The rewards of attending WM360 from the perspective of one of the 2016's APEs
Have you ever looked back to moments in your past and thought “I would do it exactly the same way again”? I have, quite a few times in the past couple of years, been through experiences that demanded a lot from me - sometimes, more than I thought I could give. Sometimes, I would feel like it was too much, and that, maybe, I should just let it go. Luckily, my stubbornness usually wins over my insecurities and doesn’t let me give up very often. Because, despite everything I had to give in order to make something happen in my life, the rewards were always way bigger than my sacrifices.
Attending Merit360 last year was one of those experiences. It goes in stages for us who dream. We’re first in love with the concept, with the SDGs, with the community and with all the change we might be able to make. We dream about the people we will meet, and the difference we will make. So we apply. Then, after accepted, we have to face reality: it costs £1200 plus flights to be there. And that’s really scary, if you, like me, come from a country where the currency makes it way more expensive. So our insecurities start taking place and try to make us give up. “Maybe next year”, “this is not for me”, are some of the thoughts that might pop into our minds when we think about the money.
That’s when the road divides itself in two right in front of you. You could easily let go and go on with your life - but you’d probably be always wondering “what if I had tried a little harder?”. Or you can actually try harder. You can talk to all the people you know about WorldMerit360, show them your passion and excitement and have them helping you. You can promote a fundraising event or campaign. You can sell sweets in the streets wearing your SDG logo and your best smile. You can do a thousand things outside your comfort zone, so you can raise the money without having to touch your own. I had never thought one day I would be in the middle of the street selling cake with a Gender Equality sign hanging from my neck, but I did it. I did that and what else was necessary, because I knew it was gonna be worth it. And I was right.
Merit360 2016 was the pilot edition of what is now the most significant program in the world for young people committed to the SDGs. And the things I got out of it are priceless - and completely worth both the money and the time I spent on it. For one, the people I met will be my friends forever. The level of connections you get from a program as intense as Merit360 is impossible to explain - it’s something you can only understand once you’re there living it. After so many years of social work and volunteering, I could finally feel like a global citizen, I could finally feel connected to every part of this Earth through the stories and experiences that were so deeply shared in the couple of weeks we were all together. Some people fell in love during the program. I fell in love with this world and with the human race again. I had my hope renewed and my dreams as a changemaker freshened up.
We spent weeks designing a plan for a better world. I know it sounds bold and ambitious, but the world have only changed for better when bold and ambitious people decided to do something. Then we came home and, now, six months later, we can already see houses being built in South Africa through the passion and goodwill of the people we met there. Other projects are already being developed and it all started there. From that, we can see how many doors Merit360 was able to open. Good engaged people meeting good engaged people - that’s what it takes to create waves of change. That’s what it takes to change the world.
I’m already missing Merit360, as I write this piece, and I haven’t even mentioned the inspiring speakers we had to honor to meet and learn from. Some speeches opened my eyes for issues I didn’t know were important before. Some helped me change my mind about things. Some made me rethink my whole existence. Some just made me grateful for the life I have, as hard as it may seem. Some spoke to me, some spoke to the person I used to be, some spoke to the woman I hope one day to become. All of them moved me and changed me somehow - what a privilege!
The £1200 you raise this year will pay for a big number of things. It will cover accommodations in two cities, transportation inside the UK, food, staff, inspirational speakers and workshops, support in the development and implementation of your action plan, World Merit t-shirts, a whole list of materials you’ll need, and so forth. Everyone’s fee is needed to make program happen and give you the experience I had the privilege to have. £1200 is a scary number, I know. But we can raise it together, as the great community we are. I would never be able to put a price on the rewards of being a part of Merit360. It’s impossible to quantify personal development and real-life human connections. As it is impossible to measure simple and pure happiness.
With all my love,