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Policy advocacy and partnerships for children's rights

UN Global Youth Leadership Summit energizes a new generation of activists

UNICEF Image: Global Youth Leadership Summit
© UNICEF 2006/Markisz
Zerihun Mammo, 20, is a youth leader in Ethiopia.

By Blue Chevigny

NEW YORK, USA, 1 November, 2006 – Nearly 400 young people gathered at UN headquarters this week for the Global Youth Leadership Summit, working together to help breathe life into the Millennium Development Goals – and returning to their countries with revitalized plans to address some of the worst scourges on the planet.

For three days, two youth representatives from each of the United Nations’ 192 member countries were housed in four tents, where they sat in groups surrounded by white flip charts and brainstormed solutions to problems such as gender inequality, extreme poverty and lack of access to education.

“I think its really great to hear what others are doing around the world,” said Zerihun Mammo, 20, of Ethiopia. “I can take that back to my friends in Ethiopia, and maybe we can use some of the ideas from the other youths that I met.”

Children voice their concerns

Zerihun and his new friend, 24-year-old Pham Thi Thanh Nhung of Viet Nam, took a break from their tight schedule of meetings to tell UNICEF Radio their ideas about the summit and what brought them there. (Click here to listen to an interview with them.)

Zerihun said he got involved when he realized there were very few young leaders in Ethiopia. After attending a training session held to energize young people like himself, he formed a youth activist group with his friends. 

“We held a meeting for street children where they were able to voice what’s important to them,” he recalled. “Then we held one on HIV and AIDS, and young people were able to tell their version – something uncommon in my country.”

UNICEF Image: Global Youth Leadership Summit
© UNICEF 2006/Markisz
Pham Thi Thanh Nhung, 24, is an environmental activist in Viet Nam.

In her country, Nhung works to educate young people about the environment, sustainable development and other important issues. “I became an environmentalist when I was in my first year of college,” she said. “In Viet Nam and everywhere, garbage is the biggest problem. It makes me sad to see green trees being cut down. Carbon monoxide is going into the air all the time.” 

Bringing home solutions

Now that the youth summit has ended, both Zerihun and Nhung plan to return to their respective countries and raise the discussion of the Millennium Development Goals to a new level among their peers.

“I want to be a leader in my country and host regional meetings where people from other countries come and see Viet Nam,” said Nhung. “I want the world to realize Viet Nam is more than just a country in poverty.”

For these and hundreds more dedicated young people, the UN summit has provided inspiration and encouragement – setting the stage, perhaps, for a new generation of leaders who ultimately can solve some of the globe’s most enduring problems.




1 November, 2006:
UNICEF Radio correspondent Blue Chevigny talks to two participants in the UN Global Youth Leadership Summit about their experience as activists and their goals for the future.
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