Young people as agents of change

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© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-0223/LeMoyne
On 1 February 2011 in Egypt, adolescent girls and young women demande political change, taking part in a mass public demonstration in Tahrir Square in Cairo.

By Anna Azaryeva

NEW YORK, USA, 25 February 2011 – This week UNICEF launches the State of the World’s Children Report. This year’s report entitled Adolescence. An Age of Opportunity focuses on the 1.2 billion young people around the world aged ten to nineteen. The vast majority of them live in developing countries and face a unique set of challenges and opportunities.

Podcast moderator Amy Costello discussed with two adolescents who have contributed essays to this year’s State of the World’s Children Report how education can empower young people to realize their full potential and contribute to development of their societies.

Listen to the Podcast in Streaming MP3 format

Young people face a unique set of challenges

Syed Aown Shahzad, 17 year old youth activist from Lahore, Pakistan, has been a vocal advocate for the need for young people to protect the environment. He contributed an essay to the State of the World’s Children report, about the impact of climate change on children living in developing nations. Aown said that in Pakistan, many young people still lack access to the basic education facilities and are largely unaware of causes and effects of climate change and yet are experiencing its consequences. “The floods have impacted the whole country,” said Aown. “Hundreds of schools in Pakistan have been completely wiped out”. The remaining schools are now used as shelters and warehouses to store supplies, which drastically impacts the children of Pakistan, explained Aown.

Saeda Almatari, a 17 year old high school student from Jordan, has been living in the United States for the past five years. Saeda’s contribution to this year’s State of the World’s Children report focused on images of women in the media. “Girls need someone to listen to them, and to teach them about the importance of getting a diploma and a career”, said Saeda.

Education helps young people become agents of change

Over the last weeks, young people have played an important role in protests that have been sweeping through the Middle East and other parts of the world. “Young people are working for their future,” said Saeda. “They are changing their own lives and everyone else’s lives.”

Aown said that that his own education, in particular his study abroad in the United States, has been an extraordinary experience that has broadened his horizons. ‘It has definitely accentuated my potential as a change maker’, stressed Aown. “I want to bring more awareness not only in terms of educating the youth but also empowering the youth and getting proper representation in the government of Pakistan.”

Young people need to play a key role in shaping the future of their nations and communities and yet they are often excluded from the decision making processes. “In Pakistan, 62 per cent of population is under the age of 30, but they are immensely underrepresented,” said Aown. “We need to work with our government and our current leaders to facilitate our cause.”

“Education has definitely impacted my life greatly. Growing up in Jordan, I was privileged to get to go to school”, said Saeda. “I think education definitely prepares everyone for the future.”

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