While the World Conference on Youth (WCY) has drawn to a close it will be remembered as the largest platform attracting young people from around the world to meet and consult on the Post 2015 Development Agenda, eventually culminating in the Colombo Declaration on Youth. Here the Mirror Magazine speaks to youth delegates Anisha Niyas [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Young thoughts to shape the future


While the World Conference on Youth (WCY) has drawn to a close it will be remembered as the largest platform attracting young people from around the world to meet and consult on the Post 2015 Development Agenda, eventually culminating in the Colombo Declaration on Youth. Here the Mirror Magazine speaks to youth delegates Anisha Niyas and Kavindya Tennekoon, who participatied as a member of the United Nations Youth Advisory Panel and also as a member of Sri Lanka’s national delegation about their WCY experience. 

Scene from the World Youth Conference 2014.

What training did you receive prior to the conference?
Following a consultation on the Zero Draft of the Colombo Declaration, delegates had an official 4-day training at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute. “This gave us the opportunity to get to know the 100 plus Sri Lankan delegates from all parts of the country and it also gave us the necessary skills and knowledge on what the conference themes were to prepare us for all the experiences the conference would bring us,” says Anisha.

Kavindya and her fellow UNYAP team had a comprehensive prior training session with regards to WCY conducted by the UN Country team during their initial orientation where “we got great insights into the objectives of the conference , its operation and also into the status of Sri Lanka with regards to each theme and foundation.”

What were your focus areas?
Anisha: “My main aim at the conference was to first figure out which sessions I felt I could best contribute to. I chose my foundation as Gender Equality and my theme as Realizing Peace, Reconciliation and Ending Violence as I felt that suited my experience best. The next step was to contribute what I felt should be added into our recommendations, while working with a team of delegates whose country situation and experience was different to mine. This process was repeated in both sessions, from which the recommendations which we as a group agreed on were taken across by the negotiators that represented young people into Committee Room A. This was where the intensive negotiations between countries happened on what should be retained and taken out.”

Kavindya. Pic by Navvid Mushin

Kavindya: “My main focus was on Gender Equality and to ensure that new and innovative solutions were included within the outcome document. One of my main aims was the prioritization of education as a key tool in achieving gender equality and the promotion of gender mainstreaming. I also had my focus on the inclusion of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare education into school curricula plus other issues such as the inclusion of the concept of volunteerism in schools.”
Thoughts on the final draft of the Colombo Declaration on Youth;

“No resolution is perfect and many of our key recommendations-as well as those of some of my colleagues-didn’t make it to the final draft. Nevertheless I am positive; the concerns of the youth were heard, in contrast to the drafting of the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals),” notes Kavindya. “I am truly excited about the new prospects that WCY has opened up in terms of acting as a catalyst in partnering the youth with other national and international decision making processes and entities. My only hope is that our recommendations are not only heard but also implemented.”

At the end of the day what matters is your perseverance, says Anisha. “This document has most of our recommendations on board, bar a few which were struck down (namely LGBTQ rights and Sexual and Reproductive Health rights) because of country sensitivities. I guess at the end of the day you win some, you lose some but you still keep fighting. I do feel the conference achieved its aim as it brought together delegates from across the world who worked hard together to have an impact on this document alongside governments.”

Notes for future improvement;
“Logistics wise, on a personal note I felt that there was a lack of prioritization on the allocation of time and resources where much had gone to the fun flair as opposed to the actual deliberations and compilation of solutions. I felt that during more practical tasks such as food and lodging the disorganization would have been more a result of the lack of expertise and experience on the part of the staff who handled it,” says Kavindya.

Anisha. Pic by Ushan Gunasekara

It wasn’t all about the formalities-friendships were forged and alliances were made over the conference.
“My roommate Dikensa Topi was from Albania and she was the one I connected with the most,” says Anisha. “It was her first time in Asia and although our sessions were completely different, we would always find time to connect throughout the day. After the conference was over I took her around Colombo and she met her first elephant and first temple and took her first tuk tuk ride. I helped her pick out a saree she liked then dressed her in it and also taught her to say Ayubowan. She in return, taught me to not set my alarm at 4am, that it’s okay to put muffins in your bag so you have a snack when you get hungry, taught me a little French and left me with a beautiful piece of advice: always shine your light wherever you go.”

What will you take away from the conference on a personal note?
Kavindya-“I will take back with me the numerous contacts I made and the opportunities for partnerships that were discovered within the course of these days. I came across an array of initiatives that could be benchmarked as a model, for them to be implemented here in our country. On a personal note I was able to get a closer insight into the diversity embedded within the youth of Sri Lanka itself– their drastically different viewpoints, their conflicting goals and work ethics. These rather surprising observations will influence my outlook on various issues for sure.”

I can’t possibly stress more on the importance of a follow up process,” she adds. “I hope that WCY will ensure that the solid goals that were identified are met irrespective of the extent to which the Colombo Declaration is included within the Post- 2015 agenda.”

Anisha-“It’s one thing to see issues on TV but a whole other to actually get first-hand accounts from someone who lives there. I am grateful for that experience. Also, it was inspiring to see the young female delegates from Tunisia and Morrocco take initiative and start a protest inside the BMICH, wanting to draw attention to the plight of the abducted Nigerian school girls by Boko Haram.

This was enough for the word kidnapping of girls to be brought into the declaration as well as for the Nigerian government official to make a speech at the closing ceremony, promising to step up the search.
What this taught me was that you can be as strong and brave as you want to be, if you stand up for what you believe is right and to always have your voice be heard. We live in such a connected age, we should use the tools we have not to post trivial clips but use that platform we have to engage and inspire others and be the change we wish to see in the world!”

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