Learning Lessons: What the YAP's have already begun teaching me

The United Nations in Sri Lanka following the idea of the UN Sectary General's Special Envoy on Youth - Ahmad Alhendawi, became one of 20 nations so far to implement the first ever United Nations Youth Advisory Panel. This exciting new initiative [so new that the existing 20 panels have all been around for under 6 months at best] is certainly a positive step taken by the UN to engage youth as equal partners. Put very simply - in Sri Lanka the YAP's will have 15 members serving 2 year teams, representing various sectors such as health, gender equality, media, social protection, LGBTIQ etc. We will act as facilitators between the UN in Sri Lanka and youth. I am privileged to be serving on the panel as the Representative for Community Activism with these 14 FABULOUS young people. Following our orientation earlier this week which was the first time we gathered as a group - minus one member who was unable to make it - and they have already taught me so much. Here are the top 5 lessons :)

1. You are not alone: When you are standing up for something you believe in, swimming against the tide, and working for things you know may never change in your lifetime the frustration can be overwhelming. It feels like all you have is a needle and are chipping away at a concrete wall, with no more than a few grains of sand to show for your efforts. Meeting the YAP's was meeting other amazing young people who reminded me on a huge scale that the fight is worth it - you are not alone in it. And that was the most amazing feeling.

2. Diversity doesn't mean division: The 15 people on this panel differ from each other more than I could even fathom. We have different interests, passions, religions, ethnicities. We approach things in different ways and represent different ideals. And yet we were similar in the ways that really matter. Our dreams for true youth engagement, respect for different ideas and beliefs, identifying as Sri Lankan, a heartfelt belief that education and awareness can change the world - and most importantly the true belief that you can have a real impact even if it doesn't always seem likely. What matters if not the differences but if you are united on the things that really matter.

3. An open mind goes a long way: Like I said we are different - especially in the choices we have made in how to live our lives. Being open-minded isn't always easy but when you force yourself not to jump to pre-conceived notions it's amazing how much more beautiful the world becomes. You don't have to agree with the choices others make but you do have to respect them.

4. Passion can be confused with aggression - there is a fine line: Being passionate about something is great - I personally think a life without passions for something is a life without colour. BUT there is a fine-line between being passionate and being aggressive. Its hard to remember that not everyone will be as passionate about something as you and that's okay! The backseat can offer up a whole new views if you allow it to :)

5. Change may not happen in your lifetime - that is no reason not to fight for it: Thousands of suffragettes across the world - including Susan B. Anthony died without ever getting to vote. Thousands of African American's died before the Civil Rights Act came into being. Thousands of Sri Lankan's died before seeing peace come to the island. Change is slow, it takes time - and that can be hard to accept. But fighting for change is not about you or your generation - its about making things different for the next. It is about setting the wheels in motion so that someone who comes after you will not suffer what you have suffered. As a Greek Proverb says "A society grows great when old men plant trees knowing they may never sit in its shade".

I have the honour of continuing to learn over the next 2 years from these brilliant movers, disrupter's and shakers who challenged, amazed and excited me so much in just 3 days. Can't wait! Keep an eye on #UNYAPSriLanka on Twitter to see what we are upto :)


K_doodles said…
Such beautiful & meaningful words Shara. Love every bit of it!

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