You've heard this story before. You know that there are millions of people making a living in trash dumps. You know that most youth don't have access to healthy, nutritious food. To safe drinking water. To toilets. You know that most youth don't make it past 30 here.
You know that, right?
You may have heard of Agbogbloshie. If you haven't, your "recycled" computer probably has. Home to over 40,000 people and to the largest concentration of e-waste on earth, this community outside Accra, Ghana is a prime example of an unforgivable challenge we face in our world today: an entire generation of youth, a class of activists, artists, innovators, leaders, and social entrepreneurs, is being left behind.
In 2012, I worked and learned with five of these youth -- five youth who grew up in the e-waste dump their families still call home. James. Bright. Nana. Francis. Jacob. In five months, these boys reminded me of the greatest untapped resource in our efforts to make change: youth. Two years before, I taught social entrepreneurship to high school students in Buffalo. Here I learned the same truth: though access to education was improving, the story these youth are learning isn't improving at all.
In Agbogbloshie, things aren't changing for the better. Why? Because kids are growing up learning the way things are instead of being free to imagine the way the world could be. Collectively, with their creativity and empathy, these youth hold a skeleton key. We need to come together to invest in showing them the door to transformative change.
For a young child left to make a living on the streets of Agbogbloshie, that door is a bit harder to find. Idleness and hunger take over one's mind. Survival comes first. Petty crime is a daily occurrence. Scavenging and begging become a way of life. Access to clean water, proper toilets, and healthy food is rare. Disease runs rampant through the streets.
A child's playground is the same trash that makes them sick.
There is a faint, gnawing, ever-emerging fear in my mind that we have determined the challenges in Agbogbloshie are too deep-rooted and tangled up to do anything about. Have we given up hope for real, lasting change? If we're going to create a world that works for our children, we need to first believe it's possible. And we must turn to our children for help.
"If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. We need not wait to see what others do."
Gandhi's famous words have been written on coffee mugs, posters, walls, and bumper stickers everywhere. But these words haven't found their way into curriculum -- into the very essence of how we raise our children. Inner transformation, this idea of being the change, is lost on us. We talk about it, meditate, and hold gift circles, but do we truly treat every last person we meet with the same respect we would treat a business partner? A funder? Do we smile, say hello, or ask the names of people we pass on the street who are living without a home?
If we want an outbreak of good, one that truly breaks out of the bubble we've created in the world of social entrepreneurship, we need to plant the seeds in those who can spread this movement the fastest. If we zoom out of our own work, we realize things simply aren't changing as fast as we would like -- and need -- them to.
We must start with youth. They are our storychangers.