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By Ayesha Constable, University of the West Indies and Youth Facilitator on the post-2015 Development Agenda
Being a member of the Global Landscapes Forum team was a great honor- put simply, it was a big deal. I had come upon the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) purely by chance. After deciding that I wanted to participate in the COP20 proceedings to be hosted in Peru, I actively for avenues to facilitate my participation. When I first came across the GLF website, I glossed over the requirements and expectations and decided half-heartedly to complete the application at a later date. Truth be told, I, as I always do, doubted my eligibility for the role of both Youth Facilitator and Pitcher (read more about the Youth Session format here). Initially I also thought that the application form seemed a bit lengthy and I “didn’t have sufficient time” so I would wait on the “right time” to complete it. It was then that I recalled a session with a life coach in which he told the group that the ability and readiness to complete a form or any kind of application process was an indication of our readiness for the job/role for which we were applying. With that in mind, I went back to the application, reaffirmed my readiness to be a Youth Facilitator and completed the form. My recollection of what happened between hitting the submit button and the time I got the email about the interview is quite blurry. I remember a few colleagues telling me how high profile it was and cautioning me not to get my hopes up as a lot of persons would be applying. I reassured myself with the popular Jamaican saying “wah a fi yu, cyaan be un-fi yuh”- which essentially translates to, what is meant to be yours, will be yours.
I remember clearly however the feeling of pure joy when I saw an email a few weeks later asking about my availability for a Skype interview. I remember excitedly telling my mother that I had been shortlisted and that “this is a big deal”. At that point I was happy to just have been shortlisted and decided that I would give the interview my best shot. After the interview, my mother was also the first one I told that I did not think I would be selected as I had fumbled on the question about explaining “landscapes” to a child. I mean – How does one explain “landscapes” to a child? That aside, I was happy with how it had gone as despite my anxiety, I had presented my true self – and not a version of me trying to be or sound like what I thought they wanted to see or hear. Yet, I was still very shocked and thrilled when my acceptance was confirmed, not merely because I was reminded never to doubt myself but because I would have the opportunity to be a part of something so big. I suspect that for some, my quest for these opportunities and my desire to engage and be engaged in this kind of work is incomprehensible. I myself am not sure how to explain it. I know that I love a good challenge, I love people and I have been endowed with the ability to engage people in just this way and for this reason I dreamed of doing just that – and GLF seemed like the perfect opportunity to live this dream.
The preparations leading up to GLF were intense, consisting of emails, webinars, document preparation, Skype meetings and more emails. At one point, or rather several points I almost felt overwhelmed. In those moments I reminded myself that “I was ready”. The steady online interaction started the process of learning about the rest of the team – who had been drawn from a range of countries and fields. I had moments of great anxiety teetering almost on break-downs. Nerves got the better of me a few days before Lima as I asked myself “What have I gotten myself into?” This anxiety about my role at GLF was compounded by the fact that I was going to Lima in several other capacities for which I had to do similar preparatory activities. Yet, I knew, “I was ready” and that fact allowed me to relax and look forward to what I knew would be a wonderful experience filled with many learning points. My fears were abated when I finally met the two women with whom I had been communicating with all this time in person – Marina’s easy presence and Michelle’s sense of humor reassured me that I had nothing to fear.
Our masterclass kicked things off on December 4, when all youth facilitators and pitchers were trained to carry out their respective functions. Having been in Peru since November 28, I was already a bit tired. My exhaustion was short lived as it was surpassed by my excitement about being a member of this team of amazing young people. I usually spend a bit of time reading personalities and energies when I meet people for the first time. On this occasion, however, there really was no need. We almost all clicked right away. The conversations and interactions were light and easy and I think we all felt a sense that we were in this together. This ease of interaction and comfort was made evident by the fact that at the end of day one we were eating off each other’s plates and sharing glasses of pisco.
On Saturday (the first day of the Forum), when I walked into the grand meeting room at the Westin Hotel, I was again reminded of the magnitude of what I was about to undertake – and I felt a welling up of emotion as I gave thanks for the opportunity. The set up alone was an indication of the grandeur of the event: cameras for live webcasts and a host of photographers and videographers filled the room. The young people we were engaging with were not merely ‘youth’ but young experts in their respective fields and I was to learn later that Rachel Kyte, Vice President of the World Bank was somewhere in the room. As soon as I steadied my nerves and accepted that it was really happening, I went into full facilitator mode and stuck to my commitment to do my very best. It was as much fun as it was work and all the time that was spent preparing for the day proved to be worth it.
The plenaries featured high level officials and seminars or panel discussions with experts in an array of areas. They served as spaces of information sharing and learning. I left the plenaries with a greater understanding of the different topics, notepads of data and even recordings of interviews with selected speakers. The experience and exposure also planted the dream of occupying a similar platform, sharing my own work and research, in years to come.
I felt like everything I had ever done had led up to and prepared me for the Global Landscapes Forum. It was an empowering space where new skills were learnt and existing ones fine-tuned. For all the facilitating I had done, I had never had formal instruction in the skill as was provided in the masterclass with trainers Javier Bacca and Harlem Siu. I realized too that facilitation was indeed a ‘skill’ and one that is highly sought after. GLF afforded access and interactions with people and organizations whose names I had often seen on web pages and technical reports such as IIED, CGIAR, CIFOR to name a few. The chance to discuss my academic work and other areas of interest with these experts and receive their feedback was invaluable. There was appreciation for our work and experience as young people and our expertise was validated. The other members of the team brought an amazing awareness of self. I was inspired by their commitment to their pursuits, their passion for life, brilliance, eloquence and commitment to success. It occurred to me that if I was anything like these people, I will be just fine. I was honored to work with them and to feel a part of the network of GLF youth who want to contribute meaningfully to the world we live in.
GLF confirmed my belief that we never stop growing and learning. I grew as a person, a speaker, a facilitator and learned more than I expected to about the landscapes approach and other areas of interest such as agriculture and gender. It was an empowering space. I am glad that I stuck to my plan to enjoy every minute of the experience and to not allow fear to affect my interactions. I was determined to use my voice and to be myself to make the most of it. Friends have applauded my determination and enterprising spirit but GLF was simply meant to be and I knew I wanted to be a part of the process, no matter what- and when you want something bad enough, the whole Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. (Paulo Coelho)