Liveblogging: UN Youth Assembly Day 3 – A Call For Action II

Ah, colour! Specifically the New Jersey Ghanian Seventh Adventist Youth Choir. Inspiring and so full of life. My favourite performance so far!

According to Dr Valdov, it’s the beginning of the closing. To start us off is Rwanda genocide survivor Jacqueline Murkete, who has transformed her experience to help others and to inspire others to fight for human rights and human dignity. She tells us the story of her and her grandmother being hunted down by the opposing tribe, how they were described as “cockroaches [that needed to be] exterminated”, how she felt like she wanted to die – all because she was a Tutsi. They found refuge in an orphanage owned by an Italian priest, but eventually they found adults too risky so her grandmother couldn’t come – the day Jacqueline went to the orphanage was the last day she ever saw her grandmother. However, the Hutus weren’t all that barbaric – one such neighbour sheltered her family. But when the government says that all Tutsi people had to die, no matter their age…things get scary. She started her initiative to share her stories, educate people about the realities, and get people to think about making peace no matter your age.

One of the members of the Ghanian Youth Choir, Afia, has a song to share…

After the singing is James Quilligan, Managing Director of the Centre for Global Negotiations. As Dr Valdov mentioned, just talking about the issues for ages would not get you anywhere. However, James is working on a practical economic solution to resolve poverty. Among the issues he talks about is poverty and how no one nation can take the lead currently; sovereignty versus global governance; global environmental concerns and the Kyoto protocol; sustainable development; bilateralism and multilaterism; trading of food on the global market; biosystems; and the concept that maximization of self-interest does not lead to the greater public good. His speech works fine as a university lecture; however, after 3 (or more) long days of work without rest, having all that talk in the middle of the afternoon with no interaction or visual aids is just too much information. Also, they didn’t consider the fact that many of the participants have English as a second-language, and even native English speakers may have trouble with all the jargon. What’s the difference between bilateralism and multilateralism? What is a biosystem? What are your sources? Too much information, too little brainpower to process. I’m having trouble summarizing him right now! Apparently there will be a wiki for NGOs to contribute to a Global Marshall Plan. Considering how wikis tend to work, and how many NGO people aren’t too familiar with the ways of the Internet (especially when it comes to Web 2.0 things like wikis – I had one person who was convinced Wiki = Evil), I honestly wish them luck.

Next up is 3 time Olympian Devon Harris, part of the Jamaican bobsled team. Yep, “Cool Runnings”! Fun movie that was. I didn’t actually think it was real! He’s also the ambassador for Right To Play, an organization who gives young people the opportunity to play sport in places where such opportunities didn’t exist before. His speech was essentially inspirational, telling us about our full potential, reminding us to follow our dreams, and sharing some anecdotes about being in the Jamaican bobsled team when there isn’t even any snow in Jamaica. He even cracked a joke about how Jamaica has never been invaded by the US…coconuts make good missiles!

In this midpoint, we have been given a new mission: to be an International Peace Ambassador. Our job is to work towards the MDGs within the next year, to be “the very best of humanity”. Passing our work on. Apparently we’re the first group ever. The goal is to make this world a better place for everyone to live in; we’ll get more information on that soon. There was a group here that started an International Youth Council (UN doesn’t have one currently; they used to some years ago) and that’s starting off soon. Having just spent the last few minutes reading up on front organizations*, I am a bit nervous at the prospect – I love the idea, I just don’t want to be forced to believe in something I don’t believe in. Yes, I strongly support the MDGs and the need for a better world; I’m just cautious about things like “you must believe in God!” or “you must have ‘morals’!” or subjective things like that. Oh well, we’ll see.

They are now giving our the Youth Achievement Awards to 5 young people that have made a significant difference in the world. Devon Harris is giving out the medals. Colin hosted a walk for celiac disease; Kaitlyn started Inspiring Youth For Change to put on a conference, write declarations for the Canadian Parliament, rally and protest for youth issues, and provide toolkits for young people; an Indian student (he didn’t give his name) is working to develop his “backwards” village into a model village for the MDGs through his school; Megan organized a fundraiser with some choirs to do Christmas Carols for the WHO to raise money for polio and built a room for people with disabilities; and Kacie has been working in a girl’s home in El Salvador to try to cheer up their lives by painting and brightening up their rooms. And all of them are in HIGH SCHOOL. Huzzah!

