AUTHOR: RITHIKA NETI
By the time I wake up every morning, there will be 7,200 more people displaced from their homes. 7,200 more people forced to suffer and find their way through war zones, struck by disaster.
Last year after attending the Youth Assembly at the United Nations which focused on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), I was mesmerized by the power that the youth could have in changing the world as we know it. I talked about how my experience at the Youth Assembly gave me the opportunity to become a stronger global advocate. This time, I’ve noticed how strong we all are as powerful proponents of justice, combined with our experiences and backgrounds.
Today, I implore all youth to pool our collective assets to take a stand for others’ rights. Today, I see around me the impact of youth who have started non-profits, volunteered in their communities, talked to their politicians, and spread their message. Today, I share with you the knowledge that I have gained in hopes that you join the campaign of accomplishing the 17 SDGs. At the Youth Assembly, I recognized how so many stories and sessions leave a large palette of options on what to dedicate resources to. Here are my three most memorable, personal and life-changing experiences.
Refugees are NOT Just a Number
40% of Europeans believe refugees are their biggest threat. The first thing I heard that shook me to the core was that every minute 24 people become refugees. What does that mean? It means that every hour there are 1440 people displaced from their homes fleeing from persecution and violence. Refugees have become this partisan political issue stuck in the cross-winds of globalization and isolationism. The experiences and stories of refugees are more often overshadowed by the new shocking statistic or national security threat. The “buzz words” of ISIS or radicals eclipse the fact that Afghanistan has had a refugee crisis for 18 years, Somalia for 25 years, and of course, South Sudan and Syria.
Refugees are real people and that cannot be absorbed in the way of any other cliché statement. Refugees are the children that are afraid of going to school because back home they saw their classmates being blown to pieces. Refugees are the mothers who have lost their sons in battles. Refugees are the ordinary people immigrating in search of a better life and a better future for their kids. In America, we constantly idolize about the benefits of the American Dream and assisting everyone from the poor, the sick, and the needy. Countries’ moral actions speak louder than words. When 85% of refugees are hosted by poor countries, it is apparent of the others missteps and disregard for providing basic human necessity. Imagine yourself as a refugee fleeing from the constant threat of bombs every day. Wouldn’t you want someone to open their hearts to you?
Power Differentials Exist in Our Society
A 29-year-old HIV-positive pregnant woman. That is everything that was written on my tiny white index card passed to me by the BRAC Foundation. As conference room 11 – a room where some of the world’s most vital decisions are made – was currently filled by 130 youth between the ages of 16 and 28, we were asked to imagine ourselves in the shoes of the person on our card. While the BRAC representatives read off statements, we would need to step forward if the statement held true for the person on our card. The questions were related to whether or not this person would have a steady income or proper housing and food. When reading this card, I thought of what someone from my town would have access to under these circumstances, which included treatment options and safe delivery of her child, so I continuously took steps forward in response to the various statements. At the end of the activity during the discussion, I found someone who had the same card as me except they had barely taken any steps forward. Unlike me, imagining my privileged town, the other delegate with the same card thought about it in the perspective of her home village in Nigeria. In her village, women do not have jobs, sanitation, doctors, or even respect for their basic privacy and dignity. Today, I carry that card with me wherever I go because it is a representation of what all of us should be fighting for.
The Environment and Poverty are Related
Climate change is related to poverty. 2.6 billion people are dependent on the environment for basic survival, so the more we disregard the state of our planet, the more we hurt our fellow global citizens. Impoverished people suffer the most by climate change, represented by the fact that 80% of electronic waste ends up in developing countries, or that countries that emit less carbon dioxide suffer the most from natural disasters and climate-related harms. Going into the assembly, I never recognized how blessed I was to live in the environment that I do, but now I work to demand that power and resources be shared. We serve as navigators to people in our community, inspiring change, building energy, and defending human rights.
While these examples are by no means a comprehensive list of what I gained from the Assembly, they are a sample of what inspires me. The SDGs have made up the backbone of what we should pursue, the building blocks for the future direction for the global youth. My journey to find myself was structured by the 17 goals and the Youth Assembly at the UN. I’ve decided to conclude this in a similar way as my previous article. All around us, there will be negativity, there will be hate, and there will be a discouragement. We have no control over what affects us in life, but what we do know best is the needs and visions of our communities. While we may pride ourselves on nationalism and patriotism, the underlying fact is that we are all humans, and inherently, we should not let each other down.
*This post was originally published in The Huffington Post on October 18, 2017. You can find the original post here.