July 26, 2019

Four Quotes from Young Activists to Inspire Engagement

Melanie Schermer, Program Assistant, SFU Public Square

The views and opinions expressed in SFU Public Square's blogs are those of the authors, and they do not necessarily reflect the official position of Simon Fraser University or SFU Public Square, or any other affiliated institutions in any way.

There is obviously a lot going on in the world, from climate change to poverty to human rights violations to economic, racial and gender inequalities. In the face of this, young people around the world seem to feel the urge to take action and fight global issues. In the U.S. alone, youth-led organizations such as “the Sunrise Movement”, which addresses climate change, the gun-control movement “March for Our Lives” and the “United We Dream” organization advocating for immigrants’ rights have become well-known activist groups, shaping public issues.

However, while we may be inspired to become engaged, it is also easy to fall into the rhythms of daily life and your own issues.

Personally, I have not regularly engaged with public issues. During my stay in Mongolia in 2017, I helped build up a small organization to raise awareness for the discrimination of single-mothers with disabled children in Ulan Bator. For that, we visited some families and created a few websites to address the issue and to collect some money.

Unfortunately, my involvement lasted just as long as my stay in Mongolia did - four weeks. Back home in Germany, I got caught up again in my own daily life and my own “first-world-problems”.

Looking back, I think that is really a pity.

Nevertheless, this year, I combined the necessity with the good and applied as an international intern at SFU Public Square in order to both gain experience in the field of public affairs management and in order to make a contribution to an organization that fosters productive dialogue about significant public concerns by bringing people together and building community connections.

For all of you who are also thinking about getting more involved now and into the future, here are four quotes from young activists on why they became actively engaged with global issues.

Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai committed herself to being an activist for female education after the Taliban took control of her hometown in Pakistan and tried to ban girls from going to school.

She speaks out for those who do not have the chance to be heard since her story was spread worldwide after she was shot by a Taliban member in retaliation for her activism. She used the global attention and founded the Malala Fund. Gordon Brown, the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, established a petition in her name that urged the United Nations to adhere to the UN’s goal that all children should be able to complete primary schooling. Consequently, Pakistan passed a Right to Education bill.

Apart from that, she has released two documentaries and a book to tell her story. To date, she has visited affected girls and women and activists all over the world, talked to politicians and held public speeches about the need for equal access to education.

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez

Since the age of six, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez has engaged himself in environmental issues such as climate change. The 19-year-old does not do it because he necessarily wants to be an activist, but because he naturally feels responsible to do something about the environmental problems we face.

The young activist goes further by saying that the “[younger generations] have a different kind of investment in the future(...).A lot of the adults in the world aren’t going to be here by the time some climate conditions starts taking effect in the world.”

Holding up to this commitment, he has delivered speeches in front of the UN, served on President Obama’s Youth Council, founded the worldwide conservation organization “Earth Guardians” and is also one of the 21 people who have sued the U.S. federal government and Donald Trump for not acting on climate change.

Bana Alabed

The ten-year-old Bana Alabed is a Syrian refugee who shared her traumatic experiences of living in Aleppo during times of war on Twitter.

She decided to become active because of circumstances which cannot be endured, especially by children, and need immediate help for things to change.  

The photos and videos tweeted by her reminded a greater public about how the people in Aleppo are suffering from bombardements, hunger and the lack of medical aid during the severe war.

Today she has over 322k followers on Twitter and has published a book to tell her story. She also tweeted a letter to Theresa May demanding food and medicine to be sent to children in Syria. As a consequence, the UK raised her plea at the United Nations.

Autumn Peltier

Autumn Peltier is a Canadian water activist from the Wikwemikong Territory in Northern Ontario. She speaks up in the hope to inspire other people to become active too so that change will become more probable.

Peltier was inspired by her aunt, Josephine Mandamin, who speaks out for water conservation and Indigenous water rights. She started to speak publicly about the necessity of clean water after visiting a community under a boil water advisory, which led her to talking directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Assembly of First Nations winter meeting in 2016.

In 2018, at just 13 years old, Peltier held a plea to protect the world’s water at the UN General Assembly on World Water Day, the launch of the International Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development.

Of course, it is not always easy to integrate engagement work in your life with all the other tasks and responsibilities you already have on your plate, but - at least for me - the internship at SFU Public Square and these quotes and stories about young people taking action and making traceable change motivates me to stay engaged on a long-term basis.

How about you?

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