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Jessica Cannizzaro is interning with the U.S. Fund for UNICEF's Editorial and Creative Services Department.
As a young person in the world today, I'm well aware of the challenges youth face in order to make our voices heard. But young people must be able to join in global conversations. When we have a voice, we are empowered to create real change within our communities.
I will always be thankful for the first opportunity I was given to find my voice and create change by singing with The Young People's Chorus of New York City. The chorus seeks to bring children of all backgrounds together to create community through artistic excellence. As we traveled and sang around the world, I witnessed something incredible: when young people have a forum to express themselves, they gain a belief in their abilities, and a chance to lead.
I think back to one moment when traveling with the chorus to Japan. We were being hosted by a children's chorus whom we sang with at the Hiroshima Peace Park, just days away from the sixtieth anniversary of the atomic bombing. And though we spoke different languages and came from different cultures, we were all singing the same message of peace and understanding. As I sang and looked into the audience, I realized that no matter how old you are, when you make your voice heard, people do listen. Recently, at a UN Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Geneva, three young adults were invited to lead and make their own voices heard. The UN Global Platform provided an amazing opportunity for these youths to join in the conversation, and the extraordinary young adults André and Tricia, both 14 from the Philippines, and Johnson, 17, from Kenya rose to the occasion. They had been nominated by their communities to speak because they were already active and vocal about disaster relief issues.
The auditorium was filled with government and community leaders from around the world. Yet as André, Tricia and Johnson are well aware, it is young people who make up over half the population in the countries affected most by climate change. It is young people who are prevented from continuing their education when school buildings are destroyed by storms and floods. And it is young people whose voices must be part of the conversation about issues impacting our futures.
André, Tricia and Johnson launched an exciting new five-point Children's Charter⎯based on feedback from over 600 children in 21 countries⎯that they asked Global Platform participants to sign and support. The Charter states⎯among other things⎯that child protection must be a priority before, during and after a disaster; relief and reconstruction must help reduce future risk; and disaster risk reduction should target those most vulnerable.
The voices of children affected by disasters and climate change around the world have been heard loud and clear. And UNICEF and its partners are working to ensure it stays that way.
We must always think globally, talk globally, and give every citizen⎯regardless of age⎯a place at the table. We cannot wait until tomorrow to give young people the chance to lead⎯we must provide them with the opportunities today. Remember: when you make your voice heard, the world will always listen.
Originally posted on The U.S. Fund for UNICEF website:
Photo Credit: ©UNICEF Switzerland/2011/Tidey
Photo Caption: At the UN Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Geneva (from left): Johnson, 17, Tricia, 14, and André, 14.