Monday, September 19, 2016

The "V" Power

Looking back to my incredible 2 weeks in Krakow, 2 months ago, I can say that yes, the volunteers have indeed super powers :D

Anywhere you go, you could meet one of those blue hands greeting you to help you find you way, those young people in blue shirts working relentlessly to distribute the pilgrim kits or working in the different venues and event areas and those behind the scenes in social media or cameras, you name it.
Even the volunteers had their own volunteers looking after them!
And they are all smiling to you no matter what.
Wearing the blue shirt and the volunteer bracelet was a privilege for us, to be there making the World Youth Day happen and witness the change and transformation it brings to everybody, including ourselves. 

We were around 19,000 volunteers including 4,000 international volunteers. If you ever passed by the place were we sleeping, in my case at Wisla Sport Center, you would always find volunteers gathered during their rest time chatting, playing music, having a quick snack.. It was challenging sometimes to stay in one place but at the same time it was great you could meet your friends who are not working with you in the same department or assignment and get to know new friends.
This feeling of having a very big family, speaking all languages, sharing stories and experiences and praying together.
The concept of borders or divisions between countries are totally abandoned. We are one big family, we care for each other, we support and help each other. 
This spirit started even before meeting in Krakow. In the Volunteers facebook group, everyone was trying to help anyone who had a question or facing a problem. If someone had an information or a tip, it was shared directly, if some volunteers were needed for a specific task or in a certain location, you just announce it.

Going for the volunteer mass, filling the metro and then walking to the Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Lagiewniki to attend the mass for volunteers was an incredible experience.
You could feel the energy and the joy spreading all around. I was also impressed by the choir, who was really superb. It was a moment of prayer, inspiration and blessings before starting our work as volunteers.

On a personal level, my experience with the Social Media team was an unforgettable one. It started 3 years ago in Rio for some of us including me, and even more for the few who witnessed its beginning in Madrid.
It was great to reunite again with my friends and to make new friends.
This was my home during the 2 weeks I spent. You could feel the energy once you entered our room. 
Knowing that what we do is perceived by millions, all around the globe, was a big responsibility. Each word, each photo or status shared, was important. We were the face and the voice of the World Youth Day to those who were not present in Krakow and to bring the spirit of the World Youth Day to those who didn't know about it.
For the Arabic page which I was working on, it was challenging to have everything translated in short time since Arabic was not one of the main languages were translations were already available.. yet, the many likes, shares and comments we received made us all proud. 

3 years ago, when I was informed I'll be in the communication team, I knew little what I was about to live. Of course, I had already personal experience with social media but it's something else to be responsible for reaching thousands of people who are following you.
In 3 years, things have evolved and we had also to adapt, new applications, new means for communication and new expectations.
But I assure you, that the hard work pays off. Receiving lot of photos and feedbacks, comments and questions, interacting with our followers was a real pleasure. You feel that what you do matters and is making a difference. It was also a motive to innovate and to be present on the ground, not only online. I've decided to venture and do some facebook live to show the world, first part of the mass and prayers during catechesis, then interviewing pilgrims.

Even if we were not the biggest language or the largest page, I'm proud to say that the number of our followers have doubled and together with all the languages, we are growing over the years. I still remember when we celebrated the 1 Million followers in Rio, 3 years later we almost tripled that figure.

#ThanksWYD for making me live a great enriching experience!

Thursday, September 01, 2016

A day to remember: "Memory, Courage, Future"!

A month ago was the last day of the World Youth Day, Krakow 2016. It was the most unexpected day of the 2 weeks I have spent in Krakow.
It started on the previous day, the day of the Vigil at Campus Misericordea. Once again, I attended it online as I was working... more about it in another post.
There was an idea to catch up the final mass with the Pope early Sunday morning. By early, I mean taking the bus for media at 4:30 am. I really wanted to attend the mass as it was one of the most memorable moments in Rio... but I had to let go of the volunteers meeting with the Pope as it was difficult to do both. It was a tough choice for me but I decided to go to the mass even if it was a challenge itself.
Arriving at Campus Misericordea brought back the memories of WYD in Cologne, 11 years ago.. a big field, people waking up early morning, the queues for bathrooms and for food.. But the mind and heart have changed in between.

I had to depart from my friends which whom i made the way as I didn't have a pass to the media section. I was supposed to meet another friend at the volunteer section. Going there, one Spanish pilgrim, asked me for help. She wanted to return to her section but the security didn't let her pass and she didn't have her ticket pass with her nor the mobile to contact her friends. She was really anxious on how to get back. I guided her from another way following the map and made sure until she found her group. I felt joy seeing her so relieved and thanking me for the help, as if I rescued her life. You never know the impact you have on people even for doing small things until you see it in their eyes. That's what volunteering is about.

