We are the world – So let’s start talking
Bangkok, Thailand, 1 September 2006 -The logistics were challenging: Gathering six Asian young people in Bangkok for a video-conference with an international group of peers in Russia – and juggling three different languages. The results were inspiring: a weighty and at times emotional exchange on issues ranging from AIDS to media freedom and violence against children.
Four teenagers from northern Thailand and two from the Philippines talked to 16 other young people a continent away to have their views and recommendations for change put on the agenda of the G8 summit in July. The summit, in Pushkin, a town near St. Petersburg, was the first in 30 years to formally include an interaction between children and attending world leaders.
“I would like to talk about the issue of child labour,” 15-year-old Bill Bryan Dula, from the Philippines, said half way through the two-hour video-conference session. “I have met some child labourers before. One of them is a boy that has worked in a farm since he was 6 years old. Another is a 12-year-old girl that works as a scavenger along with her other 9-year-sibling.
“They told me that what they do is very difficult,” he said, speaking his own language – Tagolog – which was then translated into Thai and English.
Jane Erica Justiniano came to the video conference also from the Philippines to talk about child abuse. “My friend is just 13 years old,” she told the other young representatives. “She cleans the house, washes the clothes and cooks for her family everyday but she is still regularly beaten up by her parents. … I would like for you [world leaders] to use your skills and resources to come up with a way for nations to talk to each other on how to stop the abuse of children.”
A total of 48 young people from the G8 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States of America) were selected to attend the Junior G8 forum in Pushkin alongside the main summit and to speak in smaller groups to peers in four corners of the globe by video conference. The four ‘live’ sessions were arranged back-to-back, all in one day.
In addition to Bangkok, link-ups took place in Cairo, Mexico City and Johannesburg. Each session was assigned a main topic: the contingent in Bangkok was given HIV and AIDS, Cairo had education, Mexico City had tolerance and Johannesburg spoke on energy. However, the young people were also given the opportunity to raise and discuss other issues they thought were important.
The three girls and one boy from northern Thailand are members of a youth group whose objective is to train and build youth leaders’ capacity on the prevention of HIV and AIDS, drug use and human trafficking as well as promote appropriate sex education in schools and communities.
“I strongly believe that youths can play crucial roles in educating people of the same age on HIV and AIDS, how to live with people with HIV and how to strengthen infected people’s confidence to reveal their status. These attempts could reduce the number of HIV infections,” said Atthaphon Rodsanthia, 16, one of the four Thai teenagers.
During the time allotted to free-for-all discussion, Sureeporn Chobrabieb, 17, expressed a strong desire for press freedom in Thailand: “I’d like to call the media to care of the public and the benefit of the country, rather than themselves. I’d like to call for the government to let the press work independently.” She later confessed to feeling very nervous through the discussion but found it to be a tremendously learning experience.
UNICEF, in collaboration with Morgan Stanley International Foundation, hosted the video-conferences to bring together young people from G8 countries to debate, discuss and firmly place their views on the G8 leaders’ agenda. After the global video conferencing, eight young people in Pushkin were chosen to present the recommendations to the G8 presidents and prime ministers during a 40-minute session on 16 July. A video of the four video conference discussions is available.
A day before the video conference session, the participants met with members of a Bangkok-based NGO, Thai Concern, to meet with a youth group called “Youth Mobile” that educates community members on HIV and AIDS and safe sex issues. The group’s many activities include organizing training, providing counselling services through meetings, hot lines and home visits.
“It was good because I was amazed at how the youth are contributing to a solution that will help those with HIV and AIDS,” commented Justiniano at the end of the visit to Thailand.
The following recommendations were accumulated from discussions of the Thai and Filipino youths during the video-conference discussion with Junior G8 participants. Prior to the discussion, the six young people meeting in Bangkok “brainstormed and analysed related problems in our region and come up with these practical recommendations for the Junior G8 group…for presenting to the G8 leaders”.
“We regard the G8 leaders as leaders in many aspects, including the economic,” the young people wrote. “G8 leaders have influence over other leaders in the world. They could be a role model for other leaders. Therefore, G8 leaders should not only pay attention to economic, trade and wealth issues. They should play crucial roles in solving problems affecting people’s lives, i.e. human trafficking, drug addiction, child labour, violence, war and HIV/AIDS. These problems should be seriously solved on a continuous basis.
“We, youths from Thailand and Philippines, have come up with the following recommendations on HIV- and AIDS-related issues, as follows:”
Treatment and support
Every Sunday, Prapai Harnsoongnern, 17, and friends organize an HIV/AIDS prevention and sex education session for other students. She also acts as a facilitator for community sessions on HIV/AIDS and sex.
Sureeporn Chobrabieb, 17, provides peer counselling on HIV prevention and sex education and she is active in campaigning against drug abuse in her school and community.
Saowarod Phromnat, 17, for six years has conducted activities to educate young people in the community on sex education and the prevention of HIV spreading.
Atthaphon Rodsanthia, 16, has been a member of the Takobpa youth group for five years and is also involved in peer counselling activities and HIV prevention at his school.
Jane Erica Justiniano 16, is a member of the Center for the Promotion, Advocacy and Protection of the Rights of the Child Foundation, Inc and “Dulaan sa Kalye Junior Group (DSKJG)”, which is a programme that educates community members on different issues affecting children.
Bill Bryan Dula, 13, lives in a residential home for boys and is the public relations officer of a city-wide organization of children and young people belonging to other organizations working for children and their rights.