Meet Celeste Chung, a high school student with big dreams who’s leading international organizations to fight for numerous causes. She’s the founder of GirlUp4Change and Youth for the Future and is constantly striving towards empowering youth and inspiring others to become advocates themselves.
Tell us about yourself outside of your work!
I love this question! I don’t think I’ve ever been asked this question, but hmmm. I’m definitely a girl who loves to hang out and talk to my little sisters, they always brighten up my day and constantly put a smile on my face. Absolutely love them to the moon and back. Besides this, some of my hobbies include cooking! I especially love cooking food from different cultures and exploring with spices, ingredients, and tastes. Something about cooking that never bores me. Besides this, I’m a sucker for Korean dramas haha!
What is one of the causes you are fighting and advocating for? Can you talk to us more about it and why you chose to fight for it?
Great question! When I was 13, I was doing my internship scholarship. One of the male colleagues had asked what I wanted to do in the future and the immediate response was that “I wanted to change the world”. After a solid one minute, he gave me this look, I still vividly remember it to today as it had certainly lit a fire in me. What he said next took me by surprise.
He told me that I was too soft and that I was “just a kid” who couldn’t do much. As a young girl who wanted to go into politics, I was sadly in a country which favoured male and religion over talent and ability. And so, with my legs crossed, sitting on my living room floor, I grabbed markers and crayons and began drawing up a plan. I wanted to show the world what women were truly capable of and eventually I came to realize that I needed to balance the gender gap in education. And so, that’s the birth of my organization!
The name Youth for the Future came from the fact that although 25% of our population are youth, 100% of our future will be us.
What do you hope people would take away from your organization’s GirlUp4Change and Youth for the Future?
Our main goal is to empower and mobilize youth with resources so that they can go out and strive for change. We hope to inspire more youths to be change makers because although a lot of people are advocating, not enough are. If more of us do, we would be heard even more. Additionally, we want to be a platform where people can learn and grow from. The common question that’s constantly being asked is “how do I start”, lots of these youths do want to be change makers but just don’t know where to start. And that’s where we come in.
What is a challenge you faced whilst working? How did you overcome it?
One thing I had struggled with was that lots of people around me were constantly telling me that I was being ‘crazy’ and that I should stop being so ambitious. It was certainly very difficult to deal with all these negative comments. However, I always just needed to remind myself that I’m stronger than this and that I could do anything if I put my mind to it. Another challenge would be the small little arguments that would stir up between our organization’s members. Though they were small arguments, they would last for quite a period of time, and since then, I would always start questioning whether I was a good enough leader. However, sometimes a setback is needed to move forward. When facing hard challenges, I would always remind myself of how I was able to inspire others around me.
I did a workshop once where a girl was so moved that she started her own non-profit charity organisation! Whilst another started protesting and going on school strikes with the Fridays for Future movement. That is by far the most rewarding thing, just knowing that you’ve inspired someone to take action.
Who inspires you?
I think the woman that inspires me the most is my grandmother. She has this fierce attitude and when she wants something, she will work hard and do everything and anything in her power to get it. She really is just an inspiration to me and a constant reminder of how powerful women really can be. She has so many ideas and opinions. She can talk on and on, she won’t ever stop. And I love that she’s not afraid to speak up and defend her rights.
What’s a tip you would give to other Asian youths who are interested in becoming an activist and lead a movement like you?
Never be afraid of the outcome but instead, trust the process. You wouldn’t want to look back and end up regretting it. One very important thing is to find your why, know why you are fighting for these issues. I can’t stress enough on how important your why is because when you’re burnt out or tired, or when your body and brain can no longer keep up, your ‘why’ will serve as a reminder to you to constantly keep striving. And my why was that I wanted to show the world what women were really capable of. Find something you’re really passionate about and pour in all ounce of energy, blood, sweat and tears. I first spoke in front of an audience when I was invited to a conference in China, where there were about 100+ people in the room. I was walking up the podium when suddenly I just had to trip. While I was speaking, I was trembling and sounded like I wanted to cry, because deep down I really wanted to cry. It may seem impossible at first, you may be scared when you start, but don’t give up. The journey is one you won’t forget.