photo: UN Millennium Campaign  
 
  Caroline Ang of TUNZA asked Eveline Herfkens, the UN Secretary-General's Executive Coordinator for the Millennium Development Goals Campaign, how young people can join the MDG campaign.

What can young people do to help achieve the goals by 2015?

Today's world has the resources, technology and know-how to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, but what is still lacking is the firm political will of world leaders to deliver on their promises. This is where young people come in. We need you to get the goals back on track. There are 2.8 billion people under the age of 25 and, in the developing world, youth make up 70 per cent of the population. Young people have to be part of the national and international movement to end poverty and ensure environmental stability. We need the voice of youth in every stage of the process if we want to make the goals a reality by 2015.

The merits of youth involvement in development have been hotly contested - what are your views?

Youth participation is a powerful tool towards achieving the MDGs. I have found young people are often the most motivated and inspired activists and have the clearest ideas on how positively to change their communities. To take just one example, the passion of Nkom Marie Tamoifa, a member of the Pan-African Youth Leadership Summit, for environmental issues led her to create the Cameroon Green Youth Association. Her organization eventually expanded to a national network that increased young people's environmental awareness (Goal 7) and provided outlets for youth participation in the decision-making process in her country.

You've emphasized the need for balancing responsibilities for the MDGs between the developed and the developing worlds - what opportunities exist for youth from different backgrounds to work together on the MDG campaign?

I would hope young people would first look at their own country and see what it is doing to achieve the MDGs. You can visit our web pages (www.millenniumcampaign.org and www.millenniumcampaign.org/youth) to find out how your country is doing. If you are from a rich country, make your government accountable to its promise to deliver on Goal 8, to give more and better quality aid, create more trade opportunities and give more debt relief to poor countries. Without the help of rich countries the global deal will fail and we will never reach the goals by 2015. If you are from a developing country you should investigate if and how your government has implemented the goals in its policy-level decisions. Has your government set up the framework to raise the poor out of poverty and hunger, get every child into school, empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, and ensure environmental sustainability? If not they're not living up to their promises and you need to remind them of their pledge.

 

The success of the goals seems to depend on sufficient political will and increased aid flows, both determined by professional politicians. What can young people - including those not yet old enough to vote - contribute?

Young people can be just as influential as any other group in mobilizing political will, but they have to make their voices heard. Young people who cannot vote still have the power to change the minds of politicians. I often remember a young woman in Viet Nam - a country that on paper will achieve most of the goals by 2015, but has many rural areas that are very far from meeting them on time - who visited the 13 poorest provinces to educate people about the importance of the goals, and bring attention to disproportionate poverty in her country. This is an example of how one young person can really make a difference. There are many similar stories, but the important thing to remember is that every voice counts, no matter how young. No politician will act unless there is pressure to do so, and we all have to add our voices to the global call to end poverty now.

How can we avoid becoming cynical and dismissing the MDGs as 'litter on yet another boulevard of broken dreams' (as you once warned could happen)?

The goals are the best news we've had in a very long time. For the first time in history we have a package that everybody agrees on and we can focus on improving the lives of real people. There are many discouraging statistics, but global averages mask the many success stories so far. Malawi and Rwanda are going to achieve Goal 2 and send all their children to school. Tanzania is on track on its water requirements in Goal 7, and Uganda and Senegal are able to reverse the AIDS pandemic (Goal 6), while Mozambique might achieve both the poverty (Goal 1) and child mortality (Goal 4) goals. If some of the poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa can achieve some of the goals, I will not give up believing they are all achievable at a global level. These success stories are cases where the global compact has worked and has saved the lives of millions of people as a result.

And to sum up?

For the youth of the world, tomorrow's future will be defined by what you do today. You have to decide if you are tired of millions of people going hungry, of the massive loss of environmental resources, of your governments breaking promise after promise to help the poor countries of the world. Remember, you could be the first generation to finally put an end to world poverty. Please refuse to miss this opportunity.

 
         
         
 

 
         
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