As part of my work for Haiyya and the Health Over Stigma Campaign I was one of the 20 leaders nominated for the the Commonwealth Youth Awards for ‘Excellence in Development Work’. In April 2018 I travelled to London for the Commonwealth Youth Forum that leads into the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). These are my top learnings and insights.
The Finalists for the Commonwealth Youth Awards 2018
Investing in youth: The forum itself focused on young people and we heard over and over from different speakers (including Prince William, Kofi Annan, Teresa May and Bill Gates) that the commonwealth’s population is a young one. By focusing on building youth leadership we cut across different issues areas and ensure that new ideas, innovation and energy are brought into the limelight.
Raising diverse voices: The Commonwealth is an identity that many are happy to be a part of but we cannot separate it’s racist and exploitative dark past with idealistic values of ‘equality’ and fairness’ With this in mind it was refreshing to see multiple platforms and leadership positions that were held by diverse voices to shift the traditional narrative. Ensuring that we are able to bring in real inclusivity and intersectionality. However I do have to note that one of the main issues facing the commonwealth namely South Asia are the well-being of the Rohingya refugees who have fled the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. No young leader from the community was represented at the Forum, which was a missed opportunity.
The gap between policy and reality: The Youth Forum was filled with ambitious young leaders (many of whom were officially representing their countries’ youth networks). In our smaller interactive group sessions there was acknowledgement about the gap that exists between creating policy recommendations and the the situation on-ground. I firmly believe that the only way to bridge this is by intiating a dialogue that includes grassroots campaigners/activists and young community leaders who work in informal groups and collectives.
The luxury of dissent: On the last day of the Forum I walked out of the exhibition doors and right into a bustling crowd of Indians who were excited to greet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, across the road there was a larger demonstration of protestors who were against his visit to the UK. What struck me was that people with strong political opinions were ‘allowed’ to demonstrate this close to an extremely high security area. It reminded me of the how important freedom of speech is and as citizens in a democracy we cannot lose spaces to dissent publicly.
By Mrinalini Dayal
Mrinalini Dayal is the Senior Strategy at Haiyya and she started the Health Over Stigma Campaign in 2017, that fights stigma unmarried women face while accessing Sexual Health Services in India. As a Community Organizer she uses her campaigning knowledge to build strategy and support movements that elevate Youth Leadership.
We all have doubts about what we can achieve and whether we alone can make a difference in this world. For many of us these doubts debilitate us from taking that first giant step toward action. But one day I took that step, and it changed my life completely.
I have always had an interest in the environment. I used to read the newspapers every morning and watch the news on TV every night. I thought I understood what was causing Delhi’s pollution and believed it would eventually get fixed, but I never understood the full extent of the issue. Following the news I witnessed the situation go from bad to worse. It was then I decided to do something about it.
While I never really believed that I alone could make a difference, I couldn’t sit back and watch us destroy our environment. When I thought about the legacy I wanted to leave for my children, and my children’s children I knew I had to try to do my bit to make the world they will grow up in just that little bit better. So when members from Haiyya’s Youth4Environment Fellowship approached me, I jumped on-board and decided I was going to do whatever I could to help save Delhi’s environment.
Deciding to take action was both one of the hardest and easiest decisions of my life. In our rapidly globalised world people are completely engrossed in their own lives and are unwilling to look beyond their homes and their own interests at the world and society surrounding them. It is easy to forget the environment is everyone’s responsibility. It is what provides for us, it is where we live, and yet we don’t seem to care that we’re destroying it. People’s initial resistance was incredibly disheartening. But eventually with persistence I found that people listened and followed and were able to achieve the unimaginable.
I have been overwhelmed at the support I have received from the youth in my community, who have gone above and beyond what I could have ever expected. I am immensely proud that I have been able to inspire young adults within my community with my own small actions and my own passion.
Joining the fellowship has not only taught me so much about how I can help the environment through simple everyday actions, but also about myself and my own potential. If you had told me that I alone could make a difference and lead an action across my community I would never have believed you. But I now know I can engage others and help them make an impact in their own lives, which has given me confidence in myself. I am proud of my own accomplishments, but I am prouder of what those around me have achieved. I believe that if we all decide to act we can leave this world better than we found it.
Taking action is always a sacrifice. But it is a sacrifice worth making as you will discover things about yourself and your own potential, abilities and passions that you otherwise would never realise you possessed. Through my journey I have realised I am not just a drop in an ocean and that I alone can make a change.