Global youth action - BE the change!

Thomas Mitchell


Young people show their commitment to the MDGs at a Stand Up Against Poverty rally, Waitakere 2009

Over 1 billion people live on less than $1 a day, with inadequate access to healthcare, education and related social services. Children and young people can be the hardest hit. Lack of education, and vulnerability to disease and malnutrition makes them ill-equipped to deal with the effects of poverty. Yet young people are often not consulted about how the issues should be addressed.  For many their opinions are either ignored or not asked for in the first place.

Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, we are fortunate to have many opportunities to have our say. In fact the last week of May is dedicated to celebrating our ideas and achievements! This year will be the 15th annual Youth Week, described by its organisers as a chance to promote youth perspectives on the major issues. This is our opportunity to enjoy the spotlight and show the media, and people all over the country, the projects and initiatives that young people are working on. Youth Week is a window into the positive influence many young people are having on their communities.

Youth Week is also a chance for young kiwis to showcase their contribution to global change, and show that they care about disadvantaged communities worldwide. Last year during Youth Week 120,000 New Zealanders participated in the World Vision 40 Hour Famine, raising over $2.7 million.

Millennium Development Goalsmdgs
Governments and organisations around the world are trying to reduce poverty by working towards the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Drafted at the Millennium Summit in late 2000, these eight goals are targeted at improving the lives of the world’s poorest people.

Since the 1980s the percentage of the world’s population who live in extreme global poverty has thankfully halved, but other issues such as gender inequality and infant mortality persist in many parts of the world. The MDGs are designed to make sure that poverty continues to decrease, whilst issues such as female illiteracy are also dealt with.

Only with your Voice
Youth can, and should, take an interest in these goals because these issues affect all of us. The global youth advocacy movement Taking it Global has started a campaign to encourage youth worldwide to work together to help achieve these goals. This campaign entitled Only with your Voice is being used by many youth as a platform to run their own local programs, to educate people about how important the MDGs are to the future of millions of people around the world.

The campaign website is full of examples of simple actions young people can take, from starting their own advocacy campaigns to lobbying decision makers. There is a lot of support information and resources available. One of the simplest materials they offer on the site is a sample letter to be sent to local politicians urging them to meet the international goals for aid contribution. Whether you’re able to write a letter voicing your opinions on the issue, or you are able to organise a major event highlighting the injustice of poverty, Only with your Voice encourages all youth to do SOMETHING.

Project World Citizenonlywithyourvoice
In 2008 Anna Soper, a 19 year old from Canada decided after a year of university to spend several months working in rural Ghana as a volunteer teacher. This experience and her passion for education led her to start up the charity Project World Citizen. It was Anna’s belief that more resources were needed to further the education of those attending school. Project World Citizen is now building six new classrooms for the local school, as well as other critical infrastructure such as a borehole for fresh and clean water and adequate sanitation systems. This is just one of many examples on the Only with your Voice forum where young people are fighting for the change they believe in.

Another young person involved with Only with your Voice is 24 year old Ajay Kumar Uprety, from Nepal. He has dedicated his working life to campaigning about HIV and AIDS. He has represented his country and region at several major conferences on reproductive and sexual health and rights and his currently the regional focal point for the Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS. In this role he coordinates and trains young AIDS activists from around the South Asia and supports them to make change at the local level. He is committed to working with the UN, national governments and other organisations to make sure young people always have a voice at the national and international level on issues that affect them.

Think Global, Act Local
In the late 1960s David Brower coined the phrase Think Global, Act Local as the slogan for his new organisation Friends of the Earth. The purpose of this was to encourage people to be the change they wanted to see in the world in amnesty-internationaltheir everyday lives.  A local example of youth taking action and ‘being the change’ is the Wellington Girls Amnesty International Group. One of the organisers of the Wellington Girls Amnesty Group, Loulou Callister-Baker, says that the group meets every Friday after school and seeks to raise awareness of Amnesty’s campaigns worldwide. Loulou hopes that “If awareness is raised throughout [my school] people will become more enthusiastic about searching for a change for the better and strive for social justice in all aspects of life.”

It’s easy to be overwhelmed when thinking about things like the MDGs. How can I as an individual help achieve such lofty global goals?! But young people have an important role to play! From building classrooms like Anna Soper, campaigning on major issues like Ajay Kumar Uprety, to advocating for social justice like Loulou Callister-Baker. If we act locally to support our own communities, whilst also keeping in mind our connection to, and responsibilities towards, the wider global community we can create real change.

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This article was originally published in the Global Focus pages of Tearaway Magazine.

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