“This is not a conference about the U.S., Europe, Africa, or any one country or region. It's a conference for all young people, and we need to fight for solutions that will result in progress for youth in every corner of the world.” -- Blair Brettschneider
“There is hope as long as we are willing to spend enough time with one another to realize that beyond any difference, we are all human beings seeking the same things.” -- Andrew Leon Hanna
Blair and Andrew were the two U.S. Representatives to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Youth Forum, which convened in Paris, October 17-20. Over four days, they met and worked with 245 youth from over 100 countries to offer UNESCO new recommendations on empowering youth and improving its work in education, science, culture, and communication.
This year, their discussions centered on "How Youth Drive Change." A quick survey of the other delegates shows how the youth representatives were already making change in their community. They had a range of passions -- from climate change and the environment to LGBT rights and gender equality -- but two things were constant: they all believed in the power of youth to create a better tomorrow, and they felt a commonality with the youth from around the world.
Blair wrote: "Once you have graduated from college (as I have), it becomes more difficult to find groups of people who share your interests, especially when you move to a new city (another thing I have done; I moved to Chicago in 2010). These past few days, I have been surrounded by other young people from all over the world. The delegates here are diverse, but they are all passionate about something. It's inspiring to be surrounded by so many other young men and women who are committed to changing the world for the better. With everything going on in the United States and around the world, this is such an exciting time, and I'm so proud to feel part of a generation that is dedicated to positive change."
The forum was an opportunity for the participants to become more effective changemakers. UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Forest Whitaker led a discussion with the youth representatives and UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova on the power of conflict resolution. On subsequent days, Whitaker brought together youth from countries with a history of conflict to teach them practical peace-building skills.
One of the major themes of the forum was that youth need more opportunities to engage in policy discussions on topics that matter to them. As Andrew wrote last week, "It is time to stop assuming and start listening to our world's youth."
October 24 marks United Nations Day. On United Nations Day, the United States joins 192 fellow member states in celebrating the founding ideals of the UN Charter.