In June, VIA held its first Alumni Leadership Summit as part of a new initiative in building a sustainable, engaged, and interconnected alumni community. Alumni spanning 8 years of VIA experiences and 8 different programs gathered in Chiang Mai for a weekend of community-building, networking, brainstorming, and planning for future activities. Attendees actively participated in co-creating the summit with VIA staff, assisting with documentation and leading energizers and reflection activities. Many great ideas came out of the summit, which we are excited to continue developing and introducing to the wider VIA alumni community in the coming year.
Reflections from the Alumni Leadership Summit
By Dilrabo Saidalieva (Tajikistan), current student at KIMEP University – ESI July 2016 participant, ESI August 2018 coordinator
Friday, 22nd of June
Today, I arrived in Thailand, and more specifically to Chiang Mai, for VIA Alumni Leadership Summit. My first time in Thailand but already feel at home. As soon as I landed in Chiang Mai I got a huge welcome from a super friendly taxi driver (who recommended a lot of cool food and places to try out). My roommate Kyra with a huge smile and a warm heart welcomed me to my room. It was a day full of new people and greetings, and Chiang Mai is the best place for that. The city’s street food markets mesmerized us to the core. I was overwhelmed by the number of choices and deliciousness of the food. It is still somewhat a shock that so many of the VIA alumni know about Central Asia, including one participant from Taiwan who volunteered in Tajikistan back in 2015. Looking forward to the activities tomorrow and can’t wait to hear the cool stories of these amazing people at the Storytelling event (spoilers alert).
Saturday, 23rd of June
The second day of VIA Alumni Leadership Summit started with a spiritual morning visit to Wat Chedi Luang temple in Chiang Mai. It was mesmerizing and calming. Our morning energizer, organized by Libo, helped to know each other without the social labels like Name, Gender, Education, Origin, etc. The leadership activity, starting with a team crossover of Hot Chocolate Lava to specified Leaders list gave me further glimpse into what a true leader does. The highlight of the day was visiting the Thai Freedom House and their stories about education and support provided to Burmese refugees and minority groups in Thailand were truly inspirational. The Free Bird Cafe provided us vegan Khao Soi, which was my first time eating vegan, together with organic tropical fruits which indeed were heavenly. The Storytelling /Talent Show later that night brought each alum closer to one another, some were funny and others heartwarming. I was very sad to leave without attending Sunday activities, but I am sure those who did, gained a lot more insights VIA and Alumni community could give. Thank you VIA for this amazing weekend!!!
Takeaways from the Alumni Leadership Summit
By Muhammad Hasan A (Indonesia), current intern at the VIA Indonesia office – Program Assistant (PA) of SUNY Cortland Art & Social Movements, PA of Mid-year Global Community Fellowship, PA of Sarus Program
I was fortunate to join VIA’s Alumni Summit last June. I remember sitting on the plane seat feeling excited, but highly anxious at the same time—I was thinking about what I could offer in return. I was haunted by the feeling that I was not good enough to be in a place among people with more experiences and accomplishments. It surprised me how that unnecessary self-distrust vanished the second I was greeted warmly by the people in the summit. I feel like I entered a positive bubble, a place where everyone is putting aside their defensiveness and genuinely sharing and listening to one another. I wonder how could everyone carry the same character, but then I realized they are alumni of VIA’s program and that means they are all exposed by the positive value of this organization. I am confident to say that I am not the only one who felt the same way.
Every day, working in the program as a participant gets a lot easier. VIA team facilitated workshops and forward-looking activities to bring the best version of a leader out of us. Precious lessons I got from the summit were the realization of how privileged I am as a person and how this whole activity enabled me to see vision and probability to maximize any access and resources I have to be beneficial for others. Spending time with the other participants was also one of the most enlightening experiences I had. I can’t think of a more incredible and honoring way to get inspired by such a diverse group of people. That memory will always be ingrained, not only in my mind but in my heart as well. VIA has opened so many doors for me and exposed me to many progressive individuals—whom I aspire to be. I have made lifelong friends, traveled to places I never thought I’d go, and created memories I will always cherish.