Listening to understand and becoming a community advocate

Surinamese-girl-ready-for-outdoor-activities
As part of an exchange program, Daryola Brandon of Suriname lived with a host family in Colorado, where she went rock climbing. (Courtesy photo)

Daryola Brandon admits she wasn’t always a good listener when growing up in Paramaribo, the capital and largest city in Suriname in South America. Her habit: “only listening to reply instead of listening to understand.”

That changed when she was selected to join the first group of Surinamese students to participate in the U.S. Department of State’s Youth Ambassadors Program.

Brandon said she hopes to motivate others, just as Michael Donahue inspired her during the ambassadors program. Donahue, one of the motivational speakers, became her mentor and taught her how being a good listener helps narrow the gap that causes misunderstanding and assumptions between people.

“If we, especially as leaders, listen intently, we are minding [paying attention to] the gap from one person to another,” she said. Now, she listens “like my life depends on it.”

As part of the three-week program, Brandon lived with a host family near Denver, Colorado, and did community-service projects. “It broadened my horizons,” Brandon said, noting that she found similarities between the needs of people in Suriname and those in Denver.

On becoming a community advocate

After returning to her hometown, Brandon and five other Surinamese youth ambassadors shared their insights with 300 students at local schools and orphanages. Sensitive to how changes in the environment might affect her community, Brandon planted a number of mangroves to protect coastal areas from erosion.

Today, the 20-year-old is finishing her undergraduate studies at Paramaribo’s Anton de Kom University. She looks to further her studies in food technology and agricultural processing. Meanwhile, she’s training to become a motivational speaker.

Brandon wants to set an example for people around her. “Let’s just be amazing and set high standards for ourselves,” she tells her peers.

This article was originally published on Share America.