When second-year health sciences student Brennan Wong returned from Ecuador in the summer of 2012, nothing would be the same.
In his volunteer trip abroad building schools, Brennan learned about an Ecuadorian tradition called “minga,” a term that can be defined as the way in which communities band together for a common goal.
Wong, a high school student at the time, became so inspired by the experience that when he returned home he decided to start his own non-profit organization called Pledges for Change, a student-led movement that hopes to empower young people to get more involved on issues domestic and abroad.
“It was the philosophy of collective community effort that really inspired me to start an organization here that would share that same mentality,” Brennan says.
So far, the organization has engaged 62 NGOs and garnered 5,000 supporters with 24,163 hours accumulated by program participants, according to their website.
For most people, juggling academics with anything is a challenge, and Brennan admits that.
“I know university gets really tough, especially in first year when you have a lot of things on your plate,” Brennan says. “It’s a challenge trying to maintain your involvements while also being academically successful and then you want to run an organization too.”
However, Brennan stays motivated through his work with young people.
“I think what keeps me engaged with all of this is the fact that this is a student-led, student-run organization,” Brennan says. “It’s amazing to be able to work with not only my peers but also to collaborate with other young people across the country and work towards that common goal — sort of that same philosophy of the minga that inspired this entire thing.”
Despite his young age, Brennan has accomplished a lot. But overcoming the idea that young age equates to inexperience, and therefore failure, was difficult.
"There was always this idea that I wouldn’t be able to manage it or I wouldn’t be able to make an effective contribution because I just wasn’t old enough yet to have that experience or that knowledge," Brennan says. "I think that’s something that a lot of students experience. They have these internal battles with themselves and they think that they’re not able to do something just because they don’t think they’re talented enough."
For Brennan, it's not always about talent; rather, it's about your drive and motivation.
"Always believe that you can do it," Brennan says. "Sure, you’re going to have to take detours and things are not always going to go the way you intended them, or [the way] you saw them going, but as long as you’re driven and motivated in achieving that end goal you’ll get there eventually."