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Introducing the GCI LEAD Challenge Participants!

Updated: Jul 13

We are thrilled to introduce you to the GCI LEAD Challenge 2021 Participants! 


In just a few weeks, 36 current and recently graduated secondary school students from all sectors of society and all corners of the globe will join GCI for the first GCI LEAD Challenge program. The virtual 6-day program will focus on Leadership, Ethics, Advocacy and Design Thinking as participants build key leadership skills and explore thought-provoking ideas while experiencing core components of GCI's flagship program, the Summit.


All 36 participants will gain the tools, resources and mindsets to be agents of positive change, empowered to advocate for themselves and their communities. As GCI alumni, they will join a lifelong global community, where they and other GCI alumni can support each other and continue their journeys alongside GCI staff, friends and mentors.


This amazing cohort represents 30 different cultural heritages, speaks 28 languages and attends 30 schools in 14 countries! And 58% of them have received need-based financial aid to take part in the GCI LEAD Challenge.


Continue reading to learn more about each participant and their story.




Akash

School: Noble & Greenough School

Home Countries: India, the Netherlands, United States

“In 8th grade, I was excited to join a newly created program to make a positive impact on the school community through acts of kindness. The program failed to gain traction and was ultimately shut down by the program leader. Disappointed, two classmates and I got together to discuss how we could revive the program. We realized that many who joined didn’t understand how standing up and being a good leader could help create change. We believed the true mandate was to help understand what it takes to become a great leader, and to create connections between all the students who are passionate about creating positive change. We realized we could use the power of social networking to bring together student leaders who wanted to drive change. After months of intensive collaboration, we converted the initial concept into a student-focused leadership development and personal growth program for high school students and faculty mentors.”


Amy

School: Aga Khan Academy, Mombasa

Home Country: Kenya

“I was seated in my school religious class and I bravely put up my hand to ask a question regarding the Bible we were using and the moment I spoke, it felt as if death itself was upon me. I have always been intrigued by the background of Christianity in relation to the Bible and its irregularities. To further elaborate, I used to question why different Bibles told us different tales. I still look towards other means of obtaining information to satisfy my intellectual desire. Even though I was often shunned and frowned down upon for disagreeing, I became more persistent, allowing me to keep dreaming and be a go-getter for the world we live in today. No one gave me the answers that I needed to feel complete, and this used to be something that frustrated me as it demonstrated to me the lengths that people like me in society must endure to seek answers and keep looking beyond.”


Antoinette

School: Hong Kong International School

Home Countries: Hong Kong, United States

“I grew up in a multi-religious household. From a young age, I can remember attending churches on Sunday with my mother and visiting temples with my father during Chinese New Year. I remember looking up to my parents who both believed, so passionately, in their religions and thinking to myself that I didn’t belong to any religion. This battle with identity has been a long, ongoing cycle that I haven’t been able to resolve. My questions were answered when I took the course “Spiritual Explorations.” We learned about the myriad of religions in the world and focused on the path of self-discovery. Through this experience, I realized that I identified most with the term “agnostic.” I believe that desires are what push us to work harder, achieve goals in life and become the best versions of ourselves. Through all this, I have realized that even though everyone has different views and religious beliefs, it is still possible for everyone to have their own opinion.”

Ashley

School: Diocesan Girls' School

Home Country: Hong Kong

“I participated in the Kowloon Hospital geriatric ward summer service project in 2019. My teammates and I were responsible for arranging a “shadow play” (a form of Chinese theatre acted by colorful silhouette figures accompanied by music) for the patients. Some patients were fascinated, while some were not interested. I questioned the effectiveness of this activity and proposed that we revamp the activity into an interactive DIY session. I challenged the originally planned activity as I tried to put myself into the patient’s shoes. With the creative improvisation of activity design and delivery, the patients engaged in the activities more enthusiastically. During the service, not only could the patients appreciate the shadow play we prepared, but they could also gain a sense of accomplishment with their hands-on experience.”


Aymen

School: Lebawi International Academy

Home Country: Ethiopia

"Throughout my childhood, I always believed what my parents told me. I assumed they were more experienced than me and I shouldn’t question them. But as I grew older, one thought kept popping into my head - why did my parents not want me to become a football player? My parents thought that football was a big risk for my well-being, is not as respectable as being a doctor or an engineer and that it’ll take time away from my academic success. I had to challenge this. My parents and I had long conversations as I tried to convince them that footballers are respected, that injuries are a part of football and that I can pursue my passion as a hobby without it affecting my grades at school. I told them that football allows me to make friends and is also good exercise. Now, I represent my school football team, I train with a local football training academy and have been promoted one level above my age."


