Change our world — that’s this year’s International Youth Day theme. It seems more than appropriate in a year of ongoing economic struggle, debt ceilings, radiation leaks and famines. And there are issues of injustice that fail to make headlines but distress so many people — child abuse, abduction and trafficking, school drop-outs because of forced labor or need for income, neglect of children and youth, and an apparent lack of youth voice.
But there are youth out there advocating against such injustices, making real differences in their communities, and changing our world for good. This post is a reminder, on International Youth Day, that youth are to believed in because through them, great things are possible.
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. -1 Timothy 4:12 (NIV)
Sopheara, advocate for the awareness of HIV and AIDS, aspiring doctor — Cambodia
In Phnom Penh, many misconceptions of HIV and AIDS still exist. Eighteen-year-old Sopheara used to scared of the virus. Her family members also thought if they saw someone skinny, that the person had HIV and AIDS. “I did not want to see or get to know an HIV and AIDS-afflicted person. I was afraid I might get infected even by talking to and being near them.”
Through World Vision, Sopheara has gained a better understanding about the disease and how she can share what she has learned with her classmates and family. “I am really keen to see a world without HIV and AIDS,” says Sopheara proudly. “I always share with family and friends what I have learned. After learning lots about HIV and AIDS I am able to give more because I am able to advise and educate others, especially my friends, to clearly understand HIV and AIDS.”
An outstanding student, Sopheara dreams of becoming a doctor to cure the sick . “I always advise my siblings and my friends not to go into drugs as the risk is very high. I encourage them to study hard to have a better life.”
Gherson, youth network leader, advocate for peace — Bolivia
Last week in Bolivia, we met Gherson who is the elected representative of Bolivia in an international effort to a create a network of youth influence. As Gherson talked about his own past experiences tangled with alcohol and violence and the Colomi youth network’s desires for their community, he spoke with boldness and with the wisdom of someone twice his age. He talked about his recent experiences attending an international youth conference where a group from Colombia who are negotiators of peace involving 17,000 youth there were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. But what he said will stick in our hearts forever — “We can do the same in Bolivia and work for peace here. We can do many things with peace. It’s my dream to start that here so we can have greater tolerance with youth and children.”
The Colomi community and World Vision established this youth network to empower youth to be a part of the decisions made in their area. It started with 50 youth and has tripled in size to 150 youth from 17 different schools in the last year.
Tsehay, advocate against child abduction — Ethiopia
In Ethiopia, grandmother Mulu became a vocal advocate against child abduction when her granddaughter Tsehay was abducted. Through the help of World Vision, now Mulu and Tseshay are outspoken opponents of child abduction in their community. Tseshay is a fourteen-year-old sponsored child.
Kulsoom, advocate for education — Pakistan
Twelve-year-old Kulsoom lives with her six siblings and parents in a small, one-room house on the bank of Nala Lai, a sewage and rain water canal in the slums of a Pakistani village. In slums like this one, most street children work as scrap collectors, domestic workers or beggars in order to earn a small amount of money to contribute to the meager household income.
“I grew up in these slums and know what issues are faced by these children and their families in sending them to school. That’s why I feel I have a moral responsibility to help these children in getting them to school for an education,” says Kulsoom. Kulsoom has motivated and helped to enroll seven girls in the Drop-in-Centre who come from her extended family and group of friends. These girls have left begging, scrap collecting and domestic work to receive informal education and participate in other activities at the Centre supported by World Vision.
Eric, president of the Child Parliament, advocate for child’s rights — Democratic Republic of Congo
Eric is the elected president of the Child Parliament of Beni where he leads a diverse group of children made up of former or current child soldiers and formerly abused or trafficked children in advocating for children’s rights. The Child Parliament works to renounce all abuse of children and to take care of the vulnerable and teach kids to become leaders. They have a child protection network they run in local schools that educate teachers and students about international child rights. They also work with the local education ministry and the teachers union to pass the message throughout Beni.
World Vision supports this group of advocates who stand up for the rights of children and fight for the equal treatment towards all children in the area. Their mission involves protection, defense and care — they put pressure on local politicians, create preventative measures to stop abuse, they educate, they organize sporting and cultural events for children so they don’t fall into street violence, war or prostitution.
Manjula, advocate for education — India
Sixteen-year-old Marjula started becoming advocating for youth education when one of her classmates left school to help his parents earn income by working in a plantation. As part of a children’s club in her community, she says, “that made us quite upset. And as a club working for the welfare of fellow children, we decided to do something.”
Now Marjula is a leader in her community helping to bring former school drop-outs back to school. A strong and determined teenage, she regularly advocates against the high dropout rate for children in her community.