Doha, Qatar – Representatives from the world’s poorest countries have gathered for a five-day conference to determine how to achieve crucial development goals – from food security to access to clean energy by 2030.
But amid the business suits and dry speeches, young delegates emerged to make sure their opinions were also part of the debate.
“All decisions made at high levels affect us, so it is important to shape the narrative and ensure our voice is well represented,” Reekelitsoe Molapo told Al Jazeera.
Molapo, 28, from the kingdom of Lesotho in southern Africa, is one of 92 youth delegates invited to this year’s United Nations Conference on Least developed countries (PMA).
There are 46 LDCs and the summit is usually held every 10 years. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, it was postponed twice. This was the fifth summit of its kind, but the first in which a number of roundtables, forums and meetings were designed specifically for young participants to enable them to progress further.
About 60 percent of the population in the least developed countries is under 25, according to UN data. The number of people aged 15 to 24 is expected to reach 336 million by 2050.
Young people are most exposed to poverty and social exclusion, preventing them from accessing education and employment opportunities. UN chief Antonio Guterres spoke at the summit opening ceremony “vicious circles” that prevent the poorest countries from stimulating their economies and improving education.
Yet young delegates shared their stories of resistance and resilience.
“I am not here today to highlight how difficult the situation is, but rather to highlight the courage and boldness of the LDCs,” said Molapo, selected for her social commitment in Lesotho.
In 2017, the young activist co-founded Conservation Music Lesotho, an organization that uses music to advance climate change messages among the children of his country.
By composing, explaining and producing songs, the group has so far reached over 5,000 students in rural areas across the country. Lesotho, entirely surrounded by South Africa, has about a third of its 2.1 million people living on less than $1.90 a day.
“People may not be aware climate change as a concept so it’s a way to make science much more accessible,” Molapo said.
Climate change is one of the most resonant topics during youth roundtables – and for good reason. People in LDCs are disproportionately affected by global challenges, including global warming which hits the poorest countries hardest.
Over the past 50 years, almost 70 percent of global deaths caused by climate-related disasters took place in LDCs, study finds watch.
Htay Aung, 21, from Shan State in northern Myanmar, was five years old when his parents left him in a Buddhist monastery because they could not afford his education. He put together a group of 15 volunteers, each donating $0.5 per week to help children aged 2 to 10 who remained at the monastery.
At 14, he met a foreigner, a tourist traveling the country by bike who taught him a few words of English. It was a window to the outside world and a trigger for life, he said. After that, he contacted every passing tourist to learn English, including an Israeli couple so impressed by his determination that they helped him apply to a school in Israel.
Htay Aung has lived in Tel Aviv for three years, where he launched a program to teach English online to children in Myanmar. During the LDC Conference, he expanded his network by connecting with delegates from Nepal to Somalia on how to expand each other’s projects.
“It’s very important for us to be here because we work on the ground, we know what our problems are… The education we received is so different from that of our elders,” he said. he declared, emphasizing the importance of Internet access. and social media.
Besides climate change, digital inclusion was another topic of great concern among the young delegates. In least developed countries, around two-thirds of the population remains offline due to lack of infrastructure, affordability and skills.
A study by the International Telecommunications Union released on Sunday indicates that the gap between LDCs and the rest of the world in terms of Internet users has increased from 27 percentage points in 2011 to 30 percentage points in 2022.
“Our goal is to make our presence known to policymakers,” said Khanal Prajes, 22, from Nepal.
He works for The Movers, an organization that expands children’s access to education. “In Nepal, the main concern is to build roads, but human development is not a priority at all. »
Access to education in LDCs remains a major problem. The UN estimates the average child in these countries is expected to attend school 2.8 years less than the global average. There is an even larger gap of 6.4 years compared to member states of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
“I want to amplify my work and support government policies to include children’s issues in mainstream politics,” Prajes said.
The UN summit in Qatar was positive for networking, he added. “You have to come from the outside to be seen from the inside. »