the youth is the hope of our future: international youth day 2015

Happy International Youth Day! In 1999, the United Nations General Assembly designated today- the 12th of August- as a day dedicated to improving the position of youth in the world, and strengthening our contribution to society. Each year, the day has a specific theme, and this year, it focuses on youth civic engagement- defined as individual or collective actions to identify and address issues of public concern.

Why is it so important that youth contribute to civic engagement and public life? According to the UN Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth, youth civic engagement is key for sustainable development, and the building of resilience and well-being. In my opinion, we are the leaders of tomorrow (as cliche as that may sound), and we've got to focus on learning more about the world that we live in, and figuring out how we can change it for the better. The communities and societies that we grow up and live in shape us into who we are, and there's no reason why we can't make an effort to shape them too.

Already, there have been increasing efforts to incorporate it into the lives of young adults, particularly through after-school activities, or community service programmes in schools. The CAS requirement of the IB Diploma Programme and the Community & Service requirement of the IB Middle Years Programme, in particular, focus on how a student can give back to their community through various forms of service. Most of the young people that I know have, in some way, contributed to addressing or raising awareness about social and political issues that plague our world today. Whether it's through discussing it on an online forum, starting a club to take action, or debating and finding solutions, today's youth are becoming more and more involved in their surrounding communities.

For many, getting involved can be a daunting task, and though we are often being told that we can make a change, it seems difficult to believe that we actually can. After all, the world is a huge place, and it seems as if we can't make a lasting impact, or one that's actually worthwhile. But impacts can be just as powerful on a small scale as on a large one. As I said in my valedictorian speech, if we can make one person smile, we've made an impact just as powerful as if we can make twenty, or even a hundred people smile.

So, how does one go about engaging with their community? Here's a little guide that I drew up:

  1. Identify an issue. Engagement involves finding an issue to tackle- ideally, one that you're passionate about. If you think that education is the key to improving society, focus on education in your local community. If you find yourself passionate about feminism and equality, focus on women's rights. If you choose an issue that you're passionate about, the rest will come easily.
  2. Research the issue. Find out what the issue essentially is, and who it's affecting, particularly in your local community. The more thorough your research, the better, but you still won't be able to figure everything out. You'll learn a lot through the project, and it's important to accept that you won't learn everything about an issue just by reading a book.
  3. Write a mission statement. How do you plan to give back to the community? What do you want to tell people? Do you want to promote women's rights in a particular field, or just in general? And do you want to actively help, or do you simply want to raise awareness? If you can figure out what it is that you want to do, you'll be much more focused. Remember that raising awareness is just as important as taking action, for no action can be taken if people don't know about the problem.
  4. Figure out the best way to engage with your issue and fulfil your mission. Use your talents here! Are you a talented graphic designer? Make posters! If you're a great writer, you could create a blog, or a short story. Combine your passion for the issue with your other passions, and you'll be sure to do a great job. 
  5. Find other people to work with. It's so much easier to start something up if you're working with others, because they provide a great opportunity for you to bounce ideas off one another and distribute the work. There's also a better chance that you'll be able to reach a wider audience. Plus, if you're starting a club in your school, you'll probably need to find a faculty advisor: a teacher who supervises the activity.
If you're stuck for ideas about how you can get involved in your community, the diagram has a few suggestions:

A little diagram I drew up in my Moleskine.

Does youth civic engagement have any drawbacks? The problems arise when individuals are simply undertaking service projects to fill requirements, or to add to their college applications. As John Wooden once said, "don't mistake activity with achievement." It's not enough to simply say that we're doing something; we have to fully commit to the task at hand, and feel strongly and passionately about what we're doing. Only then will we make a real impact.

All in all, one day, we shall inherit this world. Until then, we should work on creating the best future possible, and for that, engagement with civic and social issues is key. As Jose Rizal once said, "the youth is the hope of our future." 

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