We start off with some opening remarks from the Youth Assembly Secretary General, Dr. Elaine Valdov, who welcomes us to the United Nations and introduces the Youth Symphony for the United Nations. She notes that it is wonderful that so many young leaders from around the world have gathered in one place to make a strong difference in the world. The Youth Symphony will be playing something Hungarian, apparently.
After the Youth Symphony (made up of students in middle and high school, who do service with arts), there are more opening remarks from Patrick Sciarratta, Executive Director of the Friendship Ambassadors Foundation (the non-profit that organizes the Youth Assembly). He just introduced Richard Jordan, head of the NGO-DPI Conference in the UN. Patrick talks about how the project has grown in the past years and how the goal is to be involved in work related to the Millennium Development Goals. There are celebrities, world leaders, NGOs, and social entrepreneurs here to help us make a better world. He thanks Dr. Valdov for putting together the people that are involved with the Youth Assembly. He also thanks Ildiko and Yin-Cho, project managers for this assembly, as well as the Maestro of the youth symphony, and all the interns. He is now talking about how work in the NGO world enriches him and how he hopes it enriches us too. He relates the topics of the past Youth Assemblies and says that this year’s focus is on social entrepreneurship.
Dr Elaine Valdov acknowledges International Youth Day (August 12) and gives us a wish and blessing that our work will make a difference and affect people’s hearts. We now have a moment of silence for those affected by tsunamis, poverty, war, and other human and natural disasters – but also in thanks for those that gave their lives to make the world the better place, as well as those next to us who are continuing that work. After the moment of silence, she quotes Thomas Payne – “We have it in our power to start the world again.” She also makes some wishes for the children of the world – that they don’t have to live in a world where they suffer needlessly. She notes that after 3 days we will all be different people – not just young people at a conference, but also young people with responsibilities. The question now is what we do with our responsibilities.
In 1998, all of the Nobel Peace Prize winners came together for the first time. They came together due to the state of the world, especially for children. They wrote the Appeal for the Children and sent it to Heads of State as well as United Nations. Out of that appeal came the International Decade (2001-2010) to Make a Culture of Peace for Children. Peace, though, will only come from action – action that says “we want to change the world”. Her favourite quote, from Robert Kennedy: “Each time a person stands up for an idea, or acts to improve the lot the others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripply of hope – and the tiny ripple of hope sends a current that can rip down the mightiest of walls.”.
Dr Valdov notes that there are tremendous opportunities now. There are more people, there is more technology. Those, plus the strong fervour of people standing up, will make big changes. The task at hand is to find our part and the do it with complete conviction, compassion, fervour, and a big heart. Be the biggest person we can be. She bests that in 100 years, this hall will be full of people talking about us and how much we shine.
We then move on to a Conference Ceremonial Blessing by various spiritual leaders of the Sioux Tribe. The young people here ran the Unity Run from Toronto to here to make a declaration of peace. One of the girls from the Oneida tribe does a Thanksgiving Address, which acknowledges all the gifts the world has given up. She explains her Address, where she thanks all the spirits of the world – the skies, thunder, lighting, Grandmother Moon, Brother Sun, the medicines, and so on – for continuing to grow and flow. Now she will sing a song, Ya Wang Goh (The Big Thank You). She says that what makes the Indigenous people who they are is that they’ve learnt all they know from all the things in the world, all the things Mother Earth provides, and that as Mother Earth changes, we need to realize that the Indigenous people have a strong voice as their laws are based on the Earth, not in money. Incidentally, the land the UN is on is Mohawk land, and that the Mohawk people had been displaced; when they heard that the Sept 11th disasters were considered the worst massacre in the US, they were saddened because people had forgotton the massacre of the Native American people to build New York.
Now there is a young child who will tell us some stories from his culture. He seems rather shy though! So another young man tells the story instead. A long time ago, the Sioux people were in hard times and really needed help. Two men were sent to get help. Along the way they spot a woman near a bright light in the bush, and got curious. One man had ill thoughts, and was soon engulfed by the light. The other man went to the woman, who told him to tell his people to prepare a big teepee with buffalo skin, and strawberries in the east, and wait for her arrival. Nothing more. So the man goes back to his village and tells his people exactly that. When all was prepared, the woman cam by the next day and went to look for their medicine man. She gives him a sacred pipe and 7 sacred songs, telling him that this pipe will bring them to peace and get them away from hardship. She then tells them that when the is more trouble in the world, she will return as a white buffalo calf. She transforms into a few types of buffalo, before changing into a white buffalo calf and running off.
