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Young people's summit calls for compassion for refugees

Update: November, 20/2015 - 14:00
Kofi Annan, former Director General of the United Nations, also One Young World's councillor, speaks at this year summit about climate changes. — VNS Photo Thu Van

BANGKOK — Oscar Anderson,14, proved to more than 1,300 international representatives attending the One Young World Summit in Bangkok, Thailand, that disability doesn't stop him from living his life to the fullest.

Escorted to the stage by his mother on his special wheelchair, Oscar could not stand up but was dressed nicely in a dark suit. He waved cheerfully to the young audience members from 196 countries, who have come to talk about the problems facing the world.

What he had to speak next left tears on many faces in the room, for the inspiration he brought and for the courage he carried.

Born premature in Viet Nam, Oscar developed jaundice that was not diagnosed by local doctors and, thus, was left untreated. It damaged his brain and he lost the ability to walk or talk clearly.

"When people look at me and see that my body is a bit wonky, they often assume my mind is wonky too," Oscar said in a very low voice, taking in breaths in between words.

Oscar said a school in Viet Nam refused to admit him because of his condition.

"You know how important school is for all of us. For boys like me, it's extra important because I will need education that will give me a chance to earn a living when I'm older," he said.

Having attended the One Young World Summit in 2014 just as an attendee, Oscar was inspired by the delegates with disability who he said "lived their life and worked round their difficulties."

That's why he again attended the summit this year as a delegate, wrote his own speech, and insisted on speaking it himself, despite his difficulties, to tell people about his state and some other things.

"I want to tell you that, first, jaundice is very easy to detect in a baby through a simple blood test. Educate people about that. Two, fight for our (people with disabilities) place in schools the same way as so many of you fight for every kid's rights for a place in school," he said.

The One Young World Summit is an annual event, described as a platform that makes brilliant young people catalysts to drive change in the world. The summit, which ended today, gives opportunities to the attendees, usually in the 18-30 age group, to present, discuss and find solutions for a broad range of topics.

This year's three-day schedule (Nov 19 to 21) included issues such as human rights, environment, education and peace and security, besides global business and leadership and government. Many other special sessions with a variety of topics such as disability, women and refugee rights, were also included.

Practical action

The participants did not just come to talk and share ideas, though they thought it was pretty much what needed to be done in the first place to spread awareness about any pressing issue. They also turned ideas into something real and practical.

Meron Yemane Semeda, a delegate from the United States, who had fled Eritrea as a refugee, said the life of a refugee was harsh.

"I was smuggled through a dangerous route by human traffickers. Many of my fellow refugees could not make it to their destinations," he said, adding that even when they reach their destinations, they faced the same miserable obstacles.

"The legal process took a year (to be granted asylum). During that time, you can't work or walk around. I lived in a tent, with little food and no education. Anxiety and depression fall all over you," he said, adding that for others, the process could take far longer, maybe even a generation, which he called "a life in limbo".

He thus founded an organisation called Lead Eritrea to empower youth by assisting them to attend and represent Eritrea at international events, educate Eritreans by giving presentations in different areas and also act as a catalyst for the struggle towards democratising Eritrea.

"We should not allow an act of terrorism make us afraid of being responsible for and companions to refugees," Semedar said about the recent attacks in Paris.

"I ask everyone to welcome refugees and to respect their human rights," he said.

Danijel Cuturic, a delegate from Bosnia and Herzegovina, who is currently a volunteer teacher of asylum seekers in Jordan, was very concerned about the education of refugee children, who have so little chance of going to school while they stay in refugee camps.

"If children can't receive an education, they are more likely to face a grim future and will have greater likelihood of being part of violence. That is especially so for girls, who may be forced into child marriage or become victims of sexual violence," he said.

He has founded an organisation to provide free education to more than 6,000 children at refugee camps in Jordan.

"Education transforms lives. We are trying to reach out to young refugees who have never been to school, or had to drop out," he said.

One Young World, founded in 2009, is a United Kingdom-based not-for-profit organisation, which stages an annual summit where young talents from all across the world debate, formulate and share innovative solutions for pressing global issues.

These young leaders are also joined by counsellors such as Kofi Annan, chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation and seventh secretary-general of the United Nations; Professor Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate; Father Mussie Zerai, a 2015 Nobel Peace Prize nominee; and numerous business leaders and leading lights from the sporting world. — VNS

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