Monday, August 9, 2010

Youth at the United Nations

Last week I had the fortune of taking part in the annual Youth Assembly at the United Nations as a volunteer with Oxfam America. The Youth Assembly at the UN was created in 2002 as members of a Youth Outreach Sub-Committee at hte UN thought it was imperative to engage youth in the challenge and opportunities to realize the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

This year's assembly took place over 3 days and hosted speakers from around the world and networking session to engage youth with non-profits who are working towards spreading the MDGs.

I was able to attend the MDG Campaign Night and Dinner on Wednesday night. At the dinner, youth learned of a number of non-profits who are working for the MDGs. Non profits that were present included, Engineers Without Borders, Oxfam, Habitat for Humanity, and Amnesty International among others.

I was preset with Oxfam America. Oxfam America is currently collecting signatures to tell President Obama to deliver a US strategy to end global poverty and recommit to meeting the MDGs by 2015. Right now, President Obama's leadership is needed to bring US foreign assistance into the 21st Century so that we can more effectively use taxpayer dollars to drive greater results for people in need.

The dinner was sold out and a number of youth from countries all over the world were present to learn about the organizations working towards the MDGs.

The following 2 days of the conference hosted a number of speakers from the private sector, non-profits, the UN, and government organizations. One of the most impressive organizations I heard from was from Jing Zhou, founder of Girls In Tech/China and Girls 2.0. GITchina's sole mission is to spread this message by providing a platform on which women in technology can connect, empower and learn from one another. With the increasing importance of technology and its convergence with other professions, the necessity to educate, celebrate and support women in this field has become impossible to ignore.

I was also very excited to hear from Ishmael Beah, former child soldier from Sierra Leone and author of  A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier.  Ishmael stressed the importance of education to create change. After the war in Sierra Leone made him an orphan and led him to a life as a child soldier, he had the opportunity to address the UN in the 1990's and share his terrible experiences as a child growing up in those conditions. He was then adopted by an American women and was enrolled in school. Because he did not have any of his former transcripts from his war torn country, the school did not want to enroll him. However, after writing an essay on why he did not have transcripts, the school let him in. He credits his access to education for changing his life and believes the education is the core to all the MDGs.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

After Ishmael Beah spoke, we heard from another incredible youth. Katie Spotz is from the midwest but has done incredible feats for a girl of her age including being the first person to first person to swim the entire length of 325 mile Allegheny River, cycling across America, running across the Mojave Desert, and completing the Oxfam Trail Run in Australia.  It was during her time in Australia that she became motivated for her most ambitious feat: to row across the Atlantic solo. When she was in Australia she saw many signs telling people to limit their water use. This made her curious to learn more about water around the world and how scarce and precious a resource it is for a majority of the world. With this new information she decided to fund raise by rowing across the Atlantic Ocean - being the first women to do so. You can learn more about her feat at

Overall, the Youth Assembly was a fantastic and inspiring. opportunity to learn what youth are doing around the world to create change.