I decided to find some of my pilgrim friends until my other friend arrived but I failed to reach them as they closed the main intersections before the Pope's arrival for security.. when I decided to return back to the volunteer section after staying stuck for a while, the moment I turned, I saw my friend I was supposed to meet.. Imagine seeing the person you were supposed to meet (at another point) in the middle of hundreds, thousands.. or shall I say 3 million people! It's like, divine providence, you don't need to worry about the how, you just leave it to God and everything will be managed on its time.

At the end of the mass, we started to walk to the bus drop off point.. at this point I realized how many people were actually there! It was so huge! I saw families, parents with children, even babies. People from all the places around the world.. all together in one place, chanting, praying, even dancing. I sometimes wonder, what if we remove all barriers and notions we have about countries, languages, culture, stereotypes. Wouldn't be a much nicer world to live in? 

Many people started to walk, everybody talking, and also waiting to hear the announcement of the next World Youth Day. We stayed a little in the shades waiting for the bus and watching pilgrims passing by. 
Of course no World Youth Day without rain. It stared to rain a lot.. luckily for us, we had the bus to go back to the media center, to continue working from there.. Everybody else had to walk under the heavy rain. I still had my fair share of the heavy rain later in the day. 

The day didn't end at this point. We went back to the media center to prepare for the last hours before leaving. We watched the Pope at Tauron arena, with all the volunteers. It was really amazing specially when Pope Francis decided to discard the prepared speech and to speak from his heart. Lucky for me he spoke in Spanish so I could understand it directly as I'm not that good in Italian which I started now to learn to be prepared next time.The speech (link in English) was so inspiring and can be summarized in 3 words: "Memory, Courage, Future"
"...Do you want to be the hope for the future or not? Two conditions that cost nothing. The first is condition is to remember. Trying to understand where I come from: the memory of my people, my family, my whole history... Second condition. If I am hope for the future and I have memory of the past, then what about the present? What must I do in the present? Have courage, be strong, don’t be afraid..."

Reflecting on the speech, it's true that to carry on in the future, we need to know our past, our history and heritage.. but not stop at this point and live in the past. Many Egyptians would say, we are the 7,000 years civilization, we are the builder of the pyramids.. but this is not enough.. the past is already gone, we live in the present and it's the present that will determine the future. If we live on the memory of the past then we will be stuck in our place. We need to have courage, not to be afraid and fight for a better future, our future and the future of our children and grand children.. Looking back on the past 5 years, we have gone through a lot in Egypt, politically, socially, economically, emotionally.. you name it.. 

At some point I had lot of hopes and waiting for the change. I was doing my best to be part of it, to be engaged in everything. I was always the person looking to the half full glass not the empty half. But gradually this has changed to being indifferent to the fights and divisions between people and just watching from far cos I know that we reap what we sow and these are the consequences of the peoples' choice.

The present may not be that optimistic, but I have faith that someday it will get better, but it will only get better if we have the courage to be part of the present. We are the hope of the future, we must act now and not wait for something to happen.

As every story comes to an end, to start a new one, the World Youth Day came to its end in Krakow, to start a new journey to Panama.
For this last night in Krakow, we met with some of our Social Media team for dinner in the city center.. On the way back, I was so tired and maybe feeling a little bit sad for leaving with the hopes to meet again someday, somewhere. It was my last walk (not counting walking under the heavy rain to the bus station and train station few hours later). Every step was becoming heavier, with tiredness, with bitterness.. Streets were empty compared to the previous days as many people already left Krakow. One last discussion until it was even tiring to think or speak or walk.. I remember my friend saying that the best thing was to see how we are part of the change of people. This includes me on a personal level as he was part of my transformation during this journey even without knowing it. We may not realize it but surely we impact the people we encounter. Like the girl I helped on that day or the discussions I had with friends or people I may never see again, or even family and friends.. I remember once my brother told me that he is proud of me and I never realized that I really could affect him in that way before that moment, cos we are brother and sister.

I truly miss the World Youth Day for all these small moments, the talks and discussions, the encounters, the connections with people. Getting to know each other, learning something new every day, a new experience, a new information, a new feeling. The feeling that you can do whatever crosses your mind, the freedom of being myself, the true me that's sometimes hidden as people see what they are used to see in their mind. I miss all the moments I could connect with myself and listen without thinking of everyday's preoccupation. It's like switching off and reconnecting.
Those precious moments will be in my heart, until we meet again.