Young people, we are the change

4th January 2016
Ruth at the Youth Summit

Ruth volunteered with the International Citizen Service in Nicaragua. The youth summit gave her and other former volunteers a chance to make a noise about the development issues that matter.

“At a time when so many young people feel fed up and frustrated, caught up in traps of zero-hour contracts or unemployment, the conversation surrounding development and the pivotal role young people can play as inspiring change-makers needs to be celebrated. No, scrap that, it needs to be shouted from the rooftops and publicised on every single social media account until each young adult realises that, they too, can make a difference.

According to the organisation Bond, only 32% of the UK population would class themselves as engaged with global issues and talk about them often with others. Furthermore, out of this engaged audience group only 41% actively take action on these issues and feel positive about international development achievements. I remember returning back from my ICS placement with Raleigh International to a number of sceptical grunts from uninterested pals, “Did you enjoy your holiday abroad then?” they would ask and continue to fill me in on the latest relationship gossip. Through no fault of anyone’s own, when trying to steer conversations round to the importance of the Millennium Development Goals eyes would glaze over or shift around awkwardly.

300 young people gathered together for a youth summit at the Department of International Development in partnership with International Citizen Service, eager and ready to share their opinions about how to shape the future of our world. In late September, the largest-ever gathering of world leaders took place at the UN General Assembly in New York to sign up to new Global Goals that aim to eradicate poverty for good.  The youth summit was an opportunity to make a noise about the issues that matter to us and to make a collective and personal commitment to ensuring the world delivers on these promises.

As well as engaging and encouraging speeches from Justine Greening and the anti-FGM activist Fahma Mohamed, a personal highlight of the day was the interactive workshops hosted by various organisations. The first workshop I attended was ran by Youth for Change and centred around the importance of gender equality, discussing the social isolation and low sense of self esteem young girls forced into early child marriage often feel. The second workshop encouraged us to change the development narrative and speak out about our ICS placements by focusing on core positive themes. This could be done by communicating aspects of our placements such as describing members of the communities in which we worked in terms of shared values and their hopes and dreams, focusing on partnership, steady progress and the ultimate goal of building independence. Brave volunteers stood up and “pitched” their ICS placements using this framework and gave some incredible examples, such as an awareness raising project surrounded disability rights in Ghana and the construction of hygienic Tippy-Taps in Tanzania. Even the most cynical sceptic would have been seriously impressed.

For me, The Youth Summit was a day of hope. As the Global Goals rev up into action, we can use the next fifteen years to shift around those percentages so that 68% of the population move from apathy to active engagement. We will see the sustainable goals plastered all over Facebook and Twitter, petitions about unjust issues shared and created, and more and more volunteers travelling on ICS projects. And, as long as the world can see young people’s potential, we will eventually see change.”

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