The young people from one of the earlier panels on the first day are back – turns out they had formed a youth initiative to work on the MDGs, and they helped Dr Valdov arrange speakers and set up events for the Youth Assembly! Samuel W. Strike, Mathew Wisniewski, Sarah Leavitt, Evangeline Taylor, and Rajiv Ramakrishnam have worked together to come up with a manifesto for youth. The idea was that young people all over the world have been working on initiatives, but there wasn’t a clear way for everyone to connect. With the Youth for Action Declaration, they (and us) declare that us youth will work together in unity to make a measurable difference, to reach the Millennium Development Goals, and to improve human life, using our strengths and diversity.

It would have been handy if we got to talk about this manifesto more, especially when it’s meant to include us. The group of us that went to the Leadership Seminar have also come up with a declaration to send to the UN, which focuses on fixing the issues in Darfur, Korea, sub-Saharan Africa, and Palestine and Israel. It was meant to be signed tonight but we never got enough time to put all our work together. Indeed, a common comment made during the Assembly was that there was too much of being “talked to” and not enough interaction. Samuel just said that without action, this would be more words. Will all this just be more words?

Ah! My wish is being granted!

Currently there is an open discussion about ideas young people here have for projects. One asked for Powerpoints of the presentation; I asked about starting a fund; another suggested global conferences that influence governments; a young person working with The ONE Campaign wants international partnerships; a Nigerian wants to pass on the knowledge to the young people in his country, and wants to encourage their government to have a special advisor for the MDGs; the International Youth Council folk have formally introduced their project. THIS is what I came here to do! THIS is what I’m here for! Now if only it lasted more than 15 minutes!

Another song, then Arun Gandhi speaks…

Dr Arun Gandhi is Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson and he has done a lot of peace work through the years. The lot of us from the Leadership Seminar actually got to have lunch with him at an exclusive UN banquet place – Indian food! Yum! We got to chat with him about his work and his thoughts on leadership. I asked him if he ever felt like he was in his grandfather’s shadow. He told me that when he was younger he used to feel that a lot; however, as he grew, he figured that such a legacy can either be taken as a burden or as a light – which do you choose? He is very soft-spoken, quiet and a bit shy, very wise. He’s honest and himself. I want a hug, haha. For the closing remarks, he told us many stories about how his grandfather would teach him life lessons through all sorts of things – a LSE doctorate who wanted to transform the world was asked to clean the toilets for a week to see if he had the same passion, and when Arun threw away a 3-inch pencil once, thinking his grandfather would get him a new one, he told him off by saying that throwing away a perfectly good resource is violence against nature, and overconsumption is violence against humanity. He said that when he hears people that say nonviolence doesn’t work anymore, he feels that they’re essentially denying love, respect, kindness, and compassion, because that is what nonviolence is. He was humble and sweet and funny, and seriously they should have put him far far EARLIER in the program.

Dr Valdov – GO VALDOV GO VALDOV – wished us well and blessed all of us in her own way for our journey, and then we now have a song to close this event.

Tonight there is a farewell dinner and party, and some folk (like me) are staying back for a NY tour. But this has marked the end of the 4th Annual Youth Assembly at the United Nations. Thanks for hanging in there.

* Front organizations are companies or orgs that claim to have a nonpartisan/nonbiased approach to things, but are really formed or funded by a bigger organization to either achieve its own goals or to make more money. One student group here has a MASSIVE number of representatives, and they turned out to be a front for a religious group that has a bit of a sketchy history and leader. I’ve got some friends in this org, and some other friends in similarly “Strange” orgs, that haven’t brought me to harm and seem pretty decent so far. As long as I’m not forced to subscribe to something I don’t hold to, that’s fine. But their approaches kind of disturb me sometimes. Even more disturbing, though, is the thought that we may be supporting fronts for things whose principles we don’t follow on at all. Maybe the “front” is fine but the support org is really sketchy, or vice versa. How do you make the distinction?

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