To see the original blog please visit the UNICEF UK website here.
I have been involved with UNICEF UK for over three years now, and as many of you know to keep a 19-year-old this interested in anything there has to be some kind of free sweets or consoles involved, but I am genuinely passionate about the issues which affect children and other young people. Most importantly I want to do something about it.
UNICEF UK is one of the main channels in which I feel I can make a difference.
Anita covered a few of the major issues. I would pick out climate change in particular as having the power to mobilise young people. I remember in 2009 I led a march of 50,000 people called ‘The Wave’. I led the march along with another UNICEF member and to my surprise an array of young people wanting to be heard and wanting the government to act. They wanted the UK to be the pioneers in the campaign against climate change at the Copenhagen summit that year. It just showed how crucial and relevant my generation is to the world of international affairs
I wanted to talk about another issue – children not getting enough to eat.
During the Olympics this year I was part of a youth delegation which handed in a joint petition to the Prime Minister at Downing Street calling for action to tackle malnutrition. This was in advance of the Government Hunger Summit on the same day as the Olympic closing ceremony. We were calling for action on stunting in particular. Stunting is a silent crisis which is affecting around 180 million children under the age of five.
When a child doesn’t get the right nutrients in the first 1,000 days of life, the damage done to their brain and body is permanent – it cannot be undone. Meaning it will stay like that for the rest of their life. That child will never learn as much, or earn as much, or do as much as they could have, had they been well-nourished up to their second birthday.
Right now there are 335,000 children suffering from severe malnutrition in West Africa. How could anyone not care about that? For something that could be so easily prevented, it has the ability to wipe out many great minds and leaders of tomorrow.
So we were led into Downing Street by Frank, a young campaigner from Tanzania, carrying the petition to the door. Together with other NGOs’ youth campaigners we represented 650,000 people – including everyone from David Beckham to my next door neighbour!
I handed in more than 16,000 signatories from UNICEF UK’s petition of individual people who wanted something to be done about this 21st century epidemic.
I was surprised when the Prime Minister himself walked out and greeted all of us, congratulating us for such an enormous petition. I replied, telling him that we were really anticipating great outcomes from the Hunger Summit and that this was just the start – hunger should be a priority next year when the UK chairs the G8. It should be at the front of the agenda.
There is enough food in the world to feed everyone. With enough political will, we can end hunger for children everywhere.
Getting more involved
And I have been getting more involved. Not just as a campaigner, but also in the running of UNICEF UK. I head to the Board meetings and contribute to the discussions about the strategic direction of UNICEF UK. I am genially involved and listened to.
I would want to emphasise that children and young people care about the issues. We have a right to be heard – if I can throw an Article of the Convention on the Rights of the Child at you, under Article 12 there is the right for children and young people to express their views on the issues which affect them.
And when you’re engaging us, don’t fall into the trap of saying – as I’ve heard before – that we bring “energy” to the discussion.
There’s no doubt we do, but I would rather that the comments be about our views, intelligence and perspective and how they will be acted upon.
…And don’t forget the messenger
The message is clearly important. But the way it’s communicated is as important. Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook or Google, it’s important that the message reaches children and young people in the way that engages them. Social media can also provide an excellent way to enable young people to get involved.
Digital media is still in its infancy – and I think it’s something that UNICEF UK is getting its head around in terms of its potential. It can be a really powerful way of reaching a wide audience, especially in the UK. I mean just the other day UNICEF international followed me on Twitter and I felt instantly more important and informed. In fact UNICEF UK has just come first out of 300 organisations in the 2012 Social Charity Index in the way it uses digital media.
So on that thought – and in less than 140 characters as required by Twitter – I leave you this:
Involve us, inform us, because we are part of the solution. Alone you can’t do it all. Together we can do something.
UNICEF is the world’s leading organisation for children, working in over 190 countries. They deliver medicine, food and water to save children’s lives. They provide education and protection to transform children’s lives. Find out more at http://www.unicef.org.uk/