Youth and activists come together for innovation at UNICEF Activate Talks

Activate Talks logoby Catherine Warren

At UN Headquarters on Tuesday, June 10th UNICEF Activate Talks hosted an event to discuss “Innovative Approaches to Advocate for Child Rights.” UNICEF hosts Activate Talks to bring together innovators, experts and thought leaders to illustrate innovations that are able to bring progress on big issues that “vulnerable and marginalized” children face in every country. Chris Fabian, a co-director of UNICEF’s Innovation Unit introduced Tuesday’s Activate Talk saying that the world is broken and the problems causing the brokenness “can be fixed by a grouped of people that think in the same way.”

The “Innovative Approaches to Advocate for Child Rights” Activate Talk was moderated by Femi Oke (host of The Stream on Al Jazeera English). The Activate Talk featured presentations by four speakers, Saba Ismael, Erik Martin, Sofia Garcia-Garcia, and Chernor Bah.

Saba Ismael spoke first. Ismael, from Pakistan, is a feminist and women’s rights advocate. She is currently the Executive Director of Aware Girls, a Pashawar-based NGO that she co-founded at the age of 15. She discussed her bringing girls and women into the conversation so that they are included and given a seat at the table in discussions. Aware Girls educates, supplies counseling and promotes peace building. Ismael said that though women and girls are victims to many terrible things, they can also be “leaders and drivers of change.”

Erik Martin, a student at the University of Maryland spoke about his one of his first realizations of the evil in the world in 7th grade. He adamantly went to his teacher with a plan for “Innocent Victims of War Memorial Day” however his school systems was not able to help him undertake his huge project of creating this holiday. Martin not being able to “change this reality” lead him to “changing himself.” He ended up in the hospital with a severe case of anorexia nervosa. Martin found relief but also leadership in the video game World of Warcraft. He works to empower youth through education because he saw that it was his standardized-test driven school system that he believes can do “tremendous harm.” He says that children are not taught in schools to overcome challenges but to rather feel the prospect of failure in a place where second chances are not “deserved.” Martin believes in embracing failure for the sake of learning creating resilient students. “Innovation requires the ability to overcome failure,” Martin said.

UNICEF logoSofia Garcia-Garcia is a children’s advocate from Spain working for the Major Group of Children and Youth. She works to ensure that children are asked and listen too. She says that most children she’s worked for have never had someone asked them what they want. She works to get children’s trust to learn about what they need. She said in working with children all around the world through online platform like Google Docs where geography and distance become nonexistent. “There is no South Sudan or United States,” she said,”or ambassador or young person. There is pink elephant. And what pink elephant says is just as important as what yellow koala has to say.” Garcia-Garcia believes that leveling the playfield to “pink elephant and yellow koala” on a Google Doc allows for more innovation without the hierarchy of the bureaucratic systems.

Chernor Bah is a youth advocate and leader and former refugee from Sierra Leone. He said the environment he grew up in Sierra Leone was one where children were seen and not heard. After the country’s civil war however after seeing what harm children could do as soldiers, the government had invited children and youth get their input and recommendations for the future of Sierra Leone after the civil war.

Their talks and discussion were very inspiring to hear. The “Innovative Approaches to Advocate for Child Rights” Activate Talk is available online.

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