Words from Robyn
Below are excerpts from a survey submitted to FFI in August from a participant in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She gave permission to us to share her responses with you all.
Explain what you learned about your own leadership strengths:
I applied to this program, genuinely not believing that I would be considered - let alone accepted. For me, it was one of life's "imagine if..." situations. I visited the Friends Forever website and read every single page, every essay...and I was absolutely in awe at how this organization operates. I fell in love with the cause. As badly as I wanted to me a part of it, I didn't believe that I had what it takes - I couldn't see anything abnormally special or any form of potential in myself. This is why I doubted that I could be a part of this, Friends Forever's quest for peace. I had done my interview as me, been as honest as I could, so knowing that the most I could give Brian interviewing me was to deliver my authentic self or "just Robyn", I doubted even more so that I was good enough, special enough, talented enough nor in the right ways. Obviously once I found out that I had a place on the team, I was shocked. I was ecstatic, but full of disbelief. By the time that the group building seminar had finished, I had caught the Friends Forever bug. I knew then in my heart, even if I didn't voice it until later, that I would give my everything to this program. I knew then that I desired a life-long partnership with Friends Forever as it struck me that these bonds and opportunities continue for life. You guys are never getting rid of me now!...
Above: Robyn (right) and Lil, a friend from our Middle East Program who she met on her FFI Skill Building Phase in New Hampshire!
To know that people see a talent in me, that they BELIEVE in me is the biggest confidence boost I could ever ask for. Once I stopped being afraid, once I learned that my opinions are valid, I began to show the side of myself that I am proud of. To know that so long as I always show understanding and stay true to my ideas about peace, that my authentic self is enough, helps me to OWN my truth and my story and also to treat the stories of my team, and any other team I ever work with, with respect. I was told that I shone as a strong leader, and this means an incredible amount to me. The safety of the FF environment allowed me to be me, and to know that the true me is a strong leader that others WANT to follow, is pretty awesome - my rawest, most authentic form of myself is one that I enjoy and I want to hold the words and praise of others in my heart forever.
Please share one or two ways you wish you had tried harder in the U.S.:
When I look back, I wish I'd taken more time to appreciate the smaller more routine aspects of my time in New Hampshire. If I could just once swap my morning here in Northern Ireland and instead wake up in my bunkbed in Leonard's house. I'd get up and peel back the curtains and sit and stare at the gorgeous red sky - itching to get outside to see it, I'd dodge the squeaky floor boards so as not to wake the others (they deserve another ten minutes in bed). I'd creep down the stairs to make myself a cup of coffee, take it and walk barefoot over the grass to sit on the edge of the garden with my toes touching the sandy steps. I would sit for a few minutes and watch the waves, watch the colours change. I'd watch the boats and seagulls. One more time, I would close my eyes against the breeze and the sun and the stillness and I'd take it all in through a breath. Then I'd go back inside and find my Saturi (name of her team) family waiting, eating breakfast and laughing in that warm kitchen, anticipating our day of adventure.
Please share an experience you had in the US that you never thought you would have:
I now have Israeli and Palestinian friends who shared experiences with us and taught me some Arabic and Hebrew. They are my friends for life and they inspire me so much. I am from a country where we are luckily pretty much removed from continued conflict and our biggest barriers lie in opening new dialogues, adapting political views and reaching some areas of the country that require more help in moving forward - I am so honoured to watch fellow young people come together from a place where the conflict is still present and the tension can be almost claustrophobic. If they can collaborate, if they can still have hope, then I should too.
Can you tell us about a fear or obstacle that you experienced or overcame during your time in the U.S.?
I found it immensely difficult to allow myself to show weakness in moments of hardship and even more so to ask for help when I struggled. I can see now that there is no bravery in one who masks their emotions - the brave one is the one who bares the rawness of their feelings to the earth even if it isn't pretty. There is no shame in the frown on a low day, nor the grimace when you have to take on a difficult task. To live fully, we have to experience these things - emotions are the colours of our being and they will always be a part of our lives. I thrive on caring for others and taking away their pain but I have learned that I am able to do this even if I don't always feel confident in myself all the time. I do not have to be made of iron in order to be a good leader, therefore it is illogical to put up a front. The mask is off and I seek to experience every second authentically, peaks and troughs included. It is okay to find things difficult - if everything was easy and comfortable we would get bored. I've always enjoyed challenging myself but I have learned that I am allowed to be honest about the trials of trying and it is okay to fall down and admit defeat - when this happens you get to allow the people around you to take your hand and help you through it. I would much rather succeed as part of a team than to fall trying to do it by myself.
If someone were to ask me if Friends Forever was worth participating in, how would you reply?
I would ask them, "Are you ready to become your true self?" If they say yes, then they should apply. If they say no, then they should apply. If they look at me blankly and say, "What?”, then they should apply. Whether they think they're ready, or unprepared or if they don't even know what they're looking for, they WILL find a new part of themselves with Friends Forever. For those who feel ready, they will seek to find themselves in every opportunity - they will find meaning in so many activities. For those who are unprepared, those around them, their team, the people they meet, the network of alumni and staff, everyone will inspire them and help them see that there is a potential in them and slowly they will become ready. For those who do not know what they are looking for, they will have the chance to observe those around them and they will feel so inspired by the beautiful people who surround them - they will see that they play a part in their community and that they have power to make a difference and they will begin to know that there is something amazing in striving for peace on a small scale in order to create peace everywhere; they will be on the cusp of discovering these new aspects to their very being. I say these things because Friends Forever is not just a cross-community program; it is the empowerment of the individual to realize that the change already lies dormant within each of us until we decide to acknowledge it.
When we create peace with ourselves, it becomes so much easier to create peace with others. Those who are ready, those who aren't, those who do not know, we all have to complete the final step for ourselves. Friends Forever cannot tell you who you are or what you want - but they can give you the tools to unlock this revelation for yourself. You learn things and you bring them home and in every conversation with your family, your friends, colleagues or even people in the street, with your new broad and diverse and beautiful outlook on this earth and the beings in it, you can spread the message of peace. In many cases, large change is a cause-and-effect chain of small changes. In every story you tell, idea you present and feeling you share, you are creating change! Often our society is so cold towards change...be the one who warms the hearts of those in your community so they too view their fellow humans in compassion's forgiving light. Even if could wear a sign that says "YOU are the change (No, really! Come ask me about it!)" so that everyone I pass could see it, I don't think I would be able to convey how much power I believe this philosophy holds.
I hope Friends Forever continues to touch the lives of people for as long as this earth needs healing and I will continue to recommend and endorse this scheme for as long as I have to (it is favorite thing to brag about as though it is my successful child - I believe I could ramble on about this program to someone for hours if they could bear me for that long).
I feel with certainty that I want all new participants to know that:
To connect and to share with new people is the future of creating change. When we always come from a place of love as we venture into the world, EVERY SINGLE ACTION edges us ever closer to a world of peace. When we get there and you look back, you will be so proud, you will be so thankful...because you were a part of it. In order to gain true non-biased perspective, you must be removed from the throes of a situation. The skills building phase is so important for this program. I realized that this earth is so much bigger that I originally had perceived it to be. Perspective is such a giving concept and it is difficult to achieve in such a small place as Northern Ireland. My everyday life in New Hampshire has been so surreal and so removed from anything I have experienced back home. Friends Forever is so special, so unique. Everything so far has been an entirely new experience and I am sure the next phase will be as wonderfully unique compared to any other group projects I have ever done. Friends Forever is a safe space that gets something special out of everyone.