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THE NEXT GENERATION: YEP, our Youth Engagement Program.

By Divine Favour Akin, Youth Engagement Reporter

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, esprit de corps is “the common spirit existing in the members of a group and inspiring enthusiasm, devotion, and strong regard for the honor of the group.” In other words, the strength and force that come from a shared concept or burden. The essence of a community. A simple example would be you and your friends shouting together in a gym: the shared burden of not having to do it by yourself or deal with the consequences alone. A more drastic example is being the only amputee in the whole high school, the experience I went through finding my community, and the changes in my perception as a result.

I first define community as a group of people that strengthens you and inspires you to be the better you. When I began my journey as an amputee, I didn’t know what to expect. I believed that as soon as I got my first prosthesis things would be back to the way they were. As an active child who played basketball, danced, and was engaged in many extracurricular activities, I had high expectations for myself.

My hopes had been dashed for a speedy recovery, and although initially I was glad just to walk again, I quickly became confronted by the limitations. It was frustrating. At one point, I wasn’t as eager to walk anymore. There was this sinking realization that things would never be the same again. The changing point was the opportunity to be a part of what I know now to be _______.

When I arrived, I saw people from different backgrounds with different amputations: above the knee, above the elbow, etc. At the event, prosthetists taught us different things set up in different stations. They taught us how to fall properly, get up properly, walk backward, run, etc. I was new to this and still had a walker with me, even though I wore my prosthetic device.

That was why I was so taken aback when I saw a kid about 12 running and hopping with his prosthesis. I was perplexed by how he moved with such fierceness and determination. I alternated among the stations, and when it was my turn to learn how to fall and get up, I was unable to do it well. I was insecure.

He noticed my hesitancy, so he came up to me and began talking about how there was a double-leg amputee who was told she would be wheelchair-bound, unable to do anything if she let that define her. She proved people wrong, she joined the circus, and she was amazing. The passion with which he spoke and the determination in his stride lit up something within me. I said to myself, “I am going to do it right even if it is just for you, kid!” The more I saw people in their prostheses moving, the more inspired I got to move.

Youth camp campers and counselors. Youths with limb loss swimming.

I took from that gathering a renewed determination to be mobile. I had previously made excuses about my leg and why I couldn’t wear it, but they became more and more insignificant as my determination grew as a result of being placed in an environment with other amputees.

In 2022, I got the incredible privilege to be a part of the Amputee Coalition YEP Youth Camp. As my mom and I were at the airport on our way to the camp, someone said to me, “nice leg,” referring to my prosthesis. I turned and was flabbergasted when I noticed he too had one. I began seeing more and more amputees as we were boarding the plane. Seeing them everywhere, I wore my prosthesis and strutted with pride.

Youth with limb loss golfing.

As we got on the bus to the hotel, my excitement grew from being surrounded by amputees. I was even more excited when I began meeting people around my age with amputations and prostheses. It freaked me out in a good way. My feelings were indescribable.

The atmosphere during the conference and camp was unmistakable: an environment where people could be themselves without judgment or resistance. It was an atmosphere of safety and acceptance. I had never seen that number of amputees before in one location.

I left with the mindset that I wasn’t alone and, even though I was placed in a productive environment, I nevertheless didn’t really have amputees to relate with. As a result of my five days at camp, I truly grasped that there were people MY AGE going through similar struggles but also triumphing. I knew I was a part of a community of amputees with diverse backgrounds and similar struggles.

The best thing about our community is it is not confined to a specific location. It is wherever, whenever, and however we can connect. It is online in the 30-second shorts of amputees doing great things, the Instagram stories representing breakthrough and progress, and the YEP TikToks. And it is in my personal favorite, the Youth Camp and National Conference. It’s where we are who we are and where we create this community to strengthen and inspire one another.