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By Elisa Willman, Senior Marketing Communications Manager, Microsoft Citizenship Last month, we announced the winners of Microsoft’s YouthSpark Challenge for Change contest and our new YouthSpark Ambassadors: Adam Dunn, Brian Hickey, Sneha Jayaprakash, Christina Ong and Meghan Shea. They are wrapping up their three-week volunteer trip in Kenya (part of the grand prize package), where they’ve participated in a village water walk and building a school, and have learned about the local economy, agriculture and food security.
From left to right: Sneha, Brian, Meghan, Christina and Adam outside their tent in Kenya. We spoke with all five of them to learn how their perspective on social entrepreneurship and youth leadership has been shaped and strengthened by what they’ve learned and experienced in Kenya, and how they’ll use that knowledge to shape the social good projects that helped them win the contest: Adam Dunn, a student at North Carolina State University, summarizes his initial experiences: “After our first week in Mwangaza, things are starting to feel like home. Our days are filled with constructing the new school’s foundation, experiencing Maasai traditions, and learning about development models for rural Kenyan communities.” Adam was particularly struck by local family economics. “It’s humbling to see the figures and understand the sacrifices that are often made, but it’s also exciting to think of the entrepreneurial potential here.” Babson College student Brian Hickey’s highlights have included, “interacting with the locals, helping to build a new school, and completing tasks typically done by villagers such as carrying water.” Though his contest-winning project is based in Uganda, he’s excited to use his Kenya experience as inspiration for his project. He explains, “Hearing from the village Mamas about the income provided from their bead project resonated with my work in Uganda where I am currently helping to develop a business and training center. I plan to return from this trip with new knowledge and experiences to help further my passions.” University of California San Diego student Sneha Jayaprakash had a humbling experience through Global Simulation Day, a learning exercise where she was assigned to represent a specific country. “After completing physical chores representative of an impoverished citizen of that nation, I had so much more respect and empathy for the people worldwide, even in our own country, who live paycheck to paycheck without access to basic education and healthcare.” Sneha says the trip, “has reaffirmed my belief that motivated youth have the power to change the world.” Christina Ong, a student at University of California Irvine, “can’t stress enough” how much she’s enjoyed her time in Kenya. She shared, “The perseverance of every student I have met here has motivated me even more to bring basic education to every child in Kenya and in the local community I call home... No other experiences could replace the ones I have had during this trip.” Meghan Shea, a Stanford University student, had two goals when she entered YouthSpark Challenge for Change: to create a science mentorship program through the funds from the competition, and to advance her own water purification research through the trip to Kenya. Her experiences on the trip have had a far larger impact on her former goal than she could have imagined. Meghan explains, “More important than the specific lessons I’ve learned in my short time here, however, are the little moments that constantly shape my perspective and the conversations—short and long—that I’ve shared with those around me. I’m excited to bring my evolved sense of humility, optimism, and passion back home.” Thanks, YouthSpark Ambassadors, for sharing your experiences! We look forward to following your social good projects throughout the year.