Up With People-Iskashitaa

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“It was a turbulent time in the mid 60’s both in America and around the world. We were in the midst of a cold war.  The USA and the Soviet Union were eyeball to eyeball each with the atomic weapon. America was being torn apart with racial strife and deeply divided over Vietnam. There was a worldwide eruption of youth, demanding a voice in their affairs and the affairs of their countries. The only policy in the USA seemed to be, “how quickly can we shut them up?” I thought if we could harness some of that energy and give them a positive voice it might capture their attention and touch the world.”  J. Blanton Belk, co-founder of Up with People


Last Saturday  I attended a show in Tucson, Arizona of Up with People an organization that brings together a multitude of young people (18-29 years of age) from all over the world.  Up with People exists today to inspire young people to make a difference in their world and is a global education organization which aims to bring the world together through service and music. The unique combination of international travel, service learning, leadership development and performing arts offers students a pathway to make a difference in the world, one community at a time.  Since 1965, more than 22,000 young leaders from 131 countries have traveled abroad with Up with People.


Prior to this show I had heard the name but knew nothing about the organization.  Although Up with People is involved with putting on performances, bringing a very uplifting musical show to the various cities which they visit, they also are very involved in community service projects.  I’m currently working for Iskashitaa Refugee Network and a few weeks ago, we were contacted by Up with People to volunteer.  For several hours, eight young people harvested citrus alongside a number of refugees. 


The musical show was just terrific with some outstanding individual performances.  The thing that really caught my attention was being able to take a trip through the performers being from all over the world, including Nepal.  There is a tuition fee associated with being able to be part of Up with People but there are also a number of scholarships, which means that anyone can participate.


Although the United Nations (UN) seeks to promote international cooperation in today’s extremely dysfunctional world, agreements don’t occur on a regular basis. At the heart of this is the fact that the world is becomingly increasingly divided and people, influenced by populist politicians, are becoming more xenophobic.  As an example there are now more than 65 million refugees  in the world.  Having worked with some of these refugees from countries such as Eritrea and the Congo, I’ve observes how difficult it is for people who have been in a refugee camp for double digit years, can navigate life in the  US.    If country policies “shut” people out, then refugees may remain this way for generations.


Iskashitaa is a Somali  and Maay Maay, main language of the Somail Bantu ethnic minority, word for working cooperatively together.  As I witnessed the energy of the Up with People performers I felt as if I was in a mini UN, but the cast were all working together towards a common goal.  It wasn’t only the songs about peace and love, the tender lyrics, which had audience members crying.  The point of this for me was how this group of young people came together in a relatively short period of time to make an impact in the communities in which they were/are performing.  


Like the 60’s, there seems to be a rather large schism between various generations, a time to reflect and act so that we don’t destroy ourselves.  My hope is that the positive messages of Up with People and other like-minded youth organizations will prevail and that in the long run we will move towards a more caring world.


Position: Director-EveryBODYPlaysNC

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