By Amisha Chowdhury, President of Glendale Youth Corps

“Imagine your future-self, ten years from now. What kind of person would you be? What goals would you want to have achieved? How do you envision your future?”

I looked around the auditorium filled with hundreds of middle school and high school students as they closed their eyes and imagined their future.

On Saturday, March 17, I had the fortunate opportunity to speak at the 9th Annual San Gabriel Valley Youth Summit as a keynote speaker. This youth leadership event welcomes 6th-12th grade students from around the community to participate in meaningful sessions focused on youth leadership & advocacy, health & wellness, diversity, and professional development.

Red Cross youth volunteers around the Los Angeles Region contributed to the success of the event by hosting interactive activities and sessions that relate to the mission of the Red Cross. Some of the sessions included a disaster preparedness and CPR workshop, which helped the participants become Red Cross Ready! The Red Cross volunteers also hosted a Youth Preparedness Fair during lunch through fun carnival games that symbolized the five lines of services.

I remember attending the youth summit for the first time my freshman year and being filled with inspiration. I looked up to the speaker and thought “Wow I want to be like him one day.” Needless to say, when I was invited to come back this year as a keynote speaker I was absolutely thrilled!

This year’s theme for the summit was “Defining our Future” which personally resonated with me due to my background and experiences that has shaped the person I am today.

I was born and raised in Bangladesh and I moved to the United States at the age of ten. My mom, at the time, did not speak English and she worked two jobs to provide for my older sister and me. At a very young age, my sister and I had to take on the responsibility to pay the credit card bills, electricity bills, call the plumber, and be my mother’s personal translator.

I felt like an adult and I loved feeling as if I had control over my life, an idea that was never introduced to me before. Growing up in the poverty stricken nation of Bangladesh, I was told that as a women I only have a single most important goal in life, which was to have an arranged marriage. The female figures in my life reinforced that idea as I heard stories of my grandma getting married at the age of fourteen and bearing eight children, and when I attended the wedding of my seventeen year old cousin who did not get to attend college.

As I witnessed the circumstances of these women around me, as a little girl, I never thought of myself as a leader. It was not until I started volunteering with the Red Cross, engaging myself in community events, that I gradually came to realize my potential as a leader was not defined by my gender, my socio-economic status, or my family background.

Through volunteering with the Red Cross, I had the opportunity to work with amazing youth volunteers to host and participate in events that taught young people valuable life-saving skills. For the first time I felt as if I was doing something that was greater than myself.

Whether it be teaching high school students about disaster safety, treating patients at First Aid stations, or distributing welcome baskets to refugees, volunteering with the Red Cross not only distracted me from my life at home but most importantly it gave me a platform to discover myself and be part of a global movement that strives to empower change in this world.

As I looked around the crowd in the auditorium that Saturday morning, I challenged the participants to apply what they will learn today in their life as they go on their journey to define their future.

“Whether you choose to volunteer with the Red Cross or some other organization, you too can make a difference in your life and the lives of others by simply giving back. Regardless of where you come from or your family circumstances, YOU have the ability to take control of your future.” 

Amisha Chowdhury is a junior at Hoover High School in Glendale, CA. She founded the Red Cross club at her high school in 2015 and is currently the President of Glendale Youth Corps. Amisha was a keynote speaker at the 9th Annual San Gabriel Valley Youth Summit.


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