Bishruti

School: Rato Bangala School

Home Country: Nepal

"Animal sacrifice, although reduced, still accounts for an important religious tradition amongst the believers of Hinduism. I was born in a Hindu family. My community holds a festival every three years called the Dewali, where goats are offered as a sacrificial being in the name of goddesses. For these offerings, each house from the community has to bring forth one goat to prompt prosperity and happiness to the family. Growing up, I despised the tradition. After 2008, I voiced my opinion to my grandfather and he, although a supporter of old beliefs, sympathized with my opinion. In 2011, our family announced that we would no longer participate in the age-old tradition of sacrifices. While at first our decision was met with raised eyebrows, soon after, other families followed our footsteps. My agency and voice have caused a ripple effect and I can only hope that although much needs to be changed, a small step at a time goes a long way."


Carlos

School: Colegio Nueva Granada

Home Country: Colombia

"Some years ago, I was invited to a massive party in the suburbs of Bogotá and almost everyone I knew was invited. But early the next morning I had a tennis tournament, which was basically going to decide my future in a tennis division. My friends, my cousins and many other people were trying to convince me to go to this party. What made me decide what I was going to do was my own gut. I decided to avoid the party and went to bed early. The next day I woke up ready to play my best in the tennis tournament. Unfortunately, I lost in the third round of the tournament, but I was happy for my decisions and proud of myself for doing what was better for me as a person and for my health. In controversial moments I always try to follow my gut and think with my head, not with my heart. Thinking with your head will ultimately set you up for success and pave a path filled with gratitude."


Divya

School: Tagore International School, Vasant Vihar

Home Country: India

"A few years back, I heard someone say, “I hate feminism.” I asked my teacher what feminism is, the gesture and the voice of that person made me feel as if it’s a derogatory remark. But my teacher told me feminism is about demanding equal rights. I started working with the junior students. My aim was to break gender stereotypes in nursery students by introducing them to coloring books that send a message of gender neutrality. I also reinvented fairytales and narrated them to junior school students to break stereotypical mindsets. I realized that this inequality is not just between male and female, but also people of different sexual orientations. Through my social venture, Sehpaathi, I work on busting myths that surround the LGBT community and acid attack survivors. We also groom them and then get them employed. I have worked intensively with acid attack survivors from the Chaanv Foundation and helped them with their e-commerce website."


Eleanor "Ellie"

School: Lowell High School

Home Country: United States

"The deep south was my home for nearly six years. In yearbook photos, I was the only black-head in a sea of blonde. Not a week went by that I wasn’t mocked for having “Chinese eyes” and smelly Asian lunches. I constantly felt out of place and uncomfortable in my own skin. Sadly, I didn’t see anything wrong with the racial comments flung at me. I only saw how wrong my Korean identity was. I was embarrassed by the assumptions that haunted me. I worked hard to convince everyone I was the least stereotypical Asian. I refused to learn Korean, I ate Lunchables and I laughed off racist comments. Years later I moved to a city renowned for its Asian majority, San Francisco. Suddenly Caucasian kids ate seaweed and Korean culture was popular. Where was I? This city challenged everything I had been influenced to believe about my ancestry and Asian American background. Startlingly, I realized that I am proud to be Korean. I am no longer ashamed of who I am. I am proud to introduce my friends to my culture."


Eman

School: Andinet International School

Home Country: Ethiopia

"The first time I delivered a speech to a sizable group of people, I stood there frozen and nervous, mentally chewing the words I was about to speak. Ignoring all the eyes on me, I fixated on my brother’s thumbs-up. I stared right into my brother’s eyes and started my speech. Mid-way through, as I gradually gained confidence, my eyes darted between my brother and the crowd. My classmates later reported how brave, fearless and effortless my performance seemed. But no one knew how I felt deep inside, the churning in my stomach and thumping in my heart and the trembling in my hands. That experience was the beginning of a long journey out of stage fright into looking for the courage to stare fear in the face and overcome the obstacles that barred my potential as a public speaker. Stage fright is a weakness a majority of people have, but a weakness can be turned into a strength. Since that day of my first speech before a large crowd, I’ve gained more confidence, courage and, most of all, self-esteem and independence."


