In the run-up to the European Youth Event in Strasbourg on 9-10 June 2023, a bi-annual gathering hosted by the European Parliament, we interviewed four young activists participating in the event, about their work, ambitions and message to world leaders.
The UN in Brussels will be present at the European Youth Event and engage with these young leaders to address what they need for a more meaningful participation in politics and democracy.
- Can you tell me a bit about your background? Who are you, where are you from, where do you live and what do you do?
My name is Mirwais Wafa. I am 27 years old and I am currently studying political science at Bamberg University in Germany. I was born in Kabul, Afghanistan. In 2012, at the age of 15, I immigrated to Germany with my mother and have been living here since and am a German citizen. I am involved at the global level with UNESCO being the Chairman of the UNESCO Global Youth Community. Also, at the national level, I am in the Young Forum of the German National Commission for UNESCO, which I also co-founded. And in April 2023, I was selected by the UN Brussels Office to be one of the six members of the Youth Core Group for the European Youth Event.
- How did you become involved in youth activism? What was your starting point?
I was interested in politics from a very young age, but I became involved in youth activism when I was in high school, after I had the opportunity to do an internship for the German Parliament in 2016, for the Committee for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. During my internship, I started to become more aware of issues, problems, and challenges that, we as citizens, but especially as young people, are facing. I then started reading about the United Nations and what they are doing for young people. That was the first time I heard about the UN Youth Envoy and was really inspired by what he was doing at the time. Simultaneously, I was frustrated that young people were not involved in a lot of political decision-making processes and that youth is underrepresented in politics. I started getting active at the grassroots level and went to different conferences and events on different topics, especially climate change and foreign policy. I saw online that the German National Commission was looking for young people for a kind of advisory group to work with them to create a youth structure inside the German National Commission for UNESCO. I applied and ended up being one of 25 young people that they selected from all over Germany. It was a one-year project, and we discussed how to get young people involved and create generational inclusive structures within the German National Commission.
- You then co-founded the UNESCO Global Youth Community. What exactly is the UNESCO Global Youth Community and what has been your role within the organization?
In 2019, the German National Commission nominated me to take part the 40th General Conference of UNESCO and 11th Youth Forum in Paris as one of 75 young people from all over the world. During the Youth Forum, it was very important to me to discuss the issue of youth participation. The UNESCO Youth Forum takes place every two years during the General Conference of UNESCO. I met with other young people and we came up with the idea to write a recommendation paper for UNESCO on how to build a sustainable structure within UNESCO – for young people, by young people. We presented the outcome document of the Forum to the member states at the General Conference, and it was accepted. We started building the structure of the UNESCO Global Youth Community from scratch, and it took a very long time. But now we are an official UNESCO entity, and we are the first and only youth-led and youth-focused umbrella platform and community. The UNESCO Global youth Community serves as a bridge between UNESCO and young people. As the chairman, I am responsible for coordinating and managing the work of UNESCO Global Youth Community, which requires a lot of diplomacy and patience.
- What inspired you to take on such a large project?
Our generation is facing a lot of challenges – climate challenges, economic challenges, COVID-19 – but generations after us will have even more. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” And for me, it was very important to build a sustainable platform for young people, to build something for the next generation. Now we have a permanent structure within the organization, which gives young people a voice being able to address challenges to policymakers.
- You will be a member of the Youth Core Group at the European Youth Event (EYE) in June. Can you tell me a bit how you came to be a member and what that role entails?
I was nominated by UNESCO. A colleague proposed that I join the Youth Core Group, and I prepared an application. After the selection process, the UN Brussel Office selected me along with five other young people. Our group now comes together every two weeks to plan activities for the EYE. We are preparing a panel discussion as agents of political change, which will have three different discussion topics. We’re also planning to have a stand at the EYE where we can talk one-on-one with young people about the UN and our work and how they themselves can get involved as well.
- What do you hope to experience and achieve as a representative for the European Youth Event?
I really want to motivate young people to get involved. It’s really important to me to talk with all these young people from all over Europe and enhance insights, because a lot of young people don’t even know about all these opportunities at the UN. Lots of young people want to engage and get involved, but don’t know how or where to start because they don’t even know that some of these opportunities exist.
- How do you engage with and involve young people from diverse backgrounds in your work?
I believe that diversity is one of the most important elements of a successful international organization, and that includes involving young people at the global level. It can be challenging bringing together people from all different backgrounds, because they have such different experiences. I think the most important thing is to respect and accept each other. I try to avoid using the word “tolerate”. We should accept each other.
- Can you share a memorable experience or accomplishment from your work that has been particularly meaningful to you or that you are most proud of?
I am so proud of the structure that we have built at UNESCO. So many people told us that it’s not possible, to just forget it. We were faced with a lot of pessimism. And it was frustrating at times, but we never gave up. I am so thankful for my colleagues and how we worked together. I use the word “we” because it was a team effort, and one that I am very, very proud of.
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
That’s a very difficult question. Since I’m studying political science and am involved with the UN and UNESCO, I could see myself working for the UN going forward. I’m interested in diplomacy. My aim is to change something at the global level.
- What message do you have for current leaders?
We need young people at the decision-making table. Policymakers should take us young people seriously. Take the topics and ideas of the youth, that need to be addressed, seriously. We can only solve the current and upcoming challenges together. Let’s work together and bridge the generational gap to find solutions for the enormous challenges we are facing, such as the climate crisis, hunger, war, and many other challenges.
- Lastly, what advice do you have for young people who want to become involved in activism and making a positive impact in their communities?
Take advantage of the many opportunities available to you. Thanks to the internet, it is easy to connect with youth organizations at the global and national level. It doesn’t matter what you do, the important point is that you get involved. Be it a political party, youth organization or something like Model United Nations. Many young people are interested in becoming involved, but maybe fear not being taken seriously. My message to them: It’s your right to participate.