2011 Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) presentation for Berri Rotary

This is a copy of the presentation I made to the Berri Rotary Club in thanks for sponsoring my attedance at this year’s Rotary Youth Leadership Awards:

17th October 2011

So I need a volunteer. Thank you!

Here’s a lonely little toothpick. Try and break it.

It breaks easily yeah?

Here’s another one.

So it’s pretty easy to break an individual toothpick. It takes barely any effort at all.

But what about a bundle of toothpicks? Can you break this bundle tied together? It’s a little harder.

That message most of all, is the one I took away from RYLA. As a team we are stronger, when we work together and we are connected we are harder to break.

For those of you who don’t know me, my name’s Alysha Herrmann. I’m a parent. I have an almost 9 year old son named Zacharie who of all the people in my life inspires me every day to try and become the best version of myself that I can be.

I’m completing a teaching/Arts degree which I’ve been doing since 2008 part time, when I finally finish I’ll be qualified as a secondary Drama/English teacher and I’m majoring in Literature and Sociology for an Arts degree.

Most of my work and passion though is as an Artist. A performing artist to be exact, I originally trained as an actor although I don’t get to perform much living in a regional area so I mostly work now as a project facilitator & director (especially with young people who I’m very passionate about) and as a playwright. I also occasionally write bad poetry and even worse songs! My work as a playwright has been performed in Canberra, Adelaide, Queensland, Victoria and right here in the Riverland.

On Friday night past my work in the Arts was also formally recognised as I was the recipient of the Advantage SA Riverland & Murraylands Sony Centre Arts Award, which is super exciting for me. I’m not sporty so I’ve never really won much in the way of trophies before but I now have a glass pear to sit on my desk!

I’m also a youth mentor working with Renmark High School students & a community mentor with the Berri Barmera Council’s Youth Committee. I’m the President of the Berri District Youth Club and the co-creator and facilitator of the Riverland Youth Connect project.

And I’m a young person. I turned 26 this year. And 2 weeks ago I attended the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards in Belair sponsored by the Rotary Club of Berri. Thank you!

While I was at RYLA I thought a lot about what I would say when I came to report back to you, and I’ve continued thinking about what to say in the 2 weeks since coming home.

I don’t know that anything I can say could actually capture what RYLA is and what it did for me.

RYLA is for young people aged 18-25 and I only just snuck in this year having already turned 26, being on the older end of the spectrum RYLA was a different experience for me than many of the other participants as obviously I’m a little older, hopefully a tiny bit more experienced and more settled in my life. So perhaps some of the content wasn’t new, perhaps some of the guest speakers seemed like an echo I’d heard before and yet my experience at RYLA was moving, was valid and was equally important. It didn’t change my life or introduce me to a whole new world, but it gave me the opportunity to reflect, to re-evaluate, to take time out from my busy life and experience myself through other people’s eyes, which is something that we don’t often have the opportunity to do.

And that is a really, really special gift. Too often we’re living our lives in survival mode, on full throttle going from day to day just trying to keep up. And I’m often really guilty of that. RYLA asked me to step outside of that pattern. To give up my phone, my schedule, my work for a week, my family for a week and put my time and my energy in someone else’s hands. To give 100% commitment to whatever experiences the week had to offer and I didn’t know what to expect. I really only had a very vague idea of what RYLA was from past participants.

As I said before, nothing can really sum it up but I will try and give you bit of quick snapshot. RYLA incorporates guest speakers who this year covered a diverse array of topics including public speaking, conflict resolution, ethics, living your passions, goal setting, self defence (I was teamed with one of the Directors – and let’s just say he never wants to be my partner for self defence ever again!), volunteering & leadership. The week incorporates a lot of self development through a variety of mechanisms including reflection (individually and as a team), team work, sports and outdoor activities, dancing (My highlight of the week was possibly the bushdancing – simply because we barely knew each other and yet everyone gave it a go. Everyone committed to what that experience had to offer. We got out of our heads and into our bodies and moved and laughed together. That really stands out in my mind), games and lots of opportunity for creative expression. It’s also a week’s worth of solid and useful networking with future collaborators, clients and leaders. It’s a week of great food and fellowship. But it’s also more than all of that.

In my RYLA application back in February I said: I hope to be inspired and challenged to see the world from new angles. I also hope to have the opportunity to form and develop new networks with other passionate and engaged young people and through these networks develop new skills and possible co-collaborators on future projects. I hope that I can contribute and offer something valuable to other participants through sharing my own diverse skills and experience.

I was given all of those things – I was inspired, I was challenged, I made & developed new networks with passionate young people as future co-collaborators, I grew my skills & I contributed in a way that only I could have.

RYLA was an amazing week. A week that reaffirmed for me what community means to me. And to me community is all about reaching out to others, to share, to support, to laugh and to cry. This is exactly what RYLA is and was over 7 days – a community. A community of spirited, generous and dedicated young people. Young people who are contributing meaningfully and tirelessly in their respective communities – to spend 7 days in their company was so exciting and reinvigorating for me personally.

I come away from the week refreshed and ready to keep working, to keep building our community, to keep doing what I’m doing with new skills, new networks and new hope.

As a team we are stronger, when we work together and we are connected we are harder to break. That’s the message I bring back from RYLA, that’s the message which resonates most loudly to me in relation to the Riverland.

And I just wanted to show you this short video. My partner and I made it in 2009 so it’s not new and some of you may have seen it before. But this is why I do what I do and this is why opportunities like RYLA for people like me are so important.

