The International Year of Youth ended recently with a call by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon for young people around the world to take an active part in decision-making at local, national and global levels. The UN youth ambassador, actress Monique Coleman, has been doing just that. She’s returned from a world tour meeting youth with the aim of promoting global efforts to achieve the anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals. By all measures Monique Coleman is a successful Hollywood actress. She was part of the cast of the hugely popular movie trilogy “High School Musical,” which grossed more than a billion dollars. She could be in Hollywood seeking out roles that pay her millions of dollars.
But she was so passionate about youth issues that she reached out to the United Nations and asked to take on a role that she doesn’t get paid to perform. On her request the U.N. secretary general appointed her the first U.N. youth ambassador. So lately she has been using her fame shed a light on youth issues around the world.
Coleman took a month-long world tour, visiting countries like Kenya, India and Cambodia. Her mission was to talk to young people and promote global efforts to achieve the anti-poverty U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). She visited five continents and 26 countries and met with thousands youth.
Monique says she hopes leaders around the world recognize that young people can play a constructive role in the development of their communities. She called on governments to access the untapped potential of the 1.2 billion young people who live mainly in developing countries.
“From the point of view of a young person, I find that having a voice and being able to participate is one of the biggest things that young people desire.…” She said.
Speaking at the UN foundation event in Washington, DC, Monique spoke of the need to establish an intergenerational dialogue between young people and develop leadership in these countries. She says the dialogue should be a way for the older generation to encourage young people to be more proactive around issues that affect them.
She said that “the integral thing is to nurture and promote positive self-esteem and empowerment so that young people aren’t waiting around for someone to do something for them, but they go out and take actions on their own.”
Monique points out that in her travels, she discovered that in most countries, programs that are supposed to give voice to young people don’t end into any tangible action. “They desire to have the ability to have their voices heard, but for it not to end at just the conversation, but for it to manifest into some kind of action.” She said.
There is a consensus that in many parts of the world, it’s the older people that act on behalf of the youth. They often claim to represent young people’s socio-economic needs. Monique wants the dialogue to became two-way conversation, with young people speaking out about government action on youth initiatives.
“We have got to do a lot less talking about young people and more talking to young people and even more listening so that we can cater and tailor what our initiatives and what our objectives are towards their needs.” She said.
In her role as ambassador, Monique Coleman travelled to many countries to promote the ideals of peace, respect for human rights and solidarity across generations, cultures, religions and civilizations. She found that most societies have something in common. “One thing that I realized is that many of the issues that I found in other places in the world exist also in developed countries, they are just a little bit more hidden.” She said International Youth Day was also marked on August 12 under the theme “Change Our World.”
At the event marking the end of the International Year of Youth, the UN asked young people to celebrate the International Youth Day, by submitting their initiatives to change the world. Monique said there is hardly a shortage. “There are many youth that are ready, willing and able to get involved. They have ideas, they are innovative, creative. How do we get them in the room together. I am hoping to serve as the bridge between them,” she said.