During the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone and Liberia, I witnessed the power of young people as leaders - and life savers - as they worked around the clock to kick Ebola out of their country. These young humanitarians went door to door, sensitising people on the disease. They identified and reported potential Ebola cases and distributed food and non-food items to families in quarantine.
The young leaders provided psychosocial support to orphans and affected families, and they ensured children’s voices were heard, through radio, blogs, TV and film.
Local leaders are now starting to see young people in a different light and treating them with a new sense of respect; and rightly so. So, as the world’s leaders, humanitarians and affected people prepare for the World Humanitarian Summit in Turkey in May 2016, are they ready to listen young humanitarians too – like those in West Africa?
World leaders need to listen
The World Humanitarian Summit has been initiated by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with the aim “to propose solutions to our most pressing challenges”. It will bring together “governments, humanitarian organisations, people affected by humanitarian crisis and new partners including the private sector”.
The summit has a dedicated Youth Working Group for young people under 30, made up of organisations working with or for children and youth. The working group is responsible for a range of things, including youth policy and advocacy.
At the beginning of September 2015, Qatar will host a dedicated Global Youth Consultation to develop a Global Youth Position which consolidates the views of today’s young humanitarians and the young people affected or concerned about humanitarian crises. As the organisers of the World Humanitarian Summit prepare, they must not underestimate the role of young people in both developing and taking responsibility for the identified solutions.
From working with local leaders in Senegal, to Malala Yousafzai, who inspired young people and world leaders alike during the first-ever UN Youth Take-Over in New York, I have seen the impact passionate young women and men can have.
After the Haiti earthquake in 2010, I saw the potential of young people as they rebuilt safer schools and child-friendly spaces for children and young people to learn and play
Through my work with Plan International, I have witnessed the impact of today’s humanitarian crises on young people – and I’ve seen their potential and determination when faced with the most challenging circumstances.
In South Sudan, I met colleagues who as children had been faced with two options. One: join, fight and kill others. Two: watch their own family get raped and killed. For young people in South Sudan today, death and murder remains inescapable. Those who have fled the current conflict are left without any employment or education opportunities to build their future. And still they find ways to stay strong in spirit and keep looking for solutions.
After the Haiti earthquake in 2010, I saw the potential of young people as they rebuilt safer schools and child-friendly spaces for children and young people to learn and play. They encouraged children and young people to come together through football, creating teams in the camps for displaced people, so they could overcome the horrors of the devastating earthquake.
Harness the power of youth
I am constantly left humbled, shocked, overwhelmed and inspired by the strength, determination and passion shown by the young people I have met.
As the World Humanitarian Summit draws nearer, leaders must continue to listen to young humanitarians and encourage them to make their voices heard. They must work with young people and together we can ensure that the priorities and proposals of young people are included, and that today’s young humanitarians are given the tools needed to have these solutions actually take place.
A peaceful, equal, sustainable and just future is possible. Today’s young people are ready. Are today’s leaders willing to listen and act together with us?