Where do I start? Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the University Scholars Leadership Symposium (USLS) based for the first time at the United Nations (UN) Building in Bangkok, Thailand. This event has definitely been life-changing to say the least. I had the opportunity to represent QUT and Australia, interacting with 902 delegates from over 72 countries.
Finally arrived in Bangkok, Thailand to sweltering conditions; (mind you, I love the heat so that was a great change from a Brisbane winter!) I met up with a few different delegates from around the world and a fellow QUT friend. The bus to the Marriott hotel was definitely an eye opener! The traffic was insane and it took us around an hour and a half to get there, even though the hotel was only 10 kilometres away!
We all registered and went up to the rooms to meet our new roommates. I had the pleasure of staying with a girl from Singapore studying her PhD in the health industry. It was quite interesting to hear about university life over there! We were a group of Australians, Americans and Canadians who went out for our first ‘Thai’ meal. I was so glad to be immersed in a culture I had never had the opportunity to visit before.
Day two was the start of the symposium, “Building LIFE, Giving HOPE.” This was the theme from this year’s conference and it shined through! We had a keynote address from the UN, before hearing from our first inspiring speaker: Simerjeet Singh. That night I had my first meeting as a Service Day Leader. I was fortunate enough to be chosen by the conference, along with 15 other delegates, to lead the Service Day. That night we had our first meeting – and we all got on so well! I was eager to work with like minded people and share our own leadership skills and stories.
This was by far one of my favourite days! It started with a speech from Rachel Sumekh, Swipe Out Hunger Founder, who was inspiring because we all could relate to her. She was 20 when she discovered that her college mates from America and herself were wasting their food cards which they pre-purchased at the start of the semester; and she wanted to find a better way to use them. She came up with an idea that has provided the homeless and starving university students with numerous meals.
Next was Geraldine Cox, a lady that has saved the lives of so many children in Cambodia – and who never gave up on them. She is a strong woman who made nearly every delegate in the room shed a tear. Her stories are unbelievable and it meant so much to other delegates and myself to be in her presence and hear her experiences.
To end the day was ‘Thirst Crusader’ Ryan Hreljac. Ryan came up with his water well foundation for Africa in Grade 1, and appeared on Oprah when he was just nine years old! He made a pen pal over in Africa who he later visited; then his family adopted while Ryan was a teenager. His story went to show you’re never too young or too old to make a difference in this world!
We started this day off with a bang: a speech from Francis Kong that inspired everyone to get up and make their own change in the world. Some of the best quotes of the conference came from this man:
- “Don’t make a difference, you make the world different;”
- “Good leaders produce other good leaders, not good followers.”
This session was followed by an individual SDG session. Our session ended with a talk from Michael Brosowski, another hero saving the lives of many street children and those kidnapped to live as a sex slave. Like he said, it was up to us to “not predict the future, create your future”.
This was our service day: our day to go out and make a difference and to make a change amongst communities in Thailand. I was in the “Quality Education” group. We had the opportunity to visit Mercy School and work with five and six year olds who lived in slum areas. Our goal was to put a smile on their faces and keep them happy all day. We wanted to make their day – and so we did! We began with making some paper planes and cranes which they loved; we then moved outside to play a bit of ‘duck, duck, goose’ and some classic tug-of-war. Their faces were priceless, especially when we brought in the Mcdonalds for their lunch. This was my favourite, making a change to the community and knowing that you have made a child smile.
Our final day, our goodbyes, our ‘until next times’. This, by far, was one of the most eye-opening experiences for me and to share that with so many like minded delegates made it even better. I made some amazing friends from around the world which I know I will keep in contact with!
What a conference! Attending the United Nations University Scholars Leadership Symposium was something that has definitely changed me as a person. Having the opportunity to meet people from China, Africa, USA, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Mexico; being roommates with a girl from Singapore and hearing many stories and experiences from all around the world. I met someone who’d been a US Marine for nine years and who’d fought in Haiti and Afghanistan; heard the stories of a Pakistani refugee who now lives in Australia; a young African woman fighting female genital mutilation in her own country against her country’s traditions; and a girl fighting against corruption in her orphanage in Thailand.
These are the many stories that people face worldwide each and every day and I had the opportunity to meet these people and listen to their stories. We had speakers bringing water wells into Africa, saving children in Cambodia, tackling hunger in universities and among the homeless.
I learnt it only takes a small change to create an impact, an action to create change. I was one of 902 delegates from 72 countries. I learnt a valuable saying that I know will guide me for the rest of my life: ” Don’t make a difference in this world, you make the world different”. And that’s what I’m going to do. Not many people are blessed with this opportunity so it is my duty to do something: my duty to change the world one step at a time. Watch this space, big things are coming! Thank you to the UN, Humanitarian Affairs, United Nations Development Program and the people of USLS; because of you I’m ready to make a social impact. Together we stand as one, let’s work together to eradicate world hunger, create peace, find a better world for refugee children, advocate for sexual assault awareness in our universities and communities and create a sustainable environment for the planet. We are the generation to make this change and create a better future for all.
Be sure to check out this video and feel free to contact me with any queries you may have!