So that was RYLA.
Humbling, inspiring, challenging & so worth it.

So where to now for me?

Some of you may already know that I’ve been invited to attend the Commonwealth Youth Forum next week in Fremantle. I’ve been invited as one of 30 Australia delegates to join other youth delegates aged 18-29 from the other Commonwealth Nations to learn about the Commonwealth, debate issues to be progressed to world leaders at Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and benefit from skills-building sessions during the Forum. We’ll also have the unique opportunity to work with international delegates from Commonwealth member nations to discuss global issues.

This is a really exciting opportunity for me personally but also for the Riverland as there are only 2 South Aussies going, myself and a young lady from Adelaide, so it’s a great opportunity to fly the flag for the Riverland and tell everyone what a wonderful community we have here and that they should all come and visit us! It’s also an opportunity for me to be a vehicle for the voices of other young people to share their stories, ideas and concerns at an International forum. It’s also I think a pertinent opportunity to put into practise and build on everything I experienced at RYLA.

To make sure that as many voices as possible inform my time at the forum I’ve distributed a survey which Robin (Berri Rotary President) has the link to if anyone would like to share with their youth networks. People can also email or call me directly. The more people who share their thoughts with me before I head off, the more well rounded and representative of our community I can be.

I’ve been very lucky because The Federal Office for Youth & the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition are supporting me to access this opportunity by covering my accommodation, food & other costs associated with staying in Fremantle for the week, as most of the work I do is in-kind and therefore unpaid it can be really difficult for me to access this kind of opportunity. However I still need to cover travel to and from Fremantle, including flights (which when I checked today were around the $700 mark) and transport to Adelaide and any small contribution towards these costs would be greatly appreciated.

In my other capacity as an artist I’m also continuing work on my independent community arts project PressureLands. PressureLands is a performance project working with young people 14-26 to explore pressure, expectations and success.

The project started last year when I visited all of the local high schools and engaged over 600 young people as part of community consultations through interviews, brainstorming, writing letters and performance exercise around the themes of pressures, expectations and success. 10 young people then came on board to create a performance response to that material and we’re continuing to create that performance which will end up being a play and we’ve just finished registering for the Adelaide Fringe next year which is super exciting.

We have a lot of fundraising to do between now and March but we have a very passionate and dedicated cast who have been selling chocolates, face painting and organising quiz nights so somehow we will get there and we will be performing in Adelaide for week before a week of shows right here in the Riverland. I’d love to see you all at the show next year. The Creative Producer of the next Regional Arts Conference has also invited PressureLands to perform at the 2012 Regional Arts Conference in Goolwa which is another exciting opportunity not only to showcase this project and the amazing young people who are involved but also the Riverland itself.

Lastly in relation to RYLA I just wanted to share something quite personal that came out of the week for me. The residential facility we stayed at during RYLA is called ‘Nunyara’ and on the first day the caretaker explained that Nunyara means ‘place of healing’. It’s a beautiful place up in the Adelaide Hills, you can stand on the verandah in the evening and look out over a lush hillside and see the sea of fairy lights that is the Adelaide skyline, it’s just stunning.

I mentioned earlier that one of the benefits of RYLA for me personally was the opportunity to see myself through other people’s eyes and I really meant that. For me RYLA and Nunyara were truly a place of healing.

Despite everything I’ve achieved in the last 10 years I’ve still been viewing myself as a high school drop out and a teen parent. I’ve still been seeing myself through that lens. Being immersed in the RYLA experience forced me to rethink how I see myself, forced me to see myself through the eyes of others.

There were lots of way it did so, but one that stands out to me is the warm fuzzy activity. On the first day of RYLA we were asked to fill out a little one page survey about ourselves and stick it onto an A4 envelope on the wall and then throughout the week the idea was that if someone did something really inspiring or outstanding or you just wanted to give them some encouragement, you could write them a little note (a so called ‘warm fuzzy’) and leave it in their envelope for them. When I came home and read my warm fuzzies I was really confronted by words I’d never associate with myself, words & sentences like ‘your attitude to life is more inspiring than words can express’, ‘you lead people through your kindness and wisdom’, ‘determined & wise’. I’m not saying I’ll never doubt myself again, I will. I’ll still doubt, I’ll still be afraid, but I’m not just a high school drop out and I’m not just a teen parent anymore and RYLA gave me the chance to see that. So thank you. For thinking I was worth sending. Each of you collectively gave me that gift.

No matter what I’m doing or how I use what I learnt at RYLA, that is something that will stay with me.

Thank you.

End Presentation.

Afterwards I opened the floor for questions. The club gave me a standing ovation. Peter Jarvis said I was the best speaker the club has had in over 18 months, Warren Adams said he noticed that no one touched their dessert as I spoke, they waited until I was finished and that almost never happens as usually everyone starts eating their dessert as soon as it arrives and it showed that I had their attention.

As I sat down again to eat my dessert the secretary of the club indicated that he wanted to support my attendance at the Commonwelath Youth Forum and asked the club to do so. The entire club voted yes on the spot.

Thank you Berri Rotary for believing in me and for supporting me not only to experience RYLA but to take our stories to an International Forum such as CYF.

I’d love for you (whoever you are reading this) to share your stories/ideas/concerns with me as I head to the Commonwealth Youth Forum. You can access the survey here or you can email me with your thoughts at: alysha_herrmann85@hotmail.com

And I’m going to endeavour to blog/tweet/facbook about the Forum whilst I’m there next week. Wish me luck!

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