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Young Champion’s Consultation in South Asia
The South Asia Consultation, now in its third year, brought together UNGEI champions from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Maldives and Pakistan. The young champions are young change makers in their communities and societies who have been identified by the UNGEI partnership as youth leaders who can carry forward the mission of UNGEI in the region.
Through a range of advocacy activities, the young champions address many overlapping and specific disparities affecting girls’ education and broader issues in the region.
In the recently concluded consultation, the young champions reported on their efforts from the previous year. The activities undertaken by them were as diverse as the ground realities in their countries – girls’ education, gender equality issues, HIV/AIDS, child labor, substance abuse. Many young champions have mobilized other youth and trained cadres of volunteers on girls’ education and gender equality issues in their communities.
For long-time youth activists like 25-year-old Rajesh Shah of Nepal, who was previously involved in a local NGO, the Jan Jagran Yuva Club, the social mobilization aspect of the young champions’ work is most appealing.
“I am a social leader,” says Shah. “I have been mobilizing the community on various issues, and that is what I find most interesting. Being a young champion is an extension of what I do. I am always thinking of improving my district, Barah, which is one of Nepal’s most backward districts in terms of education.”
The youth bulge
The Young Champion model in South Asia focuses on an emerging demographic trend, the explosion in the number of youth in the region, or the “youth bulge.” This “youth bulge” is slated to produce the next generation of leaders, workers, parents and citizens; and the UNGEI South Asia partnership aims to prepare its young champions to be successful leaders.
Nineteen-year-old Tareque Mehndi is one such budding leader. Now a young champion, Mehendi was in Class 8 when he trained as a young journalist through a UNICEF-Bangladesh funded programme. Since then, he wrote several articles on issues of child rights, many of which were published in The Daily Prothomalo, a leading Dhaka-based newspaper. Today Mehendi is in his first year of undergraduate studies at the University of Dhaka, where he continues to pursue his interest in securing educational rights for all, especially minority groups such as the Biharis of Bangladesh.
Beyond their involvement in the young champions programme, these young leaders, such as seventeen-year-old Ruia Ashraf Akhtar of Bangladesh, harbor many exciting ambitions for themselves. Akhtar is an aspiring film-maker, and wants to make the first successful Bangladeshi sci-fi thriller film. She recently watched Homeless to Harvard, an American film about the real-life journey of a young girl from poverty and homelessness into one of the world’s best educational institutions.
Akhtar, who is studying in 12th grade at the Brindaban Government College in Sylhet, says she likes to help people, and stories like Homeless to Harvard make her believe that nothing is impossible. She wants to continue being a young champion because as she concludes, “I do it because I like to do it. It’s a fun adventure, and it gives you the feeling that you are helping someone who needs help.”