The following blog is from Let Us Learn Project Worker, Dami Makinde. Here she describes her first year working at Just for Kids Law on the Let Us Learn campaign.
I did it! I’ve officially completed my first year at Just for Kids Law working on the Let Us Learn campaign and it feels so surreal. So much has happened in a year that I sometimes struggle to believe it. Now that I look back and reflect, I smile because I know I have come a long way.
I’ve developed a lot of skills, such as public speaking and the ability to work under pressure. I’ve also met brave, incredible young people and learned how to help some of them come out of their shells. When I first met one young man, he found it difficult to engage in group conversations at all. After a lot of one-to-one meetings and by encouraging him to step to out of his comfort zone, he finally opened up. He’s now one of our strongest team members.
I went on learning exchanges to New York in February and Texas in June with my fellow team members, thanks to funding from the Social Change Initiative and Paul Hamlyn Foundation, respectively (PHF also funds my post). I had never travelled abroad before, so it was incredible to meet young people from across America involved in the DREAMers campaign, which has been such an inspiration to Let us Learn. I’ve taken part in leadership programmes, and been matched with a mentor to help me develop the skills to propel the team to a whole new level. I’ve helped bring about tangible social and political change: Let us Learners were able to influence the Department of Business Innovation and Skills to improve the ‘long residence’ rules to give over 25s the same rights to student finance as others. I’ve been a helping hand in setting up university scholarships for those still unable to access student finance. Most importantly, I’ve bonded with 18 astonishing young people who are in the Let Us Learn Core Group that I now call family. All of this was a major part of my development, and I could not be any more grateful.
I have also learned some hard lessons along the way. I learned that when people feel passionately about an issue that personally affects them, even a slight misunderstanding or miscommunication can cause upset. I’ve learned how hard it can be to see another person’s point of view, but also how important it is to do so.
In a group, especially when we are working so closely together, heated discussions and arguments are almost inevitable. How we deal with them when it occurs matters. This is why Let us Learn has developed a policy within the group to always be honest and open, even if it’s a difficult thing to do. We have learned that it is essential that feelings are taken into account and we communicate in order to be able to move forward.
I’ve learned about the importance of being both realistic and professional in our approach. At the outset, we started with a core campaign team of nine members. We agreed to meet regularly, but often people would turn up late. During the meetings, everyone was enthusiastic and happy to volunteer to take on tasks. Sometimes, people would take on more than they could realistically deliver, because of their other commitments. I have learned that it is better to under promise and over deliver, rather than the other way around.
When I first started at Just for Kids Law, I wrote a blog in which I described my first day, where ‘my heart was pounding (and) I could feel my palms sweating and my blood racing’. A year on, I have found my feet at Just For Kids Law and although my heart rate is back to normal (most of the time, anyway), my passion continues to blaze as much as it did then.
Just for Kids Law and Let us Learn has given me an incredible opportunity to stretch myself and reach my potential. As 2017 gets underway, my dream is that many more young people are also given the chance to follow their dreams of a university education.