Building a more resilient and collaborative world: the power of youth as global change actors

Before crossing the Pacific Ocean, I already knew this would probably be one of the most challenging-but-rewarding experiences of my life. Only upon my return to Oregon did I realize how greatly the event had allowed me to grow, to be inspired by and motivated toward positive actions by learning with other 200 youth from more than 35 countries around the planet. Without the generous support of the Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon, it would not have been possible.

The Government of Japan, in cooperation with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and as secretariat of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction hosted the conference brilliantly. The third WCDRR reviewed the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action and adopted a successful framework for disaster risk reduction. As a student from a third world country, I have been shaped by the effects of natural disasters since I was a kid. In 1999, my family lost almost everything in a flood that took place during the summertime in my hometown, Atibaia, São Paulo, Brazil. In recent months, several states in Brazil have been suffering from the effects of drought, as well as the lack of urbanization in so-called favelas (slums). Unfortunately, it is still the reality of many people around the world, as I learned from other delegates from the Phillipines, Indonesia, Malasya, Uganda, India, and many other countries.

In all of the workshops and panels I attended, as well as the experience I acquired as part of the Media Stream team, I learned techniques to better approach youth in my home country and other communities around the world even as a student living in Oregon. Our hope was to inspire the youth and show the world that young people have what it takes to be agents of change. We made the case for increased attention to the wider issues of vulnerability, inclusion, and empowerment. Attention to these issues is needed to assist policy-makers and international agencies. As exposed in the “Equity and Inclusion in DRR: Building Resilience for All” report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), published in November 2014, some important points to consider are: 1) Marginalized groups are more likely to suffer from disasters; 2) Disasters exacerbate vulnerabilities and social inequalities; 3) Vulnerable groups tend to be excluded from DRR decision-making, thus making them even more vulnerable to the impacts of disasters; and 4) Vulnerable groups should be included in DRR as active agents of change to effectively and equitably build resilience.

Oftentimes people in the developing world do not have a very positive perspective on change, but my experience in Japan has proven to me that the opposite might also be true. I have had the immense pleasure of meeting people of all different ages, ethnicities, countries, careers, areas of knowledge, and economic levels. Despite their differences, they managed to gather all their energy toward a point that everyone has in common: the real commitment to making the world a better place; the ones that we can trust our present and future in.

I was particularly moved when a delegate from Japan gave a talk on the effects of the Great East Japan Earthquake; she suddenly froze on stage and stopped talking, frightened. Her reaction was due to the horrible effects that March 11, 2011 had and will always have upon her family and loved ones. At that moment, she just could not speak English any longer, but it was no longer necessary– as humans, everyone understood the feeling she was trying to convey and the lesson we all as youth should learn from the Japanese resilience in overcoming problems. Japan is definitely a model for setting actions with its remarkable organization, preparedness, politeness, and wisdom.

A great part of the incredible experience I had in Japan had to do with my chance to talk to world leaders. During the conference, I had the privilege of meeting in person with the First Lady of Japan, Her Excellency Mrs. Akie Abe—who is one of the most important figures in Japan nowadays and a powerful voice for minorities, such as LGBT communities. After greeting her and saying I was from Brazil, she looked at me, gave me a huge smile and just said: “Wow, so far away.” I also met Dr. Judy, who is a world renowned figure and frequent commentator on international media—including CNN—on various news issues, despite being professor at Columbia University Teachers College. I was very inspired by her wonderful attitude toward using motivational psychology with affected people in the Middle East. Another surprise was to meet with Her Royal Highness Princess Margriet of Netherlands; she gave the audience an inspiring speech on the power of youth around the world. I also had the privilege of attending lunch with a minister from Brazil and other parts of the Brazilian delegation. Another pleasure was to meet and talk with the UN Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi, who highlighted that “youth are capable of meaningful participation in global processes.”

One of the most memorable moments is when I shook hands with a very humble person whom I have always had a sense of admiration for. I was extremely surprised because I had not really expected the day that I would be able to meet with the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. I sat about 3 meters away from him, and I cannot describe the feeling I had when he came in and greeted me and shook my hand. In his address, the Secretary General acknowledged the importance of tackling intolerance, inequity, marginalization, insecurity, and extremism, giving a special mention to groups of women, youth, indigenous people, and refugees. Urging us to unify and contribute meaningfully, children and youth were invited to work together to create a resilient tomorrow.

The Secreatry General concluded his speech by sending a clear message:

“I am asking you to raise your voices and try to cultivate your vision. As global citizens you are coming from many different countries. Geography and boundaries should not mean anything at these times. I am asking you to raise your vision beyond your national boundaries, and by doing this you are having the basic attitude of a global citizen. To be a global citizen, this is your task.’’

It has been an absolute honor to work with other youth from all corners of the world and to have had this wonderful opportunity to work toward the goal of being a global citizen thanks to the generous support from the Clark Honors College. I will always be very humbled by this to be a part of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015) and the amazing group of people referred to as the UN Major Group for Children and Youth (MGCY). Sendai was just the beginning and the action starts now.