Evan

School: Phillips Exeter Academy

Home Country: United States

"Entering Exeter, I had one dream: to make Crew. Throughout the fall and winter, I eagerly anticipated spring when I’d be able to make the team. It greatly wounded my pride and self-worth when I did not make the cut. During that spring, I’d sit on a bench beside the river and watch the shells race by. I asked upperclassmen about my chances of making the team next year, but they were clear: it wasn’t going to happen. I refused to quit and over the next year trained in silence. I knew others had the coach’s daily guidance, and it would be extraordinarily difficult to match their skill on my own. But I wanted to prove to myself that when determined, I could achieve my goals. Over the fall and winter I greatly increased the intensity of my workouts, looking to build myself into better shape. When tryouts arrived my sophomore year… I succeeded. Not only was I able to bounce back from failure; I was able to challenge the very notions which constrained me."


Graciela

School: Boston Latin School

Home Country: United States

"'If you make it past the exam, you are a superior student, a future leader.' This was the narrative I learned upon entering my school, but it didn’t take long for me to question what hid behind the stately facade. At the end of my first year, students of color came forward to detail encounters with racist teachers, only to be rebuffed by the administration. I started to learn more about how our education system upholds the white supremacist structure on which the United States was founded. The test we use to determine who is worthy of an exam school was developed by someone hoping to prove the white race superior to all others. After tenth grade, I joined the Boston Student Advisory Council to fight these inequities firsthand and was exposed to campaigns ranging from housing justice to safe consumption sites, to taking police out of schools. These have taught me restorative justice and how to approach problems with empathy."


Haley

School: John Jay High School

Home Country: United States

"I live in a community that I always considered idyllic and just. The events of 2020 coupled with my own personal growth opened my eyes. I witnessed community members ripping political and BLM signs out of lawns, read degrading social media posts and was shamed for being a woman working at a hardware store. To further inform myself on how change can be brought to my town, I joined my school’s Equity and Racial Justice Team. I heard stories about people attacking political beliefs and biracial families experiencing discriminatory behavior. I also joined the teen leadership committee of Westchester Youth Alliance. We aim to educate peers about injustice in the community and worldwide. My awakening also led me to be involved with two political campaigns. Although my actions have been on a small scale so far, I hope my participation has made a positive impact on my community."


Josephine

School: Phillips Exeter Academy

Home Countries: United States

"There was a disagreement between the student body and the principal on how to deal with assault cases on campus. The principal stated that he would make the final decision. The student body disagreed that the decision should lie solely with the principal. A few hundred students staged a protest outside the principal’s office. They did not present alternatives. They did not give the principal time to review their position before forcing him to address them. I disagreed with the way the students handled their protest. To be effective, they needed to articulate their thoughts amongst themselves first, and then present and give him time to respond. Most importantly, they needed to present not only with grievances but also with solutions. When I voiced my disapproval, my peers became angry. They called me names and said I was “pro assault.” They did not listen to my argument, I was not disagreeing with their ideas, but with their process of communicating."


Julie

School: Achievement First Amistad High School

Home Country: United States

"Growing up in this city where people of color are marginalized and disenfranchised, I knew that I had to get involved. Since seventh grade, I participated in local voter turnout initiatives and canvassed for political candidates. Last summer, I became the campaign manager for a local city council campaign. I was excited to have more of a hands-on role in shaping my city. The issues that are important to me—education, social justice, racial equity—were being ignored by those in power. For me, civic engagement is not a choice. My city’s education system has been flat-funded for the past forty years. The people that are in office do not value the lives of students like me. I had to get involved to fight for future generations and help them build successful lives filled with opportunity. In whatever community I find myself in, I will strive to fight for those without a voice and advocate for children."


Julien

School: International School Frankfurt

Home Country: Germany, United States

"I grew up in a family that upheld Christian values. I could not really grasp the importance of understanding and accepting other people’s cultures and their individual beliefs. What truly represented a shift in my life was when I entered an International School. I was surprised at first, seeing all these other children from around the globe represent their cultures and views. I had never really been surrounded by such diverse and unique individuals. Each person upheld their own values, worshipped their own religions and represented their own cultures, and we all still learned to accept each other. I have formed strong bonds with people exemplifying beliefs and cultures which are so unlike the ones I learned. Meeting people from all these different cultures really helped me develop an open mind and impacted my eagerness to learn more about other countries, their people and culture."


