For anyone who follows me closely on Instagram, you may already know that I’ve been quite involved with One Young World (OYW) over the last year and a half. I first attended their Social Impact Hack with Facebook last June – a 12 hour day of hacking to come up with solutions to the issues of plastic pollution, mental health and disability.
I was then asked to support on their OYW Day Hackathon as a mentor – this time held at Sevenoaks School where I supported Sixth Form students as they devised social business solutions to two of the Sustainable Development Goals: Goal 11 (Sustainable Cities & Communities) and Goal 12 (Responsible Consumption & Production).
But I’d always really wanted to attend a OYW Summit – an annual event that brings together young leaders from across the world to debate and share solutions to the SDGs – and so I applied to volunteer!
Rather conveniently this year’s summit was held in London which meant that my journey was no longer than my daily commute to work, unlike so many of the delegates in attendance who’d flown from across the world to be there. In fact, no youth led movement outside of the Olympics Games represents as many nationalities as the OYW Summit!
On Tuesday evening I was especially excited to attend the Opening Ceremony, an event that marks the start of the summit. Held in the Royal Albert Hall, I settled in my seat for an evening of eclectic entertainment and celeb spotting. Sadiq Khan spoke to us about the importance of inclusive cities, Elisabeth Hoff screened a video on plastic pollution, Akon performed some of his club classics… Even the Duchess of Sussex made an appearance on stage!
But it was Wednesday morning when the real event began, and for me, my work as a volunteer! I was allocated a role on the “VIP Movement” team i.e. moving VIPs from one room to another – a real opportunity to see what actually goes on behind the scenes … my lips are sealed!!
I met such an interesting group of people from Jeremy Darroch (CEO of Sky & Sky Ocean Rescue) to Michael Moller (Former Under-Secretary-General of the UN) and Douglas Booth (actor and UNHCR supporter) to Ellie Goulding (singer and UN Environmental Global Goodwill Ambassador).
Luckily though we finished early enough that I managed to slip away to hear Michael Moller and Douglas Booth speak on the refugee crisis before Bob Geldof came on stage, rallying his audience to challenge societal norms and to think differently because “ideas are the raw material of change” – such a powerful statement and I certainly agree.
But what really inspired me was when he quoted the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. I think this really summarises the spirit of One Young World – if you have an idea that could change the world then get out there and bring it to life!
On Thursday morning I returned to my volunteering role where I met Halima Aden. After her mother fled the Somali civil war, Halima was born at the Kukuma Refugee camp in Kenya where she lived until the age of 6. She is now the first ever Hijab wearing fashion model and UNICEF Ambassador.
Unfortunately I missed her speech but have caught up online since and you can watch it too here. Talking about her experiences as both a child living in the camp and as a child growing up in Minnesota, Halima focuses her speech on community and the importance of never giving up hope.
Later in the day I heard from J.K. Rowling who spoke on a panel about her charity Lumos, raising awareness of the issues associated with orphanages across the world. Her talk came as a real shock to me as I learnt that 8/10 children living in orphanages are not actually orphans at all – many have at least one living parent who simply cannot afford to look after them.
Lumos believes that the money which goes towards running these orphanages would be more effectively spent funding community support, enabling families to care for their own children. One of the saddest realities was hearing about the damaging role of volunteers who come with good intentions, bringing hope and short-term happiness but who leave having changed nothing.
Ruth Wacuka then added her own personal experiences, having grown up in an orphanage in Nairobi despite having two living parents. She remembers people coming to take photos of the giraffes and then coming to take photos of her. She said “why are we equalising children with animals. Children are not tourist attractions, they are lives and destinies.”
Next on stage was Grace Forrest, Founding Director of the international human rights group Walk Free and Yeonmi Park, a human rights activist who fled from North Korea with her mother in 2007. For me this was the most moving session of the week as Yeonmi spoke about her experiences as a modern day slave in North Korea.
But oppression is not isolated to North Korea. The reality struck me when Grace said that slavery did not cease to exist at the end of the 19th century – it only transformed into something different that is now entirely embedded in our global economy: in the clothes we wear, the phones in our pocket, the coffee we drank this morning.
So there you have it – a whistle stop tour of my week as a volunteer at One Young World. An incredible few days that left me both daunted by the scale of the issues that face our world today but also inspired as I heard from those who have already begun to solve them.
As quoted by Bob Geldof, do you have have a dream you can begin?