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Government must listen to youth “ UN SG's Envoy

2014 May 23

UN Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi who was in Sri Lanka as a distinguished guest of the World Conference on Youth (WCY) 2014 last week, said as United Nations’ Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had stated, the world should learn to listen to the youth, answer their calls and young people everywhere deserve the power to get information and ask hard questions about justice, equality and opportunity.
Excerpts of the interview
By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
Q: What is your opinion on Sri Lanka hosting WCY 2014?
A: It’s a wonderful place to be in and I see that everyone is keen to make the event the best. Overall, it’s youth of Sri Sri Lanka who have put their best efforts and I see their hard work with smiles. It’s great to be here and be among the youth of the world. I am humbled to have a position as the UN Youth Envoy that makes me younger and wiser every day.
Q: Youth of this era are really advanced in focus, personality development and educational scopes. How is the world body coping with the increased wants of the youth?
A: True. With the advanced information technology, the youth’s wants have increased. The gap between the new generation and the older generation is becoming wider. The youth’s needs should be understood. Listening to them is the key to everything. The priorities for the youth are education, decent jobs, health, participation, peace and security and these areas should be addressed.
Q: In many parts of the world youth are seen as problems rather than resources , what is your opinion?
A: They are never a problem but surely they are resources. Without them how can a country develop? It’s the direction that is shown to them that makes the difference. Almost 87% of the world's youth live in developing countries and they are the backbone of the world.
Q: In the recent years the there were incidents where youth went about shooting inside schools killing students and teachers, mainly in the US.  there is an increase in aggression and violence  in youth. Is the UN concerned about it?
A: I would not see that youth are vulnerable to this but they can be manipulated. That is what I say the right education and the right directions makes a difference. We know there are issues related to youth being aggressive and going on shooting sprees. The UN is concerned and we are vigilent about it.
Q: The youth in the Asian region have also become anti social elements and become religious extremists and whatever they think they are right.   What is the UN’s goal to combat this issue?
A: Terrorism and taking extreme steps with regard to religion is  sad. The best way to get to them is giving the right message and the right education. Education is the route to tackle this issue.  The basic needs of the youth should be met.  They must be kept busy and involved in serving themselves and the community. The foundation for everything is education.
Q:  What is the message for post war Sri Lanka, an advice to the governing body how to take care of the youth?
A: Give priority to youth. Help them in investment. As the young don’t have money for investment, the government should set the pace by encouraging the banks to give them incentives and loans. Where will the youth go looking for money? The government must help them have what they want to boost their skills. Education and skills eventually would make them seek a career for themselves. The government must support them by ‘LISTENING’ to them and bring about simple regulations to deal with the youth’s future prospects.
Q: What is the major concern of the UN on the youth of the world?
A: Education is the backbone of development and youth empowerment is the tool for development and the WYC: we came to finish the race, not only start it.
Q: Education has become very expensive and out of reach for youth? How are we to deal with it?
A: True it is expensive but with the knowledge you have, you have to seek the future. There is nothing that cannot be achieved. The world is no more unreachable. Youth have become entrepreneurs and advanced in their thinking and that has served them well to boost their priorities and scoring further after having the basic education.
Q: Is being poor a problem for the youth?
A: It’s a problem, not only for the poor but for everyone and it the worst thing for all. You cannot think beyond or use your potential if your stomach is empty. Poverty is a shame. There is enough food to feed the whole world. The only problem is that the resources are not properly distributed. Eradicating poverty is part of the UN agenda. Distribution of resources will not leave anybody behind in poverty.
Q: Hasn’t the UN found a better way to distribute wealth to eradicate poverty?
A: Distribution of resources comes with a country’s development. Development sometimes gets confused with economical growth. The economic growth eventually should contribute toward improving the people’s lives.
Q: What have you heard of the youth of the Northern and the Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka?
A: The UN agencies here in Sri Lanka  are doing a great job. There are several projects helping and supporting the country. The UN will have a report on the youth of the North and East sent to us soon. The UN coordinator is doing a good job of work here and we have a panoramic view of the youth of the North and the East soon. UN agencies are really doing a commendable job here in Sri Lanka. I am optimistic about the future of Sri Lanka. It’s historic moment for Sri Lanka and it’s time to have the development going forward. It should enable to offer everyone the opportunity to gain. You must make everyone participate in the larger picture of the development.
Q: What are the wants of the youth at present compared to 10 years ago?
A: They have increased manyfold and they vary. You would know about the advancement in the world.
Q: You are standing in solidarity with the kidnapped 276 school children in Nigeria. What is your message to the kidnappers?
A: They should release them and return them to their parents and the school. I am happy that the parents are fighting such violence with education. Education is the best tool to fight any bad elements in the society. Keep learning. I still wonder how a rebel group and its leader could try to sell girls in the market. I really have no words to say. Islam does not preach such cruelty and I am a Muslim. I stand in solidarity with Nigeria and its people.
  I welcome the consensus of the Colombo declaration. Implementation is the responsibility of everyone.
Close to 1,000 youth coming together from around the world is rare. They leave a legacy from WCY 2014

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