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Uniting for Youth – August 5, 2013

September 3, 2013

This blog entry is written by a member of our blogging community and expresses those experts’ views alone.

Uniting for Youth: Interactive Dialogue on UN Youth Initiatives with Mr. Ban Ki-Moon

by Raina Kadavil,  Intern with UNA-SNY and junior at White Plains High School

The chance to participate in a formal United Nations conference at fifteen is wonderful.  The chance to participate in such a conference with the UN Secretary-General is rare.  The chance for a fifteen-year-old to participate in a conference with the Secretary-General that aims to integrate youth voices into the global initiative for change is priceless.

Rainaphotocropped            On the morning of August 5th, 2013, I was fortunate to have the chance to attend the conference “Uniting for Youth:  Interactive Dialogue on UN Youth Initiatives” at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.  I was one of hundreds of students from all over the U.S. and all over the world.  Also present by videoconference were students from schools in India, Lebanon, Brazil, Belgium, and Nigeria.  All of whom had their own experiences and opinions, and their own, individual voices to be heard.  Youth representatives from Amnesty International and Global Poverty Project, among many other organizations, came to the United Nations to speak out and be heard by its highest ranking official – Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. 

The panel of speakers included not only the Secretary-General, but also the very first UN Special Envoy for Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi; the UN Population Fund Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin; the Acting Head of UN Women, Ms. Lakshmi Puri; Assistant Secretary General and Director for Arab States at UNDP, Mr. Sima Bahous; and Special Representative of the ILO on Youth and Social Inclusion, Mr. Charles Dan. All voiced their opinions on some of the most pressing of global issues – the post-Millennium Development Goals agenda, the terrible influx in gender-based discrimination, and, most significantly, the role that youth must play in the future of the United Nations and, consequently, of the world. 

            For me, the most interesting part of the conference was to hear concerns about issues that my peers and I face echoed by students on the other side of the world, reflecting their own perspectives and circumstances.  Students in Nigeria brought up concerns about health, and what the Millennium Development Goals have to say about them – a lot, in fact, as three of the goals (improving maternal health care, reducing child mortality, and eradicating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases) directly relate to the issue of poor health and health care there.  In Belgium, the students’ main concern was the deteriorating economy and the loss of jobs.  This is a predicament echoed globally, and here in the United States in particular.  Students in India asked about the drawbacks of poor education and spoke about the discouraging lack of secondary education among the country’s growing population of over a billion.  This related to the second MDG, which seeks to achieve universal primary education.  The concern from Brazil focused on the influx of violence, particularly in relation to women, and students stressed the importance of women’s rights today.  Students in Lebanon brought the conversation full circle by asking about the United Nations’ intentions for the world’s youth.  The Secretary-General responded by stating that youth are a top priority for the United Nations – in fact, he told us, 50% of the world’s population is currently under the age of 25.  It was clear that he believes that the role of youth in the UN will be instrumental in its work in the future – if the youth will rise to the challenge and step forward.

            The conversation quickly came to center around the UN’s work with the Millennium Development Goals.  The panel spoke about the necessity of eliminating extreme poverty as an important first step for positive, global change.  “The UN Charter makes it clear that everyone is equal,” they said, “yet there is still injustice and inequality prevailing.”  The first question we must ask is, ‘Who is responsible?’  Who can be held accountable?  There is some evidence that suggests the end of extreme poverty by the year 2030. Although this may seem like wishful thinking, the United Nations believes that this  Millennium Development Goal may be able to be achieved. 

The panel left us with a clear message:  In order to achieve these goals, the voices of the oppressed, women and minorities must be heard; their stories must be told.  Stereotypes that devalue girls and women must be broken.  Issues like the lack of fresh water and fuel must be resolved in order to allow girls to be sent to school and women to be considered worthy of jobs outside the home. 

It is the responsibility of the world’s youth to ensure that these things happen.  The young people of the world today are more empowered than ever before, with the advent of social media and the globalization of news reports.  Twitter and Facebook allow information to be transferred from our eyes and ears to our fingers to the global network within moments.  We can use our resources to make a difference in the lives of those who are still stricken by oppression, by poverty, by discrimination – and we are in a position where we must do this.  The future is ours to decide, and now more than ever before, the world’s youth are becoming actively involved.  But there is far more, still, to be done.

 “Nothing about you should be done without you,” was the resounding statement that morning, in the panel’s call for action.  I have no doubt that every young man and woman in the room left with a spark inside them, ignited by the speakers and their passion for change – and that these sparks will flame up  through action, and will soon become the fire that will lead to the change the world dreams of.

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