Words: Georgia Horton | Editor: Mohsin Mohi Ud Din
Vincent Otieno Odhiambo is the Deputy Ashoka Africa Integrator in Ashoka’s East Africa office. I had the pleasure of speaking with him last month when he visited Ashoka’s global headquarters in Arlington, VA. As a storytelling intern, I thought the best way to present Vincent’s changemaker mindset is with a short story he told me…
Like most children, Vincent was raised with the belief that you are only punished when you do something wrong. A moment in nursery school stands out to Vincent as a time when this principle was not followed, almost jeopardizing his entire belief system.
It started as a normal day in nursery school. Vincent was unable to fall asleep during nap time due to a bad case of the hiccups. Vincent remembers that as the hiccups persisted and his ability to sleep dwindled, he was punished by his teacher. This moment perplexed him -- ‘Why was he being punished for doing something he didn’t perceive as wrong?’ Even as a young child, Vincent knew he needed to address the injustice.
Instead of just accepting the punishment, Vincent stood up for himself. He gave himself the permission to actively seek answers, not just silently accept challenges or problems. He spoke with his parents, questioned his teacher's motives, and explored why that had happened to him. His parents scheduled a meeting with his teacher, and the problem was later resolved. At such a young age, Vincent connected his passion for fighting injustice, then connected his passion to a real problem in his classroom. He then brought together a team--his parents and teacher---and engaged in creative problem-solving, and asked the right questions that eventually led to a change in the classroom. This is changemaking.
Today, years and years later, Vincent is leading Changemaker work with Youth Venture in East Africa. As part of his innovative work, Vincent works with schools, educators, companies, government officials, and community organizations to cultivate spaces for youth in Africa the where they are encouraged to #LeadYoung, like he had all those year before in that tiny classroom.
This moment, Vincent recalls, is what inspired him to stand up for himself, those close to him, and those that had no voice. At Youth Venture, Vincent continues to be curious and courageous, creating a space where youth feel encouraged to “move barriers” and generate social change. Vincent says the best part of his job is when young people expand their horizons and capture their dreams:
"When I see a young person come to me and say ‘I want to do this, but I don’t know how to do it,’ and then one year later not only have they started that idea but they have inspired another young person to follow their dreams… I mean, that is truly extraordinary.”
From Vincent’s story, we see the importance of asking questions, staying true to your belief system, and actively practicing community engagement. Changemaking has no age requirement or regional preference. It’s in all of us, and it is everywhere. All of us, like Vincent, can not only change lives, but motivate changemakers for generations to come. This is what our world needs now.
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