J8, Day 3
© UNICEF, 2006/Alena Svirid
Ann Veneman, UNICEF Executive Director and a J8 delegate from the United States .
By John Varoli
``You are the future, and among you here today could be future ministers, perhaps even presidents. So, it's important to know what you think and how you would resolve the many critical issues that the world faces today and which will impact your generation.''
With these inspiring words, Ludmila Verbitskaya, rector of St. Petersburg University, joined UNICEF officials and 64 youth delegates on Monday morning under a hot Russian sun in the St. Petersburg suburb of Pushkin to launch the first working day of the Junior 8.
``Children have a right to be heard,'' continued Sir Roger Moore, UNICEF's Goodwill Ambassador, encouraging the children to take charge. ``And while many children don't always have strong voices, just looking at the delegates here today I see that your voices are strong enough and capable of being heard.''
Pumped up by this gung-ho introduction, the youth delegates moved from the garden to the White Hall inside the Kochubei mansion where a representative from each national delegation was chosen to face an intimidating row of Russian and international TV cameras that included MTV, the Associated Press, and Russia Today.
The delegates proved their mettle against a tough press corps and adeptly fielded questions about why they had gathered here for the Junior 8, what they hoped to achieve and the message they planned to hand-deliver to the leaders of their countries during a meeting on July 16.
``I'm here to energize youth worldwide,'' said an articulate and emphatic Shaunt Attarian, 15, a delegate from the U.S, who was making his first press statement ever. ``Issues in developing countries are going to effect all of us in the G8, and so we must improve education and to help these parts of the world fight poverty.''
After the press conference, Russian Health Ministry expert, Vyacheslav Smolensky, briefed delegates on the major trends and issues regarding infectious diseases over the past few centuries, hitting home just how devastating they have been when timely measures weren't taken.
UNICEF Executive Director, Ann Veneman, called on delegates to think beyond their own interests and reminded them that 25 percent of children globally are malnourished; that 20 percent do not have clean water; that one-third have no proper sanitation; and that 115 million children do not attend school.
Informed and their minds now set in motion, the delegates broke into groups and began brainstorming on suggestions to go towards their final recommendation for G8 leaders.
French delegate and UNICEF Youth Ambassador, Sarah Labhar, shared her experience working with victims of HIV in Jamaica in April, and what she felt could be done.
``I think a lot of people will die unless we do something,'' said Sarah. ``There's no reason why people should be dying or why mothers are transmitting HIV to their children. We have the means to stop this virus and we should do everything possible so that those who are poor have access to proper treatment.''