Editor's note: This article was sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Sarah Pham didn’t know where to start. A student at Holy Names Academy in Seattle, Pham knew she wanted to make a difference but where to begin?
That’s when she heard about the year-long service learning Youth Ambassadors Program (YAP) at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“It was a great place to begin my journey of lifelong service,” says the 16-year-old Pham. Her mission: “to be able to live out a clear mission of empowering youth, hear the stories of my peers, continuously give back by volunteering and to learn more about various issues in the community.”
Pham credits her family as the inspiration behind her devotion to creating positive social change.
“Growing up, I’ve been surrounded by stories of my mom’s journey as a refugee from the Vietnam War, of my grandfather [who was] placed in a concentration camp and of the adversity so many of my close relatives faced,” she says. “To me, social impact — the responsibility that I have to give back — is personal to me because I know that it makes a difference.”
At school, the junior leads a variety of clubs devoted to that purpose including the Social Justice Committee and the Public Speaking Club.
She’s also interested in video; the first she produced discussed her school’s efforts toward homelessness and Doctors Without Borders (MSF). The final video was shown throughout her school to raise funds for MSF and the organization Facing Homelessness. Next up she hopes to create videos about the immigrant and refugee crisis.
Encourage your kids to push themselves daily.
She points to her work with YAP for her ongoing dedication. “Programs like YAP are so wonderful,” she says. “They’re able to catalyze positive social change unlike any other [by modeling] empathy and [by] fostering a positive community of trust, friendship and care.”
This exposure to mentors and other motivated students inspired Pham to “do something” even when, as a young person, it doesn’t always feel like she can. “[The program] empowers us with the tools and foundations that we need to set out and do good,” she says.
That’s her advice for others, too: Go out and learn more.
“Research an issue that you are passionate about,” she says. “Start small.” Perhaps, she notes, volunteer at a local nonprofit; the point isn’t do it all the time but to always do it with intention.
“Encourage your kids to push themselves daily to find ways to make the world a better place,” she says to parents. “Be a catalyst for strength and humility, kindness, innovation and inspiration.”
And remember: “You might not change the world, but you can change a world.”