Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Can the Millennial Generation Change the World?

August 13, 2013

There has been ever increasing scrutiny in the media of Millennials—those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s—as this generation grows older and they wield greater power over technology, social media, and purchasing decisions. Dubbed “Generation Me,” they have been called everything from selfish to narcissistic. Some have said they are the “Lost Generation” and others, like TIME magazine’s Joel Stein, have argued that the Millennial Generation will eventually “save us all.”

During my conversations with Millennials I have always been impressed by their desire to change the world and the sincerity they bring to the task. Zoe Fox, whom I met in Zambia on an International Reporting Project trip, writes about global social good for Mashable, for example. And Ayesha Reynolds has just embarked on a nationwide Caravan of Change that will take her and her partners across the country in a 1975 Airstream—doing good and changing lives.

Jonathan Milner and Cary Clifford, a husband and wife team based in Winston Salem, North Carolina, also believe in the Millennial Generation and the potential they have to make an immeasurable impact on the world. In May they took students from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where Milner teaches, to Haiti on a week-long volunteer trip to the Zanmi Beni orphanage for disabled children, situated on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.  

 Dubbed “Generation Me,” they have been called everything from selfish to narcissistic...others like TIME magazine’s Joel Stein, have argued that the Millennial Generation will eventually “save us all.”

Zanmi Beni, run jointly by Operation Blessing and Partners in Health, is home to both disabled and able-bodied children. Started out of necessity in 2010 after the infamous earthquake that devastated the island, Zanmi Beni staff care for children who range in age from babies to young adults. Many of them were rescued from the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake hit.

Milner and Clifford, who first visited the orphanage last December, have a personal connection to Zanmi Beni. They gave $15,000 to the orphanage—funds that had originally been donated by friends and family for their second child, Errol, who was born with a heart defect and passed away in December 2009.  Ever since then, Milner and Clifford have volunteered their time and have raised awareness about Zanmi Beni and the great work they do for children who are routinely shunned, abandoned, and hidden away from society because of their disabilities.

Jonathan with Dorestant, a severely disabled 18 year old resident of Zanmi Beni.

When Jonathan Milner first thought about taking some of his students to Zanmi Beni, he did not know if any of them would be interested. Many more than he expected, however, jumped at the opportunity. Ten of his students eventually made the journey to Haiti to use art for good through his Global Arts program.

At the orphanage, the high school students—all dancers, musicians, and artists—used their unique specialties to connect with and help the children.  Students Jessie Modlin, Carlie Coates and Jessica Alexander taught dance to the preschoolers while Katie Doctor and Jessica Alexander guided the children in making photo albums using photos they took on donated cameras.

Jessie Modlin, Carlie Coates, and Jessica Alexander teach dance to the preschoolers.

The students experienced a slower pace (something tech-reliant Millennials are not quite used to) and had to cross a lot of barriers like poverty and language and a less demanding schedule. “By the time we left they had adjusted,” Cary Clifford said. “They didn’t want to leave.”

During the trip, Clifford, who also owns a bakery, helped teach the staff how to use the new baking equipment that was recently donated. They also organized a conference to teach the staff rehabilitation techniques—the father of one of the visiting students, who is a doctor, taught the class.  Due to the success of the week and the impact on the students, Jonathan Milner has already decided to take more of his students to Zanmi Beni in upcoming years.

Many people think of the Millennial generation as self-absorbed kids who are relentlessly texting their lives away; but if you take a closer look, like Jonathan Milner and Cary Clifford did, you may discover they have more depth and compassion than many are willing to give them credit for.

Photos provided by Cary Clifford.

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