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YES! Alumni Voices


World Youth Leadership Jam

“In Nigeria, the hopes of millions have been pinned on me. Everything I do is under the spotlight. If they want to sell papers, they put me on the cover. If they want to gain popular support in an election, they ask for my endorsement. Where does someone like me go when we need a safe place to be and learn? To renew, deepen the foundation of our work, and sharpen our focus? To share experiences, lessons and build relationships with others that can advance our thinking, approach and capacity? We go to the YES! Jam, which gives us all that and so much more.”

-Hafsat Abiola, 27, Founder, Kudirat INitiative for Democracy (KIND), Nigeria

“The YES! Jam and the angels there helped to save my spirit, taught me how to love again, inspired me and gave me faith during a week I spent in heaven. Thank you YES!, for giving me faith for yesterday, today and that better tomorrow that might yet be. Thank you for giving birth to this new hope in me, for reminding me how to dream again, how to shine again, how to keep working for a world when hopefully one day all these walls around me will break for good.”

-Faten Olwan, 24, Palestine

“Over the last 15 years my family has saved $5,000 towards our dream which is to eventually purchase our own home, which costs $10,000. When I learned about the World Jam, I thought that for the price of one Jam, I could buy 10 houses. I didn’t know if it was really ethical for me to come when it was going to cost so much. But in actuality the World Jam was worth more just to me alone than 20 houses. Because I can save money later, but only the World Jam transformed the quality of my work and what I have to give to the children. By helping me be more effective, by giving me a place to cry, laugh, learn, and grow, the World Jam has touched not only me but the hundreds of thousands of children who are counting on me. The World Jam also created a place for me to realize the importance of, and learn to value in many ways for the first time, caring for myself as a vital piece of the work to which I am so committed. After pouring everything into my work since I was 10 years old, I was facing some significant health challenges, and was paying little attention to them. I don’t know if I would have been able to continue much longer. The World Jam gave me the insight and support I needed to care for myself so I can sustain a lifetime of service to the children. I want to thank YES!, and everyone who makes YES! possible, for a profound and transformational experience that will touch the rest of my life and work.”

-Mayerly Sanchez, 19, Colombia

“Before the Jam, I was often impatient and frustrated in my work, wanting change to happen instantly. The Jam rekindled patience I thought I had lost and gave me renewed hope for the future. It got deep down in the ends of my heart, exploring the real struggles that face human beings today. It created life long friendships that are already building stronger communities around the world. It healed deep wounds and opened my heart to places I thought were impossible. I work for a day when the rest of the world can sing, dance, cry and laugh together as we did at the World Youth Jam."

-Nick Tilsen, 23, founder, Lakota Mall Economic Justice Project and Lakota Action Network

“The experiences and skills I gained at the 1999 World Youth Leadership Jam have not only given me incessant inspiration and confidence in my work for peace, but have also directly influenced my career and future. Through the friendships and connections I made at the Jam, I've become a touring speaker for the Toronto based organization "Kids Can Free the Children." I embarked on a nine-month tour across the United States and Canada and reached 70,000 young people in 170 secondary schools and high schools. I shared my war experiences as well as my message that all of us, regardless of age, can and should be peacemakers. I myself was inspired to do this kind of work by the amazing young leaders that gathered at The World Jam. Then through my work and numerous performances and speeches, I've inspired and brought forth social awareness to tens of thousands of young people who will continue to do the same. Thanks to the Jam, I've also developed contacts which led to my numerous appearances at conferences and summits, to my being featured in a book titled Architects of Peace with the likes of Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, and to my message being shared across North America in leading newspapers and magazines including Newsday and Teen People Magazine.”

-Nadja Halibegovich, 25, author, Horror and Hope: A Childhood Interrupted by War, Bosnia/Herzegovina

Leveraging Privilege for Social Change Jam

“(The Jam was) a time to question, pull off masks, center myself, be inspired, and love. I have never been surrounded by so many incredible young people who live and breathe their radical center. I felt gently and safely yet firmly and fiercely moved through an experience of reconnection with myself and a community of social changemakers for justice. The Jam brought me into focus for myself and the work I am doing in the world.”

-Lisl Schoepflin, 26, Panta Rhea Foundation, Oakland, CA

“I have felt so privileged to be at the jam. I have learned that my mind, heart, and body need equal refueling of hope and vision. I have come here with a question of how and what. How can I live my life to fulfill my vision and values and what steps do I take in that direction? I have found those answers. I have met the people who can show me the way and I am taking those steps. Thank you to everyone for sharing your souls and for giving me a place where I could share mine. I want to spread the word that no one has to feel alone in this world.”

-Rebecca Jones, 29, Los Angeles, CA

“I am deeply grateful for the shared visions that have lead this incredible group of people together in this magical location for a week. I have gained insight into other communities to which I’ve never been, but also into myself, my community, and my reasons for wanting to change the world I walk through every day, the world I visit when I travel, and the world I read about, watch, and listen to in the media. Thank you for broadening my perspective and opening my heart even wider.”

-Austin Willacy, 35, Singer/Songwriter, San Francisco, CA

“Something happens from the very beginning of a Jam that allows invisible barriers to melt away. Individuals who were strangers days or only hours before feel comfortable exchanging in ways that normally require years to foster. Relationships cultivated through this magic are imprinted with trust and respect and authenticity seldom found in public, professional and even social circles. YES! inspires the intellect, body and creative spirit. This is a space of refuge, rejuvenation, refinement and mobilization. I have received innumerable blessings in sharing this space with 30 members of my new Jamily. The network of people established this week and amongst all Jam alumni harbors an unparalleled potential for leveraging change in the world.”

-Seth Lennon Weiner, 23, Canyon Country, CA

Other YES! Programs


“I work at a job that pays the bills. It's only in my spare time that I get to do work that inspires me and let's me follow my passion. But it can be hard to keep that energy up.  Enter the short 3 hour session we had at the Toronto mini-jam. It was like a dose of super energy. Being reminded of how much power can come from a collective process where participants are supported by facilitators in a way that allows them to be authentic, open and honest, which in turn allows for a deep connection. I left our session ready to continue pushing and organizing for justice in the migrant justice movement that I'm a part of.”

– Jeff Carolin, Toronto

“Intense and also incredibly magical week. Supporting my friend Chris in the hospital has been so humbling and clarifying. How powerful it is to stand with someone on the threshold. Synchronicity brought me to the Oakland Peace Center this afternoon. Wonderful to connect with music shared in the name of peace and community building. Good to be with you all… May it ripple out to bring healing to our world!”

– Christopher Kuntzsch, Berkeley

Art in Action Camps

“Art in Action embodies the depth in our eyes and reflects the lights of the world. Intertwined roots converge to strengthen each other, creating space for new sprouts, stronger trunks. Intersections of minds highlights both the beauty in the fierce independence of individuality, as well as the strength that common struggles and experiences create at the crossroads. It illuminates our strength within ourselves and the power we have in walking, running, hopping sideways with crutches, down our own paths towards our destinies. Simply put, Art in Action is power, love, support, solidarity, strength, compassion (and commitment to building a sustainable and just world).”

-Serena Huang, 17, Oakland, CA

“To say you have changed my life is an understatement. From the moment I arrived, I was welcomed to a space that embraced both art and activism. (I) challenged my heart to breathe for the first time, surrounded with love and peace. I do not know how to express the great appreciation I have for the effort, dedication, patience and love you all put into 10 days.”

-Nathalie Sanchez, 19, Los Angeles, CA