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【26 July】Japanese youth excited, empowered to reduce inequality- Dialogue event with UNICEF senior officials and Japanese youth

By Tracy Sherman

TOKYO, Japan, 26 July 2018 – With the heat wave broken and the temperature a balmy 30°C, even the weather seemed to cooperate as 23 Japanese university students and high school students met UNICEF executives at the University of Tokyo, Komaba campus. They came together for a dialogue on how today’s youth, tomorrow’s leaders, can reduce inequality on the global landscape.

Youth groups’ inequality initiatives in Japan

Young people in Japan can seem shy and reserved. Some adults say young people nowadays tend to be reticent to engage with global issues, or too restrained to express their ideas for change. After today’s UNICEF Youth Engagement Event the participants know that those critics are mistaken. That in fact Japanese youth are already commented to work for global social change.

The excited chatter in the room hushed as students Kaho and Kiko spoke on behalf of the Japan University Football Association’s Hikari Project. They channel the enthusiasm for soccer into creating social change. Members have met with Holocaust survivors and people with disabilities, and have donated equipment and support to empower young people and reduce inequality.

The Hikari Project also promotes health equality to Japanese kindergarten children through World Handwashing Day and World Toilet Day. And through their 500-yen donation per soccer goal, “One Goal = One Coin,” they have raised over ¥190,000. Proving that every small action adds up to big differences in people’s lives. Their motto is: Think > Action > Light Through Soccer.

Then University of Tokyo students, Asuka and Kana represented their group, EMPOWER: Overcoming Exclusion approached the microphone. Their dynamic presentation spoke to the power of symbols as a focal point of awareness, inclusion, and empowerment.

Empower’s Magenta Star Badge is a symbol of a willingness to support others. Their goal is to connect supporters and those in need of support. The magenta star badge is not a symbol of need, it is a symbol of support, a way to show people, “I am here to help you.”

Empower has reached out to junior high school students in Kanazawa and Kanazawa University in Ishikawa Prefecture to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities. They are now extending their program to Kanazawa and Southeast Asia.

UNICEF’s strategy for youth and with youth

Carla Haddad Mardini, Director, Public Partnerships Division, UNICEF gave a powerful presentation on UNICEF’s young people agenda titled, “A calling of our time.”

More than 60 percent of the world’s 1.2 billion adolescents live in low and lower-middle-income countries. Many do not enter, transition to, or complete secondary education and are not acquiring the skills they need to secure decent work. Young people who are forced to migrate because of political or environmental disasters are most at risk from disease, from violence and abuse, and from the lack of education and living skills. UNICEF is committed to providing opportunities amidst great risk, but the organization doesn’t have all the answers. It needs the fresh ideas and commitment of young people. Mardini made an appeal to the young people of Japan to come on board with UNICEF and other partners in this exciting project.

Junko Kunugi, Representative, UNICEF Myanmar, also addressed the gathering. She spoke of how Myanmar has the world’s longest ongoing conflict alongside its many natural disasters and that because of these factors 2 million children aged 5 to 17 are out of school. Myanmar has suffered its share of heartbreaking inequalities. Japan is the largest bilateral donor to Myanmar. And the country is trying to institute a large-scale health program and life skills training.

Myanmar’s young people are starting to connect to the outside world using U-Report, a global platform for youth to raise their voice. “There are 20 thousand Myanmar U-Reporters between the ages of 13 and 25,” Kunugi said. “They are speaking out and reporting from Myanmar to the world.”

Equity and Youth Activities – Chances and Challenges

The excitement and interest were palpable as many students asked questions during the discussion. The focus was not on theory but on actions leading to change. There was such an eager exchange of questions, answers, and ideas between the young people and UNICEF executives that the event ran a half hour past its scheduled time.

“Maybe it’s a childish question,” asked University student Ruka, “but I have so many interests in helping people, how do I decide what to do?” “Don’t shrink your question or yourself,” Mardini answered, “Keep learning, focus on one area and see where it takes you. It will open up more windows.” Stefan Peterson, Chief of Health, agreed on what Mardini said and encouraged the student to follow her heart while preparing to put in hard work.

University student Miho asked, “How do we respect other cultures, religion, and traditions regarding human rights and bring about changes at the same time?”

“When traditions are harmful to children, that’s when UNICEF intercedes.” Geert Cappelaere, Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, emphasized the importance of learning from cultures and traditions while we have to change some traditions that are harmful to children.

Despite the popular misconception of the withdrawn, introverted nature of Japanese youth today’s event has proven that change is coming in Japan. Young people’s voices expressed through grassroots movements and social media, do count. Japan’s young people are starting to see themselves as global citizens with a need and responsibility to reduce inequality locally and globally.

Cappelaere nicely summarized the event with his closing remarks: “Japanese young people say they’re shy, but I don’t feel that. I feel the energy, creativity, and power to make the changes in the world.” “People ask me, with all the suffering I see (in the conflicts of the region), how do I keep from becoming desperate about the global situation? When you talk to children and young people, you immediately realize that there is no room to be desperate, you can only become hopeful. There is a lot of hope thanks to this meeting.”

【7月26日】日本の高校生・大学生がUNICEF幹部職員と公平性をテーマに対話 よりよい世界のために、若者ができること

 

 

 
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