From Colorado to Karabakh

My good friend Andy from YMCA Ireland recently wrote a blog stating “I have no idea how i ended up here!” and yet, as i sit here on the floor in Vienna airport waiting for lost property to open… i completely feel the same way.

20140825_131346The truth is its been an extraordinary month, I attended the YMCA World Council in Colorado and had an experience that few in our movement will ever have. Leading sessions with my peers, networking with the world, meeting old and new friends and speaking about the work done in Kosovo. I also had the honor of speaking on the opening day, and despite a dry mouth, a none conforming screen and a voice in the shadows telling me to “hurry up” … i rather enjoyed the experience!

A special moment i would like to share with you was during excursion day, i had chosen to visit the museum and was joined from by around 30 members of YMCA Nigeria. As we were weaving our way through the mountains the tour guide declared “i understand we have some people on the bus who have never experienced snow… we will be stopping for 10 minutes so our friends from Africa can have this experience”. We watched with excitement as the Africans hurried into the snow and played around… a magical moment that will stay with me forever, I probably should have warned them it was slippy and cold.

Colorado also marked the final step in the Change Agent journey for the first wave/class. Its certainly been an interesting experience and while for me personally I’m not sure we have changed  how the YMCA is viewed globally or “woke the giant” i do feel that there is change coming in the actual movement. A generation of young leaders moving together, and more importantly that want to move together. It will be interesting to see whats next for for the graduates and the plans for the next wave.

Papik Tatik pic 7If you watched my speech then you will know i spoke about the Roots for reconciliation participants, who had inspired me on my own journey. As chance would have it i was invited to join the study visit to Negorno Karabakh, which is the first tandem project in the Peace Work Institute phase, other tandems will see a conference in the Balkans, exchange between Armenia and Turkey and something between Russia and Georgia. Driving to Karabakh from Armenia was an experience in itself, it took roughly 7 hours and at one point we drove parallel to a wall of soil, to shield us from any snipers along the Azerbaijan border… When we arrived many volunteers from the movement there had drove out to meet us and it was certainly a special moment as i greeted old and new friends in what seemed like the middle of nowhere.
20140825_115739The whole week was filled with official meetings, museums, art gallery’s and perhaps the best hospitality in the world. This went hand in hand with many toasts during the evening meal and after totally failing with my own toast the first evening i pulled out a master class on the second evening which i felt garnered me much respect with the locals! A favorite moment for me was during the family BBQ, a great thing happened where a game of volleyball started and it featured everyone, from older leaders to younger volunteers, and it was amazing to watch the team work and competitive edge from certain individuals.

Karabakh was a beautiful place with natural beauty but it was the people there who touched me the most, as i listened to young leaders tell me their dreams of travel and that they wanted to one day work for the YMCA i felt like i could be sat in any country talking to any young leader.

In conclusion i have been so lucky and blessed to have the experiences i have had within this fantastic movement. In 2 weeks i will turn 30, too old to be a young person but not old enough to be considered an elder… I sit here humbled and in awe of the people i have met and the impact they have had on me and how my life has changed because of opportunities given to me. I just hope i, in turn can give others similar opportunities, platforms and space. It would be very easy for me to finish on something like: 

“All i know is East or West, North or South, Colorado or Karabakh… TOGETHER WE ARE YMCA!”

But you already know this! So as i sit here on the floor in Vienna airport i would like to quote my good friend Andy once more… “I have no idea how i got here!”

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