International Youth Day: we have the power to change millions of lives

A World at School

Last week I was emailing back and forth with our web editor to see what A World at School should do for International Youth Day as far as a blog. He asked if I could write something. It could be whatever I wanted but perhaps it should be something fun and energetic, even cheeky. I loved the idea.

Then, two days ago, I had the honour of interviewing one of our Global Youth Ambassadors, Mohamed, for part of September’s #UpForSchool Town Hall event in New York.

Mohamed told us of his “childhood” in Sierra Leone: captured when he was five and forced to do unthinkable things, witnessing the worst of humanity for four and a half years.

After listening to his story for over an hour I headed home and tried to read a book I’ve just started and can’t put down. But I kept thinking back to Mohamed and what to write about International Youth Day.

Madeline Serena with Evelin Weber, Philippines Ambassador for #UpForSchool 

Education is a serious issue and, while a fun article may get more readers, I feel it would be an injustice to make light of something for which millions of children die or risk their lives to achieve.

During the interview Mohamed kept repeating: “My story’s not isolated to me.” He continued, “You and I are not that different, just different opportunities we were given in our lifetimes.”

What struck me the most about this is its truth. Tens of millions of children, like him, simply do not have a youth. They are forced to deal with incredibly adult issues, like war, forced marriage, bearing children, at an age when they should be playing hide and seek and going to school to learn with their peers.

Last year I asked our youth to write their thoughts on education. Some of them below are just a small portion, all of which are backed up by action every single day. Our GYAs have been standing up for those whose daily lives don’t involve school (or anything “normal” for that matter) for years – but this is the perfect time to reflect on what education means to them and some of the incredible things they are doing to make it a global priority.

GYA Joy Tiku Enighe visits orphans in Nigeria

Today is International Youth Day, set up by the United Nations to improve the situation of young people around the world. The World Programme of Action for Youth was created with 15 priority areas, the first being education. 

Mohamed’s experience has taught him that “you can give a man the world and that world could crumble. But if you give that man or woman an education, they can build their world. Education is a tool which bridges the gap between the fortunate and the not so fortunate”.

I’m sure all of our Global Youth Ambassadors have a similar view. Anders from the United States believes that: “Education opens up a world of opportunities. School has the ability to empower, energise and guide the next generations. Every child should have the opportunity and right to experience the wonders of it.”

Education is a fundamental human right which 59 million children are being denied. Educating them has the capacity to improve not just their life but the lives of every person in their community. “It only takes one child to change a village,” as GYA Murendeni from South Africa wrote.

GYA Majid Mushtaq visits a school in Pakistan

When people are educated, they will not accept other rights violations relating to health, discrimination, gender, even war and conflict. Two of our Pakistani GYAs articulate this beautifully.

“Education elevates and refines a person to the heights of humanity and to emancipate everyone from the shackles of ignorance,” says Anum. Umar believes that “it is impossible to achieve the goal of a terrorism- and extremism-free world without the weapon of education.”

On this International Youth Day, I hope the world realises our power to create change. We are the largest demographic in the world right now and we are going to use this to our advantage by challenging old systems, calling out world leaders who make empty promises and standing up for the rights of children who cannot speak for themselves. 

This year’s theme is youth civic engagement, particularly through online means. Over the past year our GYAs have held hundreds of events in dozens of country, impacting the lives of thousands and influencing education policies. They have also collected over one million signatures for the #UpForSchool Petition, further challenging the world leaders to uphold their commitment to education.

Read inspiring blogs by our Global Youth Ambassadors.

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