August 11, 2017

International Youth Day: the schoolboy bidding to become a US governor - and other inspiring young leaders

Jack Bergeson is a Kansas high school student running for governor

Ewan Watt

Online Editor, Theirworld

On the eve of International Youth Day, we look at some of the inspiring and talented young people who have been elected to political office around the world.

There are more young people around today than at any point in history - 1.2 billion of them between the ages of 15 and 24.

While many youth are running their own technology and other businesses, positions of political leadership, particularly at state and national government level, seemed to be beyond their grasp.

But that seems to be changing. More and more young people are getting into elected positions in the hope that they can bring about change in their communities.

One of them is Jack Bergeson. At the age of 16, the high school student hit the headlines in the United States this week with his campaign to become governor of the state of Kansas.

Ayesha Gulalai Wazir was elected to the National Assembly of Pakistan

"One of the major things I want is to get kids involved in politics," Bergeson told TV talk show host Jimmy Kimmel in a live video link from his bedroom at his parents' house in Wichita. 

His running mate is fellow student Alexander Cline and among their campaign promises is a pay rise for school teachers. If they get elected, they will have to combine their duties with their final year of high school studies.

On the eve of International Youth Day, we celebrate some of the other young people who have made their political mark.

University student John Paul Mwirigi has just won a seat in the Kenyan parliament at the age of 23.

John Paul Mwirigi is the 23-year-old MP for Igembe South


He beat the general election challenge of experienced politicians to take the Igembe South seat as an independent candidate after an extensive door-to-door campaign.

John Paul, who is studying for a degree in education, said: “I have held leadership positions in school and in my neighbourhood."

He added that his dream to be in parliament started when he was at school.

Proscovia Oromait became a Ugandan MP at the age of 20 and served from 2011 to 2016. She was described as probably the youngest member of parliament in African history.

Proscovia Oromait is a Ugandan university student and politician

When her MP father died, Proscovia contested his seat and won. She then combined her political career with studying journalism at university. 

At the time she said: "There is stress. The challenge is balancing the schoolbooks and the parliament."

In 2013, Ayesha Gulalai, 26, became the country’s first tribal woman to be elected to Pakistan’s National Assembly.

Last week she resigned from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf political party she represented - citing corruption and misogyny.

Jewell Jones is an American politician from the state of Michigan

At 21, Jewell Jones became the youngest member to be elected to the Michigan State of Representatives last year.

He had previously been elected to a city council seat while still a 20-year-old student at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

Jewell said: "We have direct access to the younger crowd who feel their voices aren't being heard and we want to get their messages across."

A university student is likely to become Australia's youngest senator after the resignation of a politician he calls his "mentor".

Jordon Steele-John is an Australian disability rights advocate and politician

Jordon Steele-John, 22, has agreed to replace Scott Ludlam in the Senate for the left-wing Greens party.

In Canada, 21-year-old Darian Baskatawang is hoping to be elected as chief of the Whitesand First Nation in October. 

He said: “Growing up, I was always told go and get an education. ‘Don’t come back, there’s nothing for you.' Five years later, I’ve got a degree, I’ve done a lot, and I feel like I’m ready to go back and start giving back.”

Pierre-Luc Dusseault is only 23. But he's already been a Canadian MP for four years - stopping his university studies to become a full-time politician.

Darian Baskatawang, 21, is running for chief of Whitesand First Nation

When he was elected, he said: "It's clear that youth will be important for me, to be, if you like, the representative of all Canadian youth. That will cover education."

Anton Amade Abele from Sweden was even younger when he became an MP. Aged 18, he became an anti-violence campaigner and was an MP from 2010 to 2014.

In the United Kingdom, university student Mhairi Black became the youngest MP for 250 years when she was elected at the age of 20 in 2015. She was re-elected at the general election earlier this year.

During that campaign, she warned that Britain "risks losing the voice of a generation" if young people failed to register to vote.

Mhairi Black is a Scottish MP who was elected at just 20 years old

But Black still has some way to go to equal the extraordinary feat of William Pitt the Younger. He became British prime minister in 1783 - at the age of 24.

Theirworld's Global Youth Ambassadors may not hold key political positions - but our network of inspiring young activists from more than 80 countries are helping to bring about change in their communities.

To mark International Youth Day, we looked at some of the ways they are working to achieve the 2017 theme of peace-building.

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