New project featuring 200 youth stories from across the world.

Seeing the end-product of hard work and effort feels good, especially when it’s part of a project that you’ve stayed with for the long haul. I can’t express enough how satisfied I felt when my final book project of 2016 came in the mail last weekend, titled The Power of Youth, Volume 1. Having the book in-hand means so much more than a simple word document.

Photo of Elizabeth DiEmanuele with the You Effect book.
Me holding a copy of The Power of YOUth, Volume 1.

The project was part of a long-standing professional relationship I’ve had with YOU Effect, a local (now global) youth-driven media brand I supported when it was just in its founding stages. The founder, Kelly Lovell, and I connected through Western University’s community network, and I joined the movement to build up my web, writing, public relations, and marketing experience. From starting as a local television series to evolving into a web series, podcast, global blog, and independent film, YOU Effect has undergone many changes, collecting inspiring stories about youth across the globe along the way.

When I officially joined Kelly’s team as a marketing executive two years ago, the big question was: what next? YOU Effect’s impact is one that has shifted over the years and we knew we needed to revisit its potential. After gaining international recognition for its role in fostering positive relationships between youth across the globe, a book project felt natural. In fact, the big question we had was, “Why didn’t we do this before?”

Like all ambitious projects, gathering stories from youth across the world was all-encompassing. Kelly, the YOU Effect team, and I laboured over this project. As the managing editor, one of my biggest challenges (aside from assisting with the selection of the best 200 stories!) came down to differences of language. Finding a way to piece together stories for contributors who didn’t speak English as their first or second language while still staying true to their voice and story was a constant negotiation; understanding how sayings and words differed across cultures, too, meant editing and re-editing work several times. These challenges, however, were equally fulfilling. The incredible number of stories we were able to track down as a team and their sheer geography made the project that much more meaningful.

Truthfully, you learn a lot after editing 200+ stories of what young people are doing all over the world. Story after story, I was often amazed at the maturity, tenacity, and passion of so many of those who submitted. Not one story I edited was the same as the one next to it, though many of the messages were related. Passion, persistence, endless curiosity, and a desire to make the world better by solving a problem or making something easier were among some of the common takeaways in these stories. The power of one voice to change the world was another; how lucky we were to be able to bring together 200 unique voices in one publication.

I couldn’t sleep the night we completed the first draft. I was so excited and proud of us for getting everything together. I still remember texting Kelly with the good news, along with a “we’re finally here!”

The funny thing is, editing a book is only one step of the publication process. There are so many other pieces, like organization, layouts, production, distribution, and marketing. Though my role in this project is officially complete, the project has only just begun. Kelly and her team are now working tirelessly to get these 200 youth stories into the hands of those who submitted, a big feat when the stories reach every continent in the world. I also know a dream goal is to share these stories with those who may find comfort in the experiences, such as communities and youth at risk; this goal is one that can only happen once the book proves to be successful and sustainable. For those of you interested in purchasing a copy, supporting the movement, or learning more about what the team is currently doing, you can visit the website here.

I could go on about how much I learned from these stories, but I think sharing makes more sense; so, to end this post, here are two excerpts from the publication. Happy reading.

Lorelei McIntyre-Brewer, 11-years-old

United States

“Sometimes people assume that, because I was born missing half of my heart, I cannot do anything. That’s not true. In fact, if I hadn’t been born with my heart defect, I don’t think I’d get so much done!”

I was born missing half of my heart.

I underwent my first open heart surgery right after my birth. From the beginning, my cardiologist told my family that he thought I would survive because I needed a chance to grow into my name.

When I had trouble recovering from my third open heart surgery, my mom brought me my great-grandfather’s compression heart pillow to help me try and force fluid out of my lungs. The pillow was way too big because it was made for an adult, but knowing the pillow was his made it special to me.

I thought it would be neat to learn to sew so I could make compression heart pillows that were just the right size for little kids who were like me. I started out small, making pillows as I could, but more people wanted pillows for their children who were sick. Keeping up with the demand became almost impossible, so I started asking for help. It’s five years later and now Heart Hugs is a global organization that sends pillows out to kids all over the world.

It wasn’t easy. I had to come up with ways to get people to understand why these pillows were so important and how effective they can be in helping patients heal. I also needed a basic pattern to send out to volunteers and a way to ensure the pillows were sterilized before they entered the hospital. I had to give lots of speeches, write even more letters, and get the word out about my work. I spent many days sewing and then writing letters to families whose children didn’t make it home from surgery.

I want more people to know that sick kids aren’t their health issues. We are so much more. Even though our lives are spent in hospitals, going to appointments, having surgeries, and all the other things that help keep us alive, we have our own normal. We can find magic in even the scariest moments. We do the best we can.

I’m not sure what life has in store for me yet, but I do know that I won’t stop wanting to help other people. We are put on this earth to do good things and my work is never finished.

Imrana Alhaji Buba, 23-years-old

Nigeria

“I believe that my age is not and will not be a limiting factor to make a difference.”

I believe that my age is not and will not be a limiting factor to make a difference. Since I was 14-years-old, I have been attending forums and volunteer works in Potiskum, where my family and I are based. Potiskum is a town in Yobe state, popular for its hospitality until terrorism surfaced. Two of my family members were victims of a bomb blast during one of the attacks, my neighbour and his father were murdered in cold blood, and one of my friends was kidnapped for almost three weeks until his father was able to pay a ransom of 10 million naira. These horrific incidences hardened and fuelled in me the thirst to stop this bloodshed.

My final decision to become a peacebuilder began on a road when my bus was stopped by suspected terrorists. They came aboard, checked ID cards, and then picked out passengers. They committed violent acts against the captives, killing four of them and injuring two. Before they reached my seat, a sudden telephone call spurred them to leave. They marched away with other selected passengers. I was the only male passenger left unharmed on the bus!

That harrowing experience redefined my vision and inspired me to set up a volunteer-based youth-led organization, Youth Coalition Against Terrorism, to unite youth against violent extremism in north-eastern Nigeria. I started the organization on August 12, 2010 (when I was just a fresher in the University of Maiduguri) and since then, I have successfully partnered with many local organizations to carry out enlightenment programs for young people. Because most terror-groups recruit villagers, we visit many villages to meet with their youth organizations to explain the negative effects of terrorism. We also offer counselling services to the victims and skills acquisition training for unemployed youth, so that frustration and hopelessness do not force them to join the terrorists.

Owing to these programs, I have been recognized by many institutions. Notably, I won the 2016 Queen’s Young Leaders Award and was selected for the Generation Change Fellowship of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and LEAP Africa SIP Fellowship.

My efforts earned me respect in my community. Both young and elderly people, including some traditional rulers are now calling me “Shugaban Matasa” (meaning a “youth leader” in local Hausa dialect).

E.D.

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