Today, we are 10! We hope to have you join us at ‘10 Years in 10 Days‘! The festival schedule is available here.
A (not-so-little) note from Ishita
“Why sometimes, I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
– The White Queen, Alice in Wonderland.
I think I imagined this moment in many different ways. In some, we had expanded from Delhi to working with young people across both urban and rural demographics, that there existed vibrant, inspired, passionate collectives of youth movements; they spoke their minds, with clarity, with anger, and with commitment. That another world is truly possible, that social change, justice, equity and rights – these are not just words that look good in a development studies textbook. Then I step back into our now office (which still has orange walls) and realize, part of those dreams have started coming true. From using bathrooms, bedrooms and hallways as meeting rooms to an office with 15 of us working full-time. There are so many stories hiding in the corners around here.
10 years later, to the day, we are still standing on those fringe lines, taking on policy change, taking on personal change, challenging our communities and each other. We are now, collectives of youth groups across 18 states, from Jammu to Nagaland to Rajasthan to Chhattisgarh to Tamil Nadu. We speak ten different languages, work in six and have lost and found each other at multiple times, in Gujarat, Orissa, Kashmir, Pondicherry, supporting each other as young people and their families have survived floods, earthquakes and riots.
And it has grown, from such simple things. A video, that strikes home and inspires a young person to work the next 2 years on ensuring young people know how to file an RTI application, helping 4000 people register for elections in Chhattisgarh and Delhi. A little personal belief, at points and times when life is not being kind, that stops a young boy from jumping off the ledge of a roof at 3am and turns instead, into a project that teaches more than 6000 school children to identify healthy coping mechanisms to deal with issues of peer pressure. A family that decided to share their home, their food and their hearts to 500 young people who were strangers to them, giving 9 years and 3 generations of young people the opportunity to build their own ideas into 350 action projects.
A stint as an Administrative Coordinator that led to establishing an organization that uses music to empower 400 children from diverse backgrounds reaching out to 100,000 people. A motley group of 150 young people, who all understood something about peer pressure, substance abuse and the need to challenge silences on issues of sex and sexuality in public spaces, leading to the country’s first youth-led campaign for Sexuality Education. A speech on the genocide in Godhra, speaking up against a political system that led to the most unusual partnership between a 17 year old girl and a cultural institution. An intimidating lady with piercing green eyes and the wisdom and kindness of the director of one institution, who understood the importance of sharing power not just within but across generations and stepped back. They empowered 5000 young people to research, train, share information and build political analysis, in spaces that were safe, and judgment-free at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi.
We used to be 7 young people, working night shifts at the New Delhi Railway Station, helping children who were hiding, working with the police, sorting blankets with families who had no where to go. I remember the first time I stepped into the train tracks where trains run, wading through uneven stones, garbage, defecation, looking to find one of the children I had been working with, who was hiding from the sheer brutality of a December night and finding one young boy, sleeping underneath the train tracks, between stones. I had never done that before, it shook me to my core. A shared cup of chai later, the 13 year old I had pulled out from between two large stones was the one comforting me.
What does it feel like to spend 10 years of your life doing the same thing? To some, that is a lifetime in itself and to others, notes from a novice. If you ever meet anyone who has worked here, they will say that this is not a job; it’s more a journey. The most challenging unfolding, of youth movements that have grown to work with 60 partner organizations to converge and collaborate to create positive social change. The most incredible friendships, wild disagreements, adopting and discarding multiple identities, discovering and claiming, being feminist, fierce and above all, independent. When you worked here, you owned YP; it was really and truly, yours.
To our 60 partners, we would be nothing without you. To our families and friends, who have put up with not seeing us for weeks, and still been there for every programme, every fundraising target and have wiped tears and disappointments. To Sanjit Bunker Roy and Anu Aga, for challenging young people to do more than speak, introducing us to the fiery leaders in the Children’s Parliament in Tilonia and helping a young girl find her roots, letting all our ideas take flight. To our donors, who have truly understood that this revolution will not be funded, but supported – and have stood by us, resilient. We are very, very grateful to have the strength of your belief in our work.
This revolution has not been about any one person, and that is its beauty and complexity. This matrix is community-led and owned, by changing 10 generations of young people who have met as strangers, and parted friends, handing over a programme that was a little bit stronger and clearer every time, and geared with higher expectations.
To each and every young person who has stepped in with their fire and written the history of this movement in their own way, thank you. I’d like to think that at 10 years, we stand for something in solidarity. That somewhere, learning to work together and learning to work for other people, has changed something deep within most of us. In how we behave as people, the values we hold, the issues we will commit to standing up for, the injustices that we will challenge, deep in the corners of our own personal lives, far beyond TYPF.
A commitment to ensuring that you, your individual life, your voice and your impact – all count for something. You are not forgotten, by this system, by large demographic numbers, or lost between the politics of religion, sexuality, caste, class or gender. Your voice here has always mattered. Your work here is what we are entirely made of. Your friendship and your solidarity, is what has build us into a 350,000 member strong youth organization, that has, in the past 10 years, started and finished more than 350 projects on issues of gender, sexuality, health, education, governance and the arts.
This is the 10 years we had imagined, or rather, wildly hoped for. Thank you YP, for everything you have given all of us. For introducing us to such a fabulous world of people who have gone above and beyond to make sure that young people can build. That young people can truly, lead. For making nothing easy, for pushing us above and beyond each time. You have been a most complex weaving of personal stories, shared and owned. Someone once asked me, if it’s scary to work in an organization that has had so many people work in it. Because if and when you fail, and we have, multiple times, there are so many people that you’ve let down.
This is possibly YP’s single greatest achievement in 10 years – that there are so many of us who believe in it, who will stand up for it and who will be there for each other, as we stumble, fall down and learn our work better. As we move forward with challenging injustice and inequality and taking a step forward in this amazing journey. What would our epitaph be? Our board member put it best, when she said:
“TYPF was an organization unafraid of change – within itself, and the world around it. It understood ‘change’ in a way that was revolutionary, truly unique to the young person of the 21st century – the era of hustle and bustle, loneliness, terror, fear, forgetfulness, and the individual. Through this definition and understanding of change it enabled literally thousands of young people in India to challenge systems through substance, and create alternatives, which work.
It encouraged an entire generation to work with people and their context, not despite them/ it made thousands of young people aware and active in civil society. It sought justice for the un-empowered productively, without political motive; it rarely made the same mistake twice and bore good will even to those it disagreed with. With its passing we mourn the loss of an organization that understood not everyone finds Wonderland (and when they do, it’s rarely just a tea party), but if you ventured a step behind the Looking Glass, perhaps you’d end up an Alice anyway…”
Imagine the next 10!
With you by our side, we cannot wait to find out.
Co-Founder & CEO, The YP Foundation