October 13, 2017

"Sharing my story at the One Young World Summit was a life-changing experience"

Ousmane Ba addresses the summit in Bogota, Colombia

Ousmane Ba

Global Youth Ambassador from Sierra Leone

Ousmane Ba, a Theirworld Global Youth Ambassador, told about his work to advance peace and girls' education at the gathering of young campaigners in Colombia.

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to attend the One Young World Summit. The summit itself was not foreign to me but I never really thought about it until recently, when my friend suggested that I attend. 

Without hesitation, I decided to give it a try.

Founded in 2009, by Kate Robertson and David Jones, One Young World is a UK-based organisation that brings thousands of young leaders to share their stories, debate and engage with world leaders on the most pressing issues of our time. 

In partnership with governments, NGOs, social institutions and universities, One Young Summit is held every year in a different country.

This year’s summit was held in Bogota, Colombia, and the overarching theme was peace and reconciliation. 

We received a warm welcome from the President and the Colombian people. The summit was opened in the heart of Bogotá, in Simón Bolívar Plaza - a place where the peace deal that declared Colombia a conflict-free country was struck by President Juan Manuel Santos. 

Ousmane meets former UN Secretary-General Koffi Anan

Young people from different countries, different cultures, dressed in their traditional clothes, gathered and proudly waved their country's flag to open the summit. I must say I was proud to wave the flag of my country. 

It was the first time I felt that, no matter what happened or the experiences I have been through, my country has always supported me.

In the following days, we went to sessions and workshops, and heard from prominent figures such as Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel Laureate. He spoke of his social business model and his 3-0 goals to create society free of poverty, unemployment and carbon emission. 

Koffi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, emphasised his famous quote: “You are not too young to lead and not too old to learn.” 

President Santos stressed that peace can only be sustained when the youth are included in the nation-building process.

I spoke in some of the panels, stressing the needs for girls' education and women's empowerment. But the life-changing moment came by when I was given the main stage to address thousands of young leaders present at the summit. 

In his speech, he told about his work to advance peace and girls' education

When the opportunity was first proposed to me, I was reluctant to make use of it. I have never wanted to share my story - but, with the support and advice from loved ones, I decided to accept the challenge.

During rehearsals, I found it difficult to proceed with the speech. Honestly, I almost gave up.  The words of encouragement I received - from a simple text from a friend to talking to Kofi Annan and Lord Michael Hastings, my counsellor - were invaluable.

Sharing a stage with Koffi Annan, President Santos and the UN Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake, I delivered my speech about my work to advance peace and girls' education. 

In this setting I proudly declared to the world that I am a feminist and I believe in girls’ education and women’s empowerment!

I emphasised in the closing: “If we are not too young to be soldiers or victims of conflict, we are not too young to be part of a peace resolution, a peace that will last.” 

After my speech, I felt that my mind was completely free. I had told the world my story, my beliefs and principles. This made me a free man. 

Ousmane with other delegates at the One Young World Summit

It was truly amazing to be among the likes of Koffi Annan, nobel laureates and Jayatmha Wickramanayake, who told me she was moved and inspired by my speech. 

However, bonding with my fellow delegate speakers, whose incredible stories I could not even begin to fully appreciate, was really the best part for me.

I was also awarded the Resolution Project Award for my leadership in fighting for girls'
education through my project, the Girl Child Project. 

I recently established this project to raise awareness about girls’ education and provide ways for girls to go to school in Guinea. 

As part of this award I will receive both funding for my project and a fellowship. Receiving this award was important for me, as it means that I will be able to send more girls to school through the Girl Child Project.

I am yet to fully come to terms with my time at the One Young World Summit. It was a whirlwind of experiences. There is a lot to sink in, a lot to absorb, a lot to do. I guess I will just try to take a break for now. 

But there is no doubt that the One Young World Summit was a life-changing experience.

Wait, there is no time to relax - I have to send girls to school in Guinea!

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