International Youth Day is an awareness day that was designated by the United Nations for the world at large to draw their attention to “a given set of cultural and legal issues surrounding youth.”  The theme for 2017 was Youth Building Peace.  Peace is the driving force for all local, national and global economies and is instrumental in the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

 

The theme is well-timed.  We are in an era of crisis, conflict, violence and disaster, and young people play a significant role towards building a more just and peaceful world.  My dream is to see unity, democracy and compassion reflected in leadership and civilians in all nations.  Conflict has arisen in different countries in the world due to political factors, economic, social factors and cultural and religious factors.  The Syrian civil war is a quintessential example of political conflict between the government of President Bashar al-Assad and various forces who oppose his government.  The conflict has claimed close to 50,000 innocent lives.  The Ethiopian State of Emergency, declared as a result of  economic and social instability has more in common than one would think with so many other grave global conflicts: the re-opening of apartheid racial scars in South Africa over a school's hair policy that rejects black African Hair, in America, where we saw protests with #BlacklivesMatter, an international movement, originating in the African-American community, that campaigns against violence and systemic racism towards black people, the declaration of war in Egypt by Islamic State (ISIS) that has lead to the senseless slaughter of Christians.

I have always wondered to myself: Why? Why do our nations not lead with compassion for their people no matter their differences? Why do we kill innocent people for political power and sovereignty? Why doesn’t love exist in the heart of humanity? Why do we exclude each other when we need to be working together to ensure we create a better world for one another?

I often think of the song, “Heal the World” by Michael Jackson, which calls profoundly for us to stand up for each other, support each other, and work together to make the world around us a better place.  It begins with us – youth, leaders, humanity itself - to make the change.  As a young person, I get scared sometimes when I imagine what the world will look like if conflict continues to define who we are.  But no generation is more interconnected with others from all around the world, through technology, globalization, and a common faith in the goodness of people, to help us change the world for the better.

I call for unity.  In African terms we call it “Ubuntu”, and it means a quality that includes the essential human virtues; compassion and humanity.  If we can cultivate an environment rooted in such values, then we have a better chance of creating a better future for young people.  And it starts with me and you.

When I was studying law at the University of Namibia, I was awarded the Ubuntu Award for my work in the community, and with people and students on campus.  As a member of the Student Representative Council, I worked as the Community Development Officer and had an opportunity to call for student unity, by developing a hand of hope banner, where people paint printed their hand to show their commitment.  Serving the needs of others was always at the very core of my work when we led food donation drives in communities, student empowerment power talks and different campaigns for a certain cause.  It made me realize that progress starts with each of us individually caring enough about the problems around them to act at remedying them.  I am doing my part  by equipping and mentoring my fellow youth on leadership, facilitating capacity building for youth-led organisations and advocating for equitable social well being for all and I ask governments, civil society organizations, private companies, and individuals also do their part to improve our nations.  We deserve a world in which we are not fighting with one another, where we have access to quality healthcare and education, where the livelihood for every person matters; no matter their race, religion and social status.  A world where we have equality and equity.

In Malawi, I have seen young people protest in the streets in a call for the government to invest in the provision of quality education.  I believe that no young person should have to fight for their rights or wellbeing; this should be the standard service provision in any country.  I would like to see our local, national and global leaders give more weight to the importance of compassion, and to involve young people in fostering development for the country and through investment in their needs.  They do not need to create something totally anew: The Global Partnership on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH) is working with young people all over the world to capacitate young people and support them to advance adolescent health, and this is replicable in different governance contexts as well.  Change is born from such partnerships that promote effective development and succession of leadership, and this is what we need to see more of at a national level.

I celebrated International Youth day with my fellow young people at the Youth Expo, where we exposed the amazing work that the youth are doing in the country and saw first-hand the encouragement of partnership and collaboration with young people.  I call upon the leaders in government and civil society to work with these inspiring youth to build and re-build nations rooted in love, peace, unity, and progressive partnership – not just for a prosperous economy, but for a happier and healthier society.

 

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