Kaiya

School: Cypress Bay High School

Home Country: Japan

"In the spring of 2020, the world changed. Teachers told us to just stay home, be patient and work together through this difficult situation. My younger brother struggled. He was bored and missed being with his friends. I decided to create a club and organize events for students. My counselor said to focus on the SAT. Nevertheless, I heard my brother’s friends were also bored and lacking activities. I decided to do whatever I could to help them. I organized H.F.S.D. (Have Fun Social Distancing) and some events following CDC guidelines and park rules, including an online fishing course, flying kites at the park, a drive-through and a Valentine’s gift exchange. Most people see social distancing and other safety guidelines as burdens, however, I am spinning them as very positive experiences. This year has been frustrating, but positive attitudes can have a greater impact than people think."


Khushbu

School: Aga Khan Academy, Mombasa

Home Country: Kenya

"Being presented with the question “Is it only knowledge produced with great difficulty that we truly value?” really promoted me to think critically. I remember spending two days trying to figure out if this was really true and it indeed altered and falsified my limited knowledge. I began to think about what knowledge I truly value and if so, does what I value count as knowledge. I chose to look at this statement based on both arts and sciences and therefore compared the knowledge and their values in the respective categories. It was definitely challenging, and I have arrived at the conclusion that knowledge can gain or lose value over time and value is quite personalized."


Layann

School: King's Academy

Home Country: Jordan

"Taekwondo has been in my life for more than 10 years. It has shaped who I have become, and how I act and think. I trained up to three hours every day. With every practice, I hoped to come closer to my dream: the Jordanian National Team. One tournament was the deciding factor; only gold medalists join the team. The day finally came, but I only managed to get a silver medal. How could all my pain and effort in practice go to nothing? I continued training hard every day, yet that was still not enough. I had a series of unsuccessful trials. This instilled a sense of hopelessness in me. I wanted to quit. But my parents always supported and encouraged me to continue training and giving every training my all. I went by my Mom’s saying, “do your best and let God do the rest.” I like her saying because through it I can see that whatever is best for me will happen, as long as I do my part of the job."


Linh

School: Hanoi-Amsterdam High School for the Gifted

Home Country: Vietnam

"My relationship with my best friend was fractured over tablecloths. We were hosting the Hanoi Model United Nations conference. The entire Vietnamese Model UN Community was watching us. Our conference needed to be perfect. As a leader, I always listen to my team’s ideas, however, I tend to micromanage the details. My friend is more of a pragmatist. One of our disputes was whether we should have tablecloths. Our talks turned into arguments, as I wanted to win that argument more than achieving efficiency. After the event, my teammates depended on me to make all the decisions. I felt like a dictator whom they feared. I realized what makes a conference perfect is its impact on the attendees. I learned to focus on the bigger picture rather than small details, and that I need to empathize with others’ opinions if I truly seek to fully empower them. When you win an argument, you’re not really winning anything, especially not winning others over."


Luisa

School: Colegio Los Nogales

Home Country: Colombia

"Throughout the pandemic, I have attended classes virtually while most Colombian students have not been able to continue their education given the lack of permanent access to electronic devices. While doing research for an essay arguing in favor of reopening schools, I realized the difficult situation that many students in my country were going through. Some classmates and I created a foundation called “2torias.’’ It cares for students that come from violent homes, many of them orphans. These students were lagging behind in their schoolwork given their lack of resources. 2torias collected electronic devices. We also recruited classmates to tutor students in English, Math, Spanish, Technology and Sustainability. I have been Coordinator of the English Department, as well as a tutor. By teaching to less privileged students I have been able to better grasp the realities in my country."


Max

School: The American School in Japan

Home Countries: Japan, United States

"In 2018, Tokyo Medical University made headlines when it admitted that the school had been manipulating entrance exam results for years to keep female students out. Further investigations revealed other medical schools had been engaged in similar discriminatory practices. Growing up in a family that deeply values gender equality, I was shocked to learn such blatant gender discrimination was routinely and systematically practiced at so many schools. This experience made me question my assumpti