Partner Q & A: Sweden – Silas Beardlee of the International Youth Initiative Program
Describe your work in your own words.
I think there are many appropriate words that could describe the work that I do at Youth International Initiative Program [YIP]. Facilitator, Coordinator, Mentor and Designer are a few of the more professional and elegant-sounding classifications. Yet the work also includes the answering of thousands of emails (collectively), tracking down materials for the various courses we host and making sure the participants have what they need in the house; from müsli to toilet paper and everything in between. Beyond this, I think much of my work is about asking provocative questions and being a witness to the participants on their journeys of discovery.
How do you define Rites of Passage or talk about it in relationship to your work?
In large part, I think that processes of Initiation and Coming of Age are no longer supported by our modern societies; we’ve lost any strong foundations of mentorship for these experiences. Yet the transformations are happening none the less, but often occur without the supportive attention of elders. I think the work that happens at YIP gives a unique space for participants to ponder their lives, rethink their stories and garner new insights from their biographies. YIP, in and of itself, can be a kind of Rites of Passage experience. This happens through the Curriculum and the incredible Contributors that share time with us, but a lot of it happens through living together in a profoundly intimate way with an incredibly diverse community, and doing so for an entire year.
What brought you to this work?
I went through the first evolution of the Youth Initiative Program in 2008. It hosted a major shift in my own story that I value greatly and lead me to accomplishments that before i might have deemed impossible. I stayed connected to the Program over the last years and when the opportunity fell in my lap, it made a lot of sense to close the loop in a way, to give myself in support of something I believe so strongly in.
Are there specific mentors, teachers, or lineages it has grown out of?
Well, the idea was born through work that was happening in the Anthroposophical Youth Section in Dornach, Switzerland. The call was heard in the voices of many Waldorf 12th grade High School students from around the world who were passing through. They recognized the immense challenges facing humanity and the planet and wanted very much to be involved with creating positive change, but many were unsure of where to put their focus and how to go about doing something. From that call conversations began and YIP was formed. The list of mentors is perhaps too long to include here, but among them is Elizabeth Wirsching, Nicanor Perlas and Orland Bishop.
What have been your greatest lessons and in turn joys in getting to where you are?
I suppose one of the grander learnings has been about the richness and diversity of humanity. I speak of diversity beyond skin color and nationality, and more to the brilliance of the human spirit. Each and every person that is born into this world has the opportunity to grow older and carries an absolutely unique story. Each one of us ingests and processes those stories in our own way and therefore the expressions of our experience are unique as well. I think one of the most brilliant qualities of the human spirit is our ability to adapt to almost any situation and learn to live with it. This shows up in the fact that through the millennia human beings have learned to flourish in the frigid and glacier rich arctic, the arid and sand-filled desert, the mountains and oceans. Yet this incredible adaptability also comes with its challenges, for, in my opinion, we are also experts at conformity, and maintaining the systems that we know, but that no longer serve life on earth.
Are there any tools or resources that have been especially useful to you?
I could name a few specific tools, but in truth, I think what has been most useful is continuing to work with spaces of witnessing and being witnessed, listening and being listened to. It is through these spaces that I have experienced the most growth in myself, in my coworkers and in the youth that we work with. When spaces like that can be created in a way that feels safe, hierarchy dissolves and realizations arise that we are all in this together and that we can share the weight of the world.
What are some of the biggest challenges and advantages to working in Sweden?
There have been many advantages to living in such a well organized and supportive system. The public transportation, the healthcare and social welfare are all advanced beyond what I have previously experienced. Dually there have been challenges. The darkness is one, and feeling quite segregated from the rest of the world is another. And also culturally, I am used to more openness and interest from the outside than I have encountered here.
How do the local and global points of view interact in your work/experience?
In our curriculum design, we attempt to find balance in both areas acting locally with global knowledge. ‘Trans-localism’ is one of the answers to many of life’s most challenging questions. By gathering information and stories of positive social change in communities around the world we can learn from what has worked and apply aspects of that learning in our own locations. It’s not about creating cookie-cutter projects and dropping them off all over the world, but instead tapping into knowledge and skills that have already been learned and adapting it in our own communities.
What is your hope or vision for the work/field as a whole, what do you see that we need as a community?
I would love to see YIP in different places around the world. It is an incredibly pliable organization made of of people and is not tied to any specific place. I’ve joked that if YIP gave away all its material possessions, some lucky individual would receive a box of pushpins, markers and a flip chart. But its wealth is in the ever widening network of active people. In addition, my hope is that YIP and programs like it can become more accessible. We’ve been working hard to create Scholarship Fund (2015 was its first year running!) aiming to support participants who would otherwise not be able to attend due to finances. As a community, some more recognition of the power and importance of this work could be nice. ;0)
What interests you about being part of the Youth Passageways community-network?
Youth Passageways is spreading awareness of opportunities for young people of all kinds to get involved and engaged in positive actions around the world. I see this as an imperative stepping stone toward renewal on a massive scale. In a mainstream reality of ever-increasing distraction and hustle, sometimes all we can see is wood when we look at a tree. Youth Passageways points out the branches, the possibility to climb and from there gain an entirely new perspective. It’s an honor that YIP can be a branch for some to climb.