The young child introduces the story of the Unity Run. His father started a vision to retrace the steps of their ancestors, who had been killed and dishonoured in the Civil War, and whose culture and religion was deemed illegal until the 70s. They cayy sacred staffs with feathers representing the generations. Started in the 60s, this run has spanned the US and Canada, bringing Native people together to visit sacred sites and honour their ancestors. Each community they visit has prepared so much for the, as they realize the importance of this. One other Indigenous youth talks about the responsibilities and introduce their Indigenous Youth Declaration, Rekindling the Fire. They had run all night on Thursday to bring this to the UN. Their declaration demands that youth be respected and have a strong voice. Also, they ask that all historical truths about their heritage be provided in educational books, and that there are options to learn their culture. They ask that their languages be recognized, and that their treaties be recognized too. They demand that all forms of discrimination be stopped immediately, as we are all brothers and sisters on Earth. They demand that their culture, church, and ceremonies are respected and recognized, and that the media respects indigenous issues. Indigenous youth refuse to be subject to colonization, and refuse to let past colonization (hate and resentment) affect them, and they forgive all cultures whose ancestors has caused damage. Their last demand is that all environment-damaging activities be stopped immediately. THey acknowledge the displacement and struggles of Indigenous people around the world.
Dr Valdov now introduces H.E. Deputy Minister Taimoor Shah Eshaq-zai, Deputy Minister of Youth Affairs in Afghanistan and also the youngest Afghan leader. He passes on a message from Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, basically wishing us well with the Youth Assembly and with our endeavours for peace.. (Can I just say now that the Afghani language, Pashtur, sounds like NOTHING I’ve heard before. So is the Oneida language.) He too has a story about Afghani youth. Afghanistan has a large population of youth (68%), but most of them are in rural areas with little resources. Things aren’t looking too great, with plenty of problems in their life, as well as corruption by various forces, but they are deeply needed to make great changes in Afghanistan. Girls and young women in particular are in the most trouble, as they have no option for education and are often forced into marriage. Only 1% of Afghani yoths have higher education. Now with the MDGs, there is a National Youth Program to help solve the programs faced by Afghani youth, as well as to get them involved with the MDGs.
Kathy Ireland, top celebrity entrepreneur, presents a video of herself and her work. She talks about how amazing it is that young people are open to making a difference, and that young people can’t do well without being in service and without helping others. She appreciates our willingness to bring peace to the world. We could have just hidden away, numbed ourselves…but instead we are out there doing good. (She mentions Bangladesh, yay!) She notes that her past as a model might seem a bit odd at the UN – and starts showing us a pose to create a new waistline! Modelling wasn’t her passion though; hers was to find her priorities and sort them out. She reads out the MDGs and shares Success Strategies:
- Self-discovery – knowing your power and who you are as a person, and where you want to go
- A dream without a timetable is a hallucination – make a plan!
- Ask powerful questions, get powerful answers – If they say No, ask Why; if they say Yes, ask How
- Embrace your rebellion
- Find a mentor – not just someone you know, but someone you admire
- There will be challenges and changes to navigate on your journey
- Turn down the worry and negativity
- Hope deferred makes the heart sick
- All that you give is all that you get – so give all that you’ve got!
Following Kathy Ireland is 4-time Grammy winner Angelique Kidjo and also UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. She’s actually on her way to the airport but felt that she couldn’t be in New York with the youth of the world without meeting them! She mentions that as someone coming from Africa, she’s seen how Africa tends to be seen only in terms of its problems – poverty, hunger, disease, etc. Yet there is so much more to Africa then that. She also talks about dreams and diversity. She asks us that we not make the same mistakes the current leaders make. Stop blaming each other; take responsibility. She wanted to be a human rights lawyer but in law school she found that it wasn’t helpful; instead she went into singing – with her microphone, the Weapon of Mass Loving – to make a difference. And she needs our help. “never ever think of yourself as nothing…you are everything!”
Now there are some logistic announcements, and then we’re off to workshops!