the burden, how to release stress, suffering, doubts and fears.

“As an activist we focus so much on healing the pain and conflict around us that we never get a chance to heal the pain inside our own lives, to grow as individuals with integrity and strength of spirit with healthy bodies full of energy to dedicate to our work. Thank you YES! for a wonderful time. My heart has opened to the possibility of a place for spirit in my work. This camp through me will reach hundreds of young people.” —Karun Koernig, 25, Manager, Environmental Youth Alliance, Vancouver, Canada

Traditional cultures have their ways and methods of dealing with this – healing rituals, dance, meditation, talking circles… and everything in community. Community is what Yes Jams offer, and the organisers lay a lot of emphasis on spirituality and healing. The strong spiritual inclination of many activists naturally brings in elements of love and compassion that help strengthen each other.

“This experience humanized the stories I’d previously heard only through the news. I now recognize that the world and the people working to make our communities healthy and sustainable are not so distant. The Jammers have truly inspired me. Their determination, passion, strength and struggles have and will continue to impact my work as an indigenous activist. It has been a fantastic environment in which to grow and open a new scope of reality in my work and my life.” — Cathy Rexford, 24, Alaska Native Education Program, Future Alaska Native Educator Network, & Iñuit Circumpolar Youth Conference, Alaska, USA

Yes! has held more than 90 week-long jams around the world, with visionary young leaders from more than sixty-five nations. Surveys among participants have shown that, among other things, 94% of Jammers gained valuable skills and perspectives that enhanced their life. They have also started more than 400 non-profit groups working for positive change, with immeasurable impact within the organizations and communities they serve.


Yes! has changed the image of youth activists as being serious, angry, shut down and complaining. Witnessing these brilliant, courageous young people shows that there is something fundamentally wrong in the depiction and understanding of youth and young people, coined by adults driven by an addiction to control and dominance, clinging to a stable status quo, no matter how much suffering it creates, almost void of compassion. Instead, if we shift to the view that the very nature of youth lies in the emotional perception of imperfect things in the world, and working on transforming them towards perfection, we can understand that, in its essence, youth is a driving force incorporating the guiding principle of evolution.

"I am trying to help us change our definition of growing up, so that it ceases to mean giving up on our ideals, and comes to mean learning how to live our dreams, every day, on the Earth. I want to awaken the passion and creativity of youth, combine it with the wisdom, experience and insight of elders, and transform our world." Ocean Robbins, Yes! founder

Since then, the ever-vibrant circle of people in and around Yes! has been on a learning journey following the ideals of creating meaningful relationships for true social change, operating internally on principles of collective leadership, and exploring deeper global partnerships that honor local wisdom. Their three program areas are Global Leadership Jams, Leveraging Privilege for Social Change, and Supporting Aligned Movements. Their work is at the meeting point of internal, interpersonal, and systemic transformation.



"What does priviledge mean to you?" There is much to learn about this from YesJammers in the video. Yes! looks at priviledged people not only in wealth, but also fame, publicity and power. In time and liberty to commit to causes beyond mere survival.

"I knew that rich people have issues, I knew they have problems. But I had never been in a space where I was able to hear those. The next day when I walked in the room, I felt that these people are actually peers now, they are friends. When I walked into this room, I felt that I was walking in in a new power, a new sense of myself and being able to be firm in who I was. And I know through that experience, knowing about those fears that were hidden inside me, is going to help me in my work, because I can now look at people I could not identify with before in a new way." Monica Simpson Ujamaa Coordinator, Grassroot Leadership

Yes! is building a very important bridge in connecting the priviledged people - with the luxury of education, resources and time to commit to causes of positive change – with the activists facing poverty and the physical threats of the streets. There are many basic things to learn. For example, that affluent people can suffer from grave personal and emotional deprivation despit, wealth, apparently intact families and newspaper smiles. And that they can have a strong empathy for the struggles of the poor, despite their rich parents or themselves clinging to their money. The inter-class encounter and alliances formed are one of the most precious steps towards better societies we can imagine, and only hope to take place everywhere. It can begin with activist meetings, continue with school partnerships and sharing resources for common ventures for positive change in their neighbourhoods.


There have been Yes! Jams on all continents excelt Europe! Isn’t it time to have one? We would love to organise some with you.

What’s up with Europe? Europe has unique potentials. There is widespread awareness that there is need for change. Media and education address problems. Institutions and political parties are established and aware as in no other place in the world. Financial means and social wealth are the highest in the world.

Still, Western Europe seems to be a particularly difficult field for youth and change. Everything seems rigid and finished. Administration and organisations are already in charge of almost everything – theoretically. There are many young people who are champions at knowing and talking about things. Pretty much as the older people around. Where are the movers? Where is an enthusiast spirit of community and a cheerful drive for change.

Does Europe lack some vital ingredients, like entrepreneurial drive, spiritual strength and vision, passion, enthusiasm, and in particular: the outgoing nature of heartful communication and community-building?

Can the world do without Europe? Maybe! Since many innovations are flourishing in "developing countries". They actually "do" develop!

But we feel Europe's potentials should flourish too! There has to be a new generation of change-makers growing there, too! We are seeking youth leaders of Yes!' inspirational kind in Europe! If you feel family with Yes!, if you know young people around you that are changing the world, please tell us about them. We would like to get to know them, publish their stories, support them, and – organise a European Jam!


To round off this article, let’s take a step back and put Yes! into perspective. In the past years, there has been an inflation of declaring “Green Heroes”. We believe that getting to know the people present at Yes! Jam gatherings sets the standard straight what kind of people truly embody the noble spirit behind this word.

Looking at the mess in the world and apathy the majority displays, we cannot but emphasise the example these people set for our generation, and that we should realise what their example can teach all of us. Everyone of them works not only hard on the outside, but also on their inner ways, to keep going and not sell out.

These peers of us from around the globe put all their heart and ingenuity into causes for the well-being of others. They dare live their convictions, born from suffering, compassion, anger or outrage and transform it into action, not in destructive violence but with constructive steps. Their ways and the standing and respect they receive also demonstrate that their positive approach is a promising way to receiving empathy, allies and support. They not only represent a voice ‘against something bad’, but – different from angry revolutionaries – they walk their talk, they live the ‘better ways’ people hope for. This is what we would hope many young people dissatisfied with the status quo to explore, think about and take on as a guiding principle.

”While the Jammers’ work to help other people is beautiful, what I really admire is their hearts and spirits. These people are humane, loving, fragile and brave at the same time. I believe this very love for yourself, your loved ones, for the earth are what provides us with a clear vision of how to live radically and healthfully in relations with others and with the earth. Those reflections really help me right now because I am making a lot of decisions that that the Jam has given me the courage to do.” Lan Anh Thi Ha, 21, President, YOJO/Street Voices, Hanoi, Vietnam

It occurs that people react with irritation to recognition of people that make an outstanding difference, even with aggression, muttering things like futility, arrogance. The reason seems to be that these examples are a challenging mirror to their own pains and frustrations, to the shame and disappointment they feel about themselves for priorising mainstream commercial values and desires over their own conscience and the ideals they clearly held as a child.

To them, and everyone, and you - the clear message is - Take on your Greatest Challenge. Upgrade Yourself!

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Go sit alone in the forest, on a mountain, at a beautiful creek, be calm and think about your role in life.


- Let others know about Yes!

- if you come across a visionary youth leader face to face or in the media - get us connected!