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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2646

Sri Lankan Rhadeena de Alwis, one of the teenagers, who voiced generation concerns at World Economic Forum

By Walter Jayawardhana

Rhadeena De AlwisRhadeena De AlwisSix young teenage activists including Sri Lanka’s Rhadeena De Alwis represented the voice of a generation when they sent a powerful message to world leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos , January 24 organizers of the event said.

They discussed their concerns and hopes of today’s youth with acclaimed British actress Emma Thompson and former UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata.

The news comes in the light of a recent global survey conducted by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the British Council to research the international outlook of young people aged between 11-16 years old. When asked what are the biggest issues facing the world today, they responded by saying that terrorism was their biggest concern with 44 per cent of votes followed by national/international conflict (39%), climate change (33%), poverty (33%), drug abuse (24%), famine (23%), AIDS/HIV (22%), crime (22%), health (12%), population growth (8%) and religious fundamentalism polling 8 per cent.

Significantly, 85 per cent of respondents’ felt that it was important for leaders of countries to do more to build friendly relations with other countries whilst more than half went out of their way to understand current events in the world.

‘I am 18 years of age and I work,” said the Sri Lankan representative, Radheena De Alwis, “with street and slum children on the outskirts of Colombo.”

She said these children are marginalized by society and have low self confidence. “This is why I choose to spend my time with them, giving them the confidence they need to branch out into society and carry on with their education. I believe that young people have to put themselves out in the rain and face the thunder if they intend to make a difference and that is why I do what I do,” she further added.

The Davos Six took part in a major session - Future Shifts: The Voice of the Next Generation – at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in the Congress Centre (Senada 1&2), January 24 . Chaired by Becky Anderson of CNN International, actress Emma Thompson and the former UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata also took part in the panel discussion, the British Council, who organized their participation in the World Economic Forum, said.

The six youth activists were selected by more than fifty of their peers aged between 16 to 19 years-old from over 40 countries worldwide during a week of workshops in Guildford, UK, to represent their views at the World Economic Forum as part of the pioneering British Council initiative The Road to Davos.

The young delegates took their recommendations to Davos, Switzerland, to make a challenge to world leaders on global issues such as climate change, education, intercultural conflict and the devastating impact of poverty.

The initiative is devised by the UK’s international body for cultural relations, the British Council, in partnership with the World Economic Forum aimed at giving a voice to the views of the younger generation for solutions to global issues and their vision for the future. The Davos Six are the youngest ever delegates at the high profile event.

Chief Executive of the British Council, Martin Davidson, said: ‘Young people around the world are making amazing personal contributions in politics, in climate change, in social activities. We, and the World Economic Forum, want to give them an opportunity to challenge the worlds’ leaders on a range of issues. The youth of the world are not only passive recipients of education or passive consumers; they want to take responsibility into their own hands. The issues discussed at Davos are global issues that concern them as much as the world leaders’.

“I am 19 years old. I work with young people, aged 13-19”, said Gillion Bosman of South Africa, “in poor communities in and around Cape Town. We focus on issues of identity and human rights, using the arts as an educational and relevant yet fun methodology. I focus specifically on South Africa's history and the struggle for identity.’

Nick Henderson of Scotland said,” I am 19 years old and grew up in Glasgow. The group I work for, Youth End Poverty (YEP) Dundee, seeks out the most marginalised young people in society, those that cannot access services because of the barriers of poverty. We feel strongly about ensuring that those who face multiple barriers, young poor people who may be lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, HIV+ or sexually exploited, have the same opportunity to hope that other young people have.”

‘I am 16 years old. My activism is found both inside and outside school. We go twice or three times a year to different and humble schools and communities and our main focus is that of raising awareness of the value of education. At the same time,” said Juan Nascimbene of Argentina, “ I have an independent group which involves the setting up of a library and community forum in a shelter home to provide a space for young people to interact and share ideas. I believe that the voice of youth should be heard, not only because we represent the future but because we can produce a transformation in our present society.”

The following are two more statements from the other two participants

Whitney Burton from the USA

‘I'm an 18 year old university student at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia and I’m from Houston, Texas. I started an initiative at my high school called 'Building Futures' to raise money to build a school in Sierra Leone. We also worked to empower youth to understand their power to make a positive difference in the world. I now work for a charity called 'Free the Children', the largest network of children helping children through education, helping young people get involved in global issues.’

Yunan Jin from China

‘I am 17 years old and come from Beijing. I focus my activism on environmental issues, especially on climate change. I started out 4 years ago when I initiated a program called 'A Tree a Day' in which volunteers head to Inner Mongolia for 2 weeks every year and every person plants 365 trees during that period. 20,000 trees have already been planted, covering approx 1 square kilometre. I've focused on promoting climate awareness in my school and community through lectures and documentary showings. I founded www.sco2.cn, a website that aims to help people develop eco friendly lifestyles. I also hold 3 patents in the field of biomass briquettes and IC enzymes.’

- Asian Tribune -

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