IU Student Ellie Berry Reflects on B&B and CGI U

As this school year winds to a close and “The World is Our Home” is sent to the publisher, we can mark off another successful year for Books & Beyond. As we all head off to wherever the summer takes us, I will continue to keep in mind the experiences I have had with Books & Beyond this year.

One of the most powerful experiences from my past year with Books & Beyond was going to the Clinton Global Initiative University at the University of California in San Diego from April 1-3. At the conference, Caitlin, Ross, and I had the opportunity to meet students from all over the world who are currently engaged in projects bringing positive change. I was amazed to hear all the creative ideas that students brought with them, including those that involved health, human rights, education, and the environment.

It was inspiring to hear President Clinton speak, but what left the biggest impression on me was the conviction that seemed to form the basis of the conference: young people can make a difference. No one exemplified this better than Kimmie Weeks, founder of Youth Action International. I was able to attend a session on grassroots community engagement that he helped to lead. His own story was inspiring because he left Liberia as a teenager when he was seen as a threat to the government because of his work to end the training of child soldiers. Now he heads an organization which supports young people in several post-war African countries. He emphasized finding your passion and staying committed to action throughout your life, even if you don’t make it your life’s work.

On Saturday afternoon of the conference, Ross, Caitlin, and I attended a session on “Education Pathways for Adolescents.” At the session, panelists discussed the discrepancy in enrollment between primary and secondary schools in developing nations as well as the importance of all students having access to mentors to make higher education a realistic possibility. It was encouraging to see how Books & Beyond addresses both of these issues in education by helping to provide resources to Kabwende Primary School as well as by connecting American junior high students to college mentors.

At the sessions, we had the opportunity to hear from students of all different backgrounds. Their CGI U commitments ranged from starting a community garden in Florida, building a school in Ghana, connecting students around the world through video conferencing, or working in an AIDS clinic in South Africa. Even though some projects were very different than Books & Beyond, everyone seemed to be working through some of the same basic problems including generating community support for their project, finding a constant source of funding, and recruiting volunteers. No one had easy answers to any of these challenges but everyone was willing to give advice. Seeing other students working hard to tackle the practical aspects of their projects showed me the potential of what can be achieved when ideas are put into action. I am excited to see how the work of Books & Beyond will continue and wish all the best to Books & Beyond members as they travel to Rwanda next month.

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