The YLAC Counter Speech fellowship is an opportunity for teenagers across India and Nepal to come together and spread awareness about important social causes. I applied for this fellowship back in February when I thought I would get to commute to Ahmedabad every alternate weekend to go attend the fellowship sessions there but owing to the pandemic, this time the course was done completely online in partnership with Instagram. We were divided in groups of 6, teamed up with complete strangers from across the nation which gave me this incredible opportunity to get to know different cultures and make lifelong friends in the process. We had to create content to spread awareness on different themes and post on different Insta handles. The fellowship focuses on six themes: Bullying, Diversity, Mental Wellbeing, Body Positivity, Gender Equality and Sustainability. The idea is to use the internet and social media as a force for good by creating unique communities around issues that matter to teenagers, and provide a platform for voicing concerns and advocating for changes.
LO 1: Identify their own strengths and develop areas for personal growth.
As this was a team task, we divided the world based on our strengths and talents that we wanted to hone or wanted to work upon. I personally like to make graphic designs and write meaningful captions so my work was mostly writings and graphics. But I know that I’m a horrible artist and I can’t draw even a straight line properly so I asked one of my teammates who was a beautiful artist, to teach me how to draw better and give me tips to improve my performance. We did this every week so every week I had a new area of work to improve upon in addition to any behavioural suggestions that my team had for me. Identifying our strengths and weaknesses is what helped us thrive as a team because then only we could produce quality work while improving on things we weren’t that good at.
LO 2: Demonstrate that they have undertaken challenges, developing new skills in the process.
The distance was obviously a kink in the road because discussions over zoom aren’t always as smoothly sailing as a normal one but it did help us develop the trait of patience and becoming a good listener. We heard everyone’s viewpoints then gave our own perspective and based on majority and logic, came to a consensus. Also managing the fellowship with the school work and exams was a headache as the work was very time consuming (at least 25-30 hours per week) and with that I also had to make sure I turned in my school assignments on time. It took a few days but I got the hang of it by scheduling my weeks according to the predicted workload and a few slots open for any last minute school assignment/fellowship work. This challenge helps me work on my organization and time management skills explicitly. These skills and practices will help me further down the line as the workload is only going to increase as I grow up so a little organization and sticking to a schedule will definitely help me increase my productivity.
LO 4: Show commitment and perseverance in their CAS experience.
As mentioned earlier, there were thorns along the road but with a little perseverance and commitment, I got over them. It was a 2 and a half month fellowship that too the dates were cutting close to my grade 11 term 1 assessments. So demonstrating commitment to both the parts equally was a task but I was determined to get it done right so I worked twice as hard and produced quality results in both the aspects. Every fortnight we had a target of the no. of posts and followers we have to reach so planning according to that and stressing out when the targets were not met was one of the most difficult parts of the fellowship but once we got the hang of it after a couple of tries, we were able to reach the targets with much more ease thanks to the effective communication within our teams and for the rigorous efforts put in by all of us even with exams, school tasks and submissions hanging over our heads simultaneously.
LO 5: Demonstrate the skills and recognize the benefits of working collaboratively.
The working collaboratively (LO 5) part of this project was especially difficult yet it was what made this experience so cherishable and made it stand out from the rest. I was just slinged into a team with 5 unknown kids about the same age as me but that was the only thing we had in common. We were all from different states and cultural backgrounds so each one of us brought something different to the table and we all had different creative interests too but due to these reasons only we were able to broaden the spectrum of our content type and made lifelong friends along the way. We even talk now about our extra curricular activities even though the fellowship is over and we were always supportive of each other’s work and hyped each other up which is what I loved the most about the team. That hype boosted my confidence to so many levels and I’m grateful to my team for it. Everything was online which is the only drawback I could come up with but even then we decided to make lemonade when life gave us lemons because if not for the virtual change of space, we would not have been together as physically we applied to different cities for the fellowship 🙂
LO 6: Demonstrate engagement with issues of global significance.
The primary intent of the fellowship was to spread awareness about 6 major global themes i.e Bullying, Diversity, Mental Wellbeing, Body Positivity, Gender Equality and Sustainability. These themes are pretty generic to everyone across the globe so the relevance of content was not an issue. We focused on one theme for about 15 days and in that time, we had to maximize media engagement. The fellowship partner was Instagram which is a very diversified and effective tool of communication. From IG Lives to polls and question stickers to even paid promotions, we had to make sure our posts reach the maximum number of people. Now here the problem was filtering content that met with the Insta guidelines and policies while keeping intact the creative element of the content and also making sure that our target audience which we customized for our paid promotions were apt and relevant to the theme as that way, we would have put the money to its optimum use and it would have guaranteed a positive response.
As this was a cause driven task, we had to research and come up with creative ideas to convey the prerequisite information about these themes. Like we all are aware about the worsening condition of the ozone layer but we looked at it from a personal point of view and made a post about how it affects individuals and its possible ill effects on the future generations. This cause effect approach increases individual relevance of the audience to the post thus increasing engagement. For more personal themes like bullying, Mental wellbeing and body positivity we approached individuals that reached out to us through our stories posts and DMs. I came to know a lot of new and factual information in these themes and the statistics were also mind boggling like the male to female pay difference ratio in some Underdeveloped countries was more than 60%!
LO 7: Recognise and consider the ethics of choices and actions.
Of course when addressing such sensitive issues, you need to make sure that your posts follow all community guidelines (Insta and as a society both). Your content should not hurt someone’s emotions or deeply offend a community so every choice we made form the color choice to word choice had to be ethically and morally correct. This is especially difficult when you have themes like diversity and you want to talk about different castes and cultures. I had to get my work rechecked by three different people from different castes that were included in my write up just to make sure they were okay with it. Ethical conundrums were expected since day one but that’s also a reason why we made sure from day one that we were on the right track ethically and took measures to ensure censorship of certain words and symbols to maintain content homeostasis.
All in all, It is one of the most enriching experiences I ever had and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to interact with people across the nation and even certain influencers who came every fortnight to share with us their platform and stance on the current theme that we were working on 🙂
i) Fellowship – https://drive.google.com/file/d/1tA0W3Zilnsq4-1rT7MR-HG1SOV65muZL/view?usp=sharing
ii) Evidence of content created during the course of the program – https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1K533rl0uec1JtGzuFiBjBsYMTMgCS708?usp=sharing