10 Years After: Meet Yvonne
I attended UNGASS as a member of the Kenyan Government delegation 10 years ago. I don’t think I fully grasped the impact of that opportunity at the time. It was the first time the Kenyan government had ever taken on any children on their delegation for any negotiations. I was terribly excited, particularly because they really made me feel like a valuable and significant part of the team despite my age.
I was around 13 at the time and UNGASS was my second opportunity to be in New York as I had already attended the preparatory session the previous year. My family was incredibly supportive, in light of their slight nervousness at me being away from home without them for almost two weeks! I had been involved with a number of initiatives leading up to UNGASS, including organizing events catered to engaging young people in dialogue with policy makers, written several published articles, edited youth publications and hosted a television program that featured young people who were doing great things around the country. I was and still am, very passionate about the engagement of young people and the power of our contribution when given a chance. Being invited to UNGASS and as a government delegate nonetheless was a blessing! I had so much to share, so much I still wanted to learn and I knew that UNGASS would be a phenomenal chance to express that power of our contribution.
I must say, I came in with high expectations. I was asked to chair a number of side events prior to the event and even to participate in a dialogue with Nelson Mandela. My only concern was the quality of my contribution and participation, I was worried that UNGASS would give young people several opportunities to be seen as being heard, but I wasn’t convinced that anything we said would be taken seriously or would motivate immediate action. While I appreciated the opportunities to attend and participate in the main meetings with the adults, it was the meeting held concurrently for the children that was a highlight for me. We were having conversations and expressing concerns that were the same despite the fact that we all represented different countries! Another great thing is the young people’s meeting was completely void of political affiliations and values, we knew what was best for us and for our futures and we expressed that without fear of political limitations. To this day, I remain in close contact with several of the young people I met during UNGASS. In fact, our advocacy work has on several occasions crossed paths and we are considering how to partner on some key projects in the coming years.
Furthermore, I am pleased to note that a lot has changed in Kenya in the past 10 years. For one, the advocacy work of many prior to and after UNGASS eventually led to the provision of free basic education for all children. In the media and civil society, the participation of young people is visibly even more prevalent. The voice of young people has become a lot louder, less of an obligation and more of a necessity in understanding long term development.