Finding A Leader Within Me: Developing Leadership Skills With PAAC

Sidney Vermeulen is a junior in high school at Hawaii Preparatory Academy on the Big Island.  Sidney became involved with PAAC after traveling on their summer trip to Vietnam two years ago and was a recent participant in their Global Leadership Program, which QFI is proud to support. Sidney reflected on her time participating in the leadership program below: 

As I stepped into the Kalo patch, my legs sunk knee deep into the mud.  At first I was petrified.  Feelings of disgust and panic at being in this new situation overwhelmed me.  I took a few deep breaths, and started to get to work pulling at the weeds.  In a few minutes disgust was replaced with happiness, and panic was replaced with a sense of peace and belonging.  Although I had never done it before, working in the kalo patch, surrounded by friends, felt comfortable.

The entire Global Leadership Program was a lot like working in the kalo patch.  When I first stepped off the plane and onto the bus in Oahu, I felt anxious and worried just as I had felt stepping into the mud.  I was going to have to spend the next four days with people I had never met.  What if I didn’t make any friends?  What if I don’t like the activities we are doing?  What if I say something wrong?  What if? What if…

As I began to get to work, just like the Kalo patch, the anxiety melted away and a sense of belonging took its place.  With our first activity at camp, getting a marble across a basketball court using only PVC pipes, I saw the individuals around me begin to form a cohesive unit working together for a common goal.  When we each supported each other, blind folded and vulnerable, traveling through the woods in the dark, I began to trust this group of people around me.  Finally, when 20 feet in the air, crying and holding onto a tree for dear life, I looked down and saw nothing but smiling faces below me, encouraging me to finish the course.  The trust I had felt before, turned into a deep admiration and appreciation for each of the individuals below me.  When I jumped off the tree and zip lines to safety below, I couldn’t wait to be reunited with my new friends.  27123338202_83a3cc47e4_k

With the support of the group behind me, I was able to embark on the goal of the program.  Developing leadership skills.  This proved to be another kalo patch. The first few activities were nerve racking and uncomfortable.  I grimaced watching the video on vulnerability, not being able to see how I could ever have the courage to be vulnerable in front of such a large group.  I tended to keep back, letting others share out in discussions first, and only raising my hand when I felt very confident in what I had to say.

This fear started to melt into comfort during our model APEC.  I realized that I needed to stand up for my country if our voice and opinions were going to be heard.  During this session, I started to see the importance of global leadership.  Beyond leadership, global leadership required empathy, and a willingness to compromise with views around the world.  I started to see how listening, and trying to understand others, was an important component of leadership, just as speaking up for your beliefs and ideas.

Surprisingly, this new idea of leadership wasn’t uncomfortable or difficult to grasp.  Once I realized that leadership was more complex than just being someone making sure other people do their jobs, I began to feel more comfortable in my role as a leader.  I spoke up more in the group, but also tried even harder to listen to what others had to say.  Before the leadership program, I would have never imagined being able to come up with a solution to homelessness, yet when March rolled around, I found that our group was able to interview and empathize with the house-less, create a prototype, and share our ideas to others.  Eventually our idea even got shared at the homelessness task force.  This new definition of leadership made me feel empowered.  I began to feel more and more confident in my ability to be a leader.

As I stood, knee deep and covered in mud, I heard the call to pull our last weed and head out of the loi.  I was sad.  I felt that I was leaving something that began to feel like home, yet I knew that the connections I had made would last a lifetime.  I’m really happy that the Global Leadership Program helped immerse me in the mud, although I was anxious, uncomfortable, and unconfident at the beginning of this journey, I have since realized that leadership is something that can be comfortable and empowering.  Looking back, all I can say is thank you.  Thank you to everyone who has helped this program.  Thank you for helping me find a leader within me.