Youth Empowerment One-Day Workshop“How Do You Want To Be Remembered?” By Vicky Chan

Not just here in Australia, but worldwide, the youth of this world face a myriad of challenges. This youth generation is the largest the world has ever known and sadly, they are faced with issues such as access to education and job opportunities, climate change and multiple forms of inequalities and exclusion.

The concept of youth empowerment was born from the need to enable young people to have a say in decisions which affect them. Empowering young people means creating and supporting the conditions under which young people can freely act on their own behalf, and on their terms, rather than the direction of others. 

On the 13th June 2015, Dharma Drum Mountain Melbourne Centre (DDMMC), together with Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Association (DDMBA, USA), the Buddhist Council of Victoria (BCV), the Interfaith Centre of Melbourne, and with the support of the Victorian Multicultural Council (VMC), held the inaugural Youth Empowerment Workshop in Melbourne. The workshop was hosted by Reverend Helen Summers, the Founder and Director of the Interfaith Centre of Melbourne and led by Venerable Chang Ji, assisted by Venerable Guo Chan from DDMBA. Both Venerables are passionate about their roles in interfaith dialogue, protecting the environment, peace-building and developing youth leadership.  

The purpose of the one-day intensive workshop was to teach young people how to take control of their lives and achieve a new sense of self-worth, direction and empowerment. The workshop highlighted the influences of the social environment, our attitudes, our goals, and how to bring about awareness to our sense of self. The activities of the day aimed to make the “invisible” parts of life visible to us, so that we might fully realise our potential and perform at our greatest capacity.

Venerable Chang Ji began the morning by promoting the workshop as part of global citizen education, which aims to develop a more enlightened youth leadership in society. She hoped to provide the group with the tools to increase our ability to positively navigate through life and deal with physical, psychological and social obstacles.

In the short inspirational film, titled “What’s Possible”, narrator Morgan Freeman urges that “you can choose today to make a world of difference” and that we can no longer wait until tomorrow to act. Ven. Chang Ji proposed the question, “How do you want to be remembered? What legacy will you leave behind?” She went on to explain that all that will be left is this planet and the kind of people that are living in it. At the end all that truly matters, is how you have lived and how you have loved. 

In one of the components of the workshop, Ven. Guo Chan guided the group to come up with their “soul profile”, which was a stark contrast to everyone’s “social profile”. One part of the soul profile was to list someone you considered a hero; one young man chose Mother Earth “because it gives, it grows, it holds and is wise” – a wonderful way to define the fluidity and flexibility of great Mother Nature. This same person, listed some qualities that he could be counted on for - being respectful, considerate, receiving and attentive – which Ven. Guo Chan eventually pointed out that everyone was realising that you are your own hero.

Through the great enthusiasm and energy generated by the group, it was evident that the workshop enabled participants to increase their self-confidence and their perception of themselves as leaders and allies. Ven. Chang Ji reminded everyone that when looking at the potential of something, it is not what’s right or wrong, but what is missing. It was a reality check for most, when everyone appreciated that we don’t truly live in this world, but we live in the story that we tell ourselves about the world. It’s up to us to stop being the victim and instead be the creator. As one member of the group suggested, to do this, there has to be a transition of problem-focused thinking to solution-based ideas. Instead of suffering as a victim, we should concentrate on reframing problems into opportunities. 

Venerable Chang Ji moved onto the topic of self-deception and the power of the positive versus negative space when telling a story. Both her words, and the dialogue that followed, formed a strong foundation for everyone’s ability to deal with internal conflicts and collaborate more effectively.
One final important lesson of the day was that young people are empowered when they acknowledge that they have or can create choices in life, are aware of the implications of these choices, and can make an informed decision freely. Furthermore, they are then able to take action based on that decision and to accept responsibility for the consequences of that action.

Australia’s diverse and dynamic generation of young people are a significant resource for promoting their own development and leading social action - they may be both architect and agent in meeting and solving the problems faced in today’s world. Our brightest future lies with a generation of young people that can create a prosperous, harmonious and equitable society. This means a society not only with a strong economy and standard of living, but also a strong social culture that ensures a high quality of life for all.