The power of youth to harness positive change
1 November 2011
This last year has seen the youth of the world rise up and give voice to causes close to their hearts. This uprising ranged from those protesting to overthrow dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya to Spain’s ‘indignados’ campaigning against their democratic government for job opportunities and was even seen here in the UK with the Millbank protest campaigning against increased charges for Higher Education.
This has undoubtedly been a time when the youth of the world has been at its most vocal for decades and it feels almost pre-meditated that the UN made August 2010 to August 2011 International Year of the Youth ahead of these rising voices.
We are not the future, we are the present
As such it was the most interesting year possible to attend the 7th International Youth Forum, held by UNESCO - United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation – in Paris from October 17th to 20th.
Nearly 250 youth delegates from 193 Member States and more than 250 civil society observers descended upon the prominent UNESCO building, overlooked by the Eiffel Tower, to get their voices heard.
I attended as an observer of the forum representing London 2012 through the NUS Be a Champion programme.
Seeing so many passionate young people, clutching their causes close to their hearts, and seeing exemplary world figures and UNESCO representatives both committing themselves to listening to youth and passing on their own torches of advice, was both inspiring and daunting.
Youth delegates told stories of the issues prevalent in their countries informatively and with conviction, telling all observers: “Youth want to be heard – we are not the future, we are the present.” And they intend on changing the present.
Representing youth-led initiatives with focuses from literacy to non-violence, these young people are already building change in their home countries and using networking from the UNESCO forum to make these changes international.
As a developed, secure country, we can be building international relationships to help those with more pressing issues to initiate positive change. London 2012 is already sending out ripples from the UK internationally with its Get Set Go Global campaign and will be using its legacy to create a worldwide sporting legacy, not just a UK one.
But more can always be done. By observing forum sessions such as one on youth development through sport, I became aware of how successfully the universal enthusiasm for sport can be harnessed as a force for change.
With the forum now closed and delegates returned to their countries, it is what happens next that is most important. How the delegates and observers use the networking and information they gained at the Youth Forum to change situations in their own countries, and to harness international relations, will be the real test.
Ruth Faulkner is a Be a Champion Ambassador at Queen Mary University of London.
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