Even as a teenager, Pili Verbinnen demonstrated a talent for leadership and a passion for activism. At age 18, she helped organize the Youth for Climate movement in Brussels and joined other young activists in the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Program (BFTP) in 2019. She looks forward to applying what she’s learned to projects that will serve her community, and in particular, prepare and empower young people to take up activism themselves.
Pili has an interest in studying the social sciences, but outside the classroom, she hopes to bring lasting positive change to the world. As a leader of the Youth for Climate movement in Brussels, she has helped support its mission of pressing governments to take further action on climate change. The organization believes that when a bold, new environmental policy is passed at the local, national, and international levels, the advice of climate experts will finally be put into action and today’s young can feel optimistic about their futures.
Pili feels a connection – and a responsibility – to a community that extends beyond her city, and even her native country. “The question of identity is a very difficult one because I don’t feel like there is one particular place I belong,” she says. “I don’t feel Flemish even though I’m a Dutch native speaker.
I’ve lived in Brussels my whole life… so I would say I’m a citizen of Brussels or a young, engaged European – but I would not specifically identify with a Belgian nationality.” By connecting with others from different places and backgrounds, Pili believes people can help empower each other: “Meeting new people can be very enriching, or having a conversation with someone that doesn’t have the same opinion you do.”
“I think my passion is learning things.”
Through the U.S. Embassy in Belgium, Pili had the chance to meet other young people with similar values and goals. Participants in the 2019 Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Program (BFTF) gathered at Purdue University in Indiana for a four-week exchange program designed to foster relationships among young Europeans and Americans. Through lectures, seminars, and workshops on topics such as promoting democracy, conflict resolution, tolerance, and team building, teenage activists learn from mentors and each other.
“We had lively discussions on politics, media, fake news, and civic engagement,” Pili remembers. Outside the classroom, they deepen their intercultural experience through community service activities, cultural activities, and homestays with U.S. families. For Pili it was a rich and valuable experience: “I’m very curious: I want to know everything there is to know, discover things, and meet a lot of other people.”
Like BFTF participants each year, Pili designed a service project to bring back and implement in her own community. Her passion is to bring new and progressive educational programs into schools. “While in America for BFTF, I designed a project about sex education in school. I would now love to implement it here in Belgium too. “I hope I can make it work,” Pili says. “That’s one of my hopes for the future.”“Sometimes it's good to get out of your comfort zone and be spontaneous.”