Think globally, act locally. When I first heard that phrase, I didn’t think too much about it. It wasn’t until I was invited to speak at a conference on the topic of children's health and aid did I truly grasp the concept of international engagement.
At the beginning of the year, I was invited to be a guest speaker at an Asia-Pacific conference. I woke up on the day and dressed to impress. On my way there, I was relaxed – quite unusual for an event of this magnitude. It wasn’t until I parked and made my way down to the building did it sink in about what I was about to do. As I observed the location, there were individuals of all backgrounds representing nations far and wide.
I was overwhelmed to a degree. I grabbed a coffee from the main lounge and headed towards a corner seat with my speech tucked under my elbow. For the first time in the day, I was feeling a subtle sense of doubt. I was the youngest speaker at the conference, and it was safe to say, I stuck out like a sore thumb. Switching from Instagram to sports news, I tried to pass the time before I started overthinking. But after a few minutes, I found myself staring back at my speech. Fate worked its magic, and the section that caught my eye completely transformed what I was feeling.
‘I stand here today as part of this honorary panel, not as an individual but as a representative for young people. Young people who continue to achieve exceptional feats. Young people that wake up each day with a burning desire to make change. To contribute. To make choices and decisions formed from their own opinions, ready to convey to the world.’
In that moment I realized why I was there, and why the opportunity I'd been given was so important. Even though I was a 19-year-old rubbing shoulders with established professionals and academics, I understood the role I had to play. If we listen, we will hear that young people have things to say, and that day it was my responsibility to facilitate the discussion. My career choice was firmly cemented in the field of health and medicine but the lesson I learned that day by speaking to over a hundred diverse individuals was that focusing solely on my degree and nothing else was defeating. We have the ability to go above and beyond just ourselves to work on a global scale.
Our actions ripple out to those around us. For today’s youth, there is a stereotype that disrupts their efforts. Phrases like “lack of maturity” and “insufficient life experience” tarnish the millions of young people around the world who deserve to be listened to. Hearing these phrases uttered against them breaks their confidence and their motivation.
“The right to be consulted and to be taken seriously on matters affecting a child and young person”. This is an extract from Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
When we look at the young people raising their voices around the world, the fact that they’re smaller in age and physicality doesn’t seem to intimidate them. Because there is desire in their approach. There is pure, uninhibited determination towards a goal. They are fighting for causes that previous generations may not have thought of as highly. And it’s working. There is power in young people that exists nowhere else. Article 12 enables them to do this. Article 12 demands that we listen to them.
It is why in a room containing extraordinary individuals, a young person like me can speak my mind and not feel unheard. Let us ensure that the spark that burns so mightily in the voices of young people may never be extinguished. Chase your passions and invest yourself into what you desire. This is a narrative that deserves conservation, tomorrow and beyond.
― Malala Yousafzai