by Mia Jamili
NEW YORK – Last Friday, July 12, marked the first ever Malala Day at the United Nations Headquarters and I along with three of my fellow GCE-US advocates had the privilege of serving as youth delegates at the event. The experience was nothing short of inspirational. But as representatives of the Global Campaign for Education-US and, primarily, as contributing members of the strengthening youth movement all over the world, inspiration is only a part of what we need to drive ourselves forward. Inspiration needs to be transformed into action, and action requires that we settle for nothing less than immediate, successful results.
What was particularly enlightening about the experience was the active inclusion and necessary engagement of youth from the very start. The ongoing progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals on education really cannot reach its full potential unless it is also placed in the hands of those who will be affected by it most – the future generation, my generation. The youth have much to reflect on, to celebrate, and to hope for after Malala Day. But if there was anything we all discovered throughout this historic UN Youth Takeover, it was that although we still had a long way to go, together we do have the power to bring us closer to the change we seek. Thank you to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Global Education First Initiative team, the Youth Advocacy Group, and the participating global development organizations for helping make this experience possible.
We now have to make sure youth are consistently being empowered, holding leadership roles, and sitting in seats at the decision-making table on all levels of this initiative. I met and spoke with youth who recognized how far they have been able to come because of their privilege and how they have learned to lift others as well, youth who are living proof that one can break from the cycle of poverty after benefitting from a decision they or their family member made to value education above all, youth who choose to spend their free time working tirelessly with their governments and community groups on major issues, and youth who continue to be marginalized yet still desire to give back and stay resilient. The youth have a lot of powerful stories, ideas, and abilities to share; we have just been waiting for more opportunities to do so. Cheers as well to some youth who even already created such opportunities themselves.
Each one of us carries the responsibility of exhibiting the same tenacity as Malala in this movement. Education is a critical force in building a better future for all, and it is a right that unfortunately remains to be denied to millions everywhere. It is time for youth to act, speak up, and be heard, for they will be the ones to inherit our world. It is time that all world leaders step up in mandating equal access to and providing quality education for all. It is time, furthermore, that we as global citizens keep them and ourselves accountable to prioritizing education first.
P.S. In honor of Nelson Mandela International Day, let’s remember his wise words: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”