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International Youth Day More Important Than Ever - National Runaway Safeline

by Johnny Moran

As I write this, we are now in the midst of the 2016 Summer Olympics, where the international community comes together for competition and share in a cultural exchange. Young athletes from around the world descend on the Olympic Village from almost every country, each with their own unique set of circumstances. However, this edition of the Games has a unique entrant: The Refugee Olympic Team. This is a group of 10 athletes that originate from war-torn countries who were forced to flee their homelands. Participating under the Olympic flag, these refugee athletes “will act as a symbol of hope for refugees worldwide and bring global attention to magnitude of the refugee crisis.”

Refugee Olympic Team Member Yusra Mardini

One athlete’s story out from the team is on 18-year-old swimmer, Yusra Mardini, of Syria. Yusra fled her country to escape the civil war. She did so by crossing the Mediterranean with her sister and 19 others in an inflatable boat designed for far fewer passengers. Within a half hour of their 4-hour trip, they started taking on water. Yusra and two others got out and pushed the boat and its passengers for three hours, reaching the island of Lesbos. From there, she and her sister made their way through Europe to Germany, where she now lives and trains.

This story illustrates the importance of International Youth Day (IYD), which was created by the United Nations in the year 2000, as an “annual celebration of the role of young women and men as essential partners in change, as well as an opportunity to raise awareness of the challenges and hardships facing the world’s youth.”

Yusra’s courage and determination matches what we see from many of the youth that contact us in search of help. These are youth that are trying to escape from negative situations, which involve abuse, neglect, or criminal behavior. Her ordeal is also an illustration of the struggle that youth around the world experience because of conflict, natural disasters, economic collapse and cultural struggles. In our current times, IYD takes on a greater importance, as we see so many youth on a daily basis dealing with issues that force them to grow up far too quickly.

IYD recognizes the importance of the role young people play in their participation implementing the 2030 Sustainable Development plan, which seeks to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development through sustainable consumption and production. According to the U.N.’s Division for Social Policy and Development, “sustainable consumption” entails the use of products and services that meet the basic needs of communities while safeguarding the needs of future generations.

The goals for the plan include providing resources for all people by making food, water and energy more easily accessible, creating a green economy, which would create economic growth, helping eradicate poverty. Those most effected by harmful environmental and industrial outcomes would benefit the most, creating a rebalancing of social, political and economic structures.

An excerpt from the plan:

In these Goals and targets, we are setting out a supremely ambitious and transformational vision. We envisage a world free of poverty, hunger, disease and want, where all life can thrive. We envisage a world free of fear and violence. A world with universal literacy. A world with equitable and universal access to quality education at all levels, to health care and social protection, where physical, mental and social well-being are assured. A world where we reaffirm our commitments regarding the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation and where there is improved hygiene; and where food is sufficient, safe, affordable and nutritious. A world where human habitats are safe, resilient and sustainable and where there is universal access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy.

International Youth Day is a call to action to youth around the world to contribute to its sustained existence, as well as a celebration of the resiliency and ingenuity of youth. This year’s theme for IYD is youth civic engagement. The goal is to highlight the importance of young people engaging in social, political and economic issues. According to the United Nations Population Fund, “When empowered and involved, young people can be key agents of peace, development and advancement.”

International Youth Day reminds us that youth must be cared for, engaged, and given opportunities to grow and succeed. Stories like Yusra’s tell us that given the opportunity, many youth will rise to meet it. The National Runaway Safeline is grateful for all its youth volunteers for taking action to be a part of the world-wide goal of “youth civic engagement.”