By Prunella Mungroo
I came across a T-shirt from a group that I started with some friends at the university called UWISE.
We had no money and few resources, but great ambition. We wanted to revolutionize how people conceived clubs on campus and what they conceived universities students as a whole to be. I remember how proud we were of our first batch of T-shirts with the slogan "The Revolution Has Begun – Join The Vision."
We had a great founding team. Maurice was the visionary of our group. He always wanted to push the envelope of what we thought we could do. If we met an obstacle, he would be the one to say, "Don’t worry; we’ll work it out."
Then there was Daryl. Daryl was always thinking.
He would be slow to respond but always thought of the possible cons in any situation that we should guard against. Francesca was always listening.
She wasn't always into the details at first but, as we got into implementation, she was always there to do the little things that needed to be done. Most times, it was a gentle reminder that Maurice, Daryl and I should sleep more.
I wasn’t always the visionary in the group. Maurice would come with these great ideas and I would think of whether or not they would be doable immediately. I was the detail-oriented one and I would plan something to the letter. Often I wouldn't eat or sleep until it was done.
In our early to mid-twenties we all had dreams of changing the world. We saw how voluntarism and philanthropy helped us in our personal development and we were determined to give others the same opportunity to grow that we had.
We had ambitions of achieving everything at once. But eventually we carved a niche for ourselves doing volunteer work and linking organizations and NGOs with student volunteers.
We also raised funds for students to attend volunteer projects through an international NGO called the Religious Youth Service (RYS). RYS for us was a great opportunity for young people of various religions to work together in communities, learning teamwork and building character in a practical sense.
RYS gathered young people from all over the world and brought them together for two weeks to work and learn from each other. The four of us were able to send students from UWI to Jamaica and Suriname as well as host a program here in Trinidad.
We invested ourselves and spent a lot of our personal money towards building something bigger than ourselves. We did workshops and gave talks hoping to invest in others the same way that many people trusted and invested in us.
As time went on, we developed other projects such as "the Ethics campaign", encouraging students to listen and participate in student governance and national politics, "Solidarity Week" focusing on HIV and AIDS awareness, advocacy, and education, and "Campus Volunteer Day (CVD)" that provided opportunities for students to volunteer to work with NGOs for a day.
We would provide transport, refreshments and T-shirts for the students and bus them around Trinidad and Tobago.
Very often we didn’t have financial support but we rallied to do the best that we could do. We all personally sacrificed to get the job done.
As I looked at this T-shirt, I remembered all the late nights, retreats to plan events, monies spent, RedBull consumed, cars rented to collect goods for CVD and visiting the sites where our volunteers were.
I remember well the feeling of accomplishment we shared after each event, together with the thank-you e-mails from students who never had the opportunity to volunteer before, and the thank-yous from the NGOs that were grateful for the assistance.
I remember feeling so humbled and overjoyed in seeing participants coming back to campus saying, "That was so cool. I couldn't believe that we could do all of that in one day."
In one event, I remember feeling that I had done something that contributed to changing the world.
While the organization still exists to a certain extent, each of us has moved on – still changing the world whether it be in the field of tertiary education research or helping to instill discipline and training others in the Trinidad & Tobago Cadet Force, or being a nurturing friend and mother. Or, in my case, giving others the opportunity to shine and seeing their potential both locally and regionally.
I don’t know if the others still see their contributions as "changing the world." Sometimes I doubt whether my own contributions are having a wider impact, but changing the world often starts with one person using their realm of experience and expertise to influence another person or group and, from there, the ripple effect will manifest.
As I told someone recently, just because you aren’t reaching hundreds with your voice doesn’t make your voice any less influential just because you’re reaching ONE.
So I encourage you to use what you have, work hard and become the positive influence in your respective circles. Just because you aren't holding a high political position or writing policies and laws, this doesn't mean that you aren't doing your part to change the world.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
— Margaret Mead