“The forum makes you appreciate the essential meaning of unity in diversity” -Lessons from our ISF delegates

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“ISF offers more than a conference experience; it helps you work on your personal development and at the same time, inspires you to be a contributing member to the society you belong in,”Graciela Ann Awkit, an ISF alumna from the Philippines, shares when asked about what’s in store when young people apply for the ISF. “Moreover, being part of the ISF makes you appreciate the essential meaning of unity in diversity because at the end of the day, we all have the same goal – to promote and live out human dignity,” she continues.

The International Solidarity Forum (ISF) is an annual training event hosted by the World Youth Alliance and the United Nations and WYA headquarters in New York City. The forum serves as an avenue for WYA members from around the world and subject matter experts to discuss topics relevant to ongoing international policy debates. The ISF has previously touched on themes such as Health and Education, Population and Economics, Sustainable Development, Maternal Health, HIV/AIDs and Good Governance.

Four of our pro-active and dedicated WYA members from Asia Pacific, Europe, Middle East, and Africa, share with us their insights on how their participation in the International Solidarity Forum encouraged and empowered them to further engage in WYA’s advocacy.

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“ISF was a great opportunity for me to improve my knowledge to contribute to society,” Souhir Jerbi, an ISF alumna from Tunisia, shares.

One of the many programs that WYA offers is the International Solidarity Forum and only Certified Trained members are eligible to apply. When asked about how she found out about the ISF, Souhir responds, “I found WYA on the internet and after signing the charter, I completed the Certified Training Program. I was interested in getting more involved with the organization, so I thought that the ISF would have been a good opportunity for me.”

“I was happy to be chosen to be part of the ISF [since] it gave me the chance to interact with people with different cultures from different parts of the world, discussing common issues,” she also shares after finding out that only a few individuals were chosen.

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Another ISF delegate from the Philippines shares that she first heard about WYA three years ago, through a fellow student leader in their university. “My first event with WYA was the Summer Camp and it didn’t stop there, I received a personal recommendation to apply for ISF 2015.”

When asked about what made her want to apply for the ISF, Gracie responds, “It has always been my passion to be involved in events and conferences which tackle [the] world’s most  pressing issues as well as if it’s in line with youth advocacy. I’ve been part of various WYA events and I had no doubt of applying for teh ISF because I know it would be an avenue for me to learn things that are far beyond the concepts taught within the four walls of a classroom.”

The ISF receives numerous applicants from around the world annually however it only considers limited slots. For Gracie, “It was indeed a privilege to be selected as [the] WYA Asia Pacific delegate [for the] ISF. However, I considered this opportunity as a responsibility also to best represent the Asia Pacific youth. In all events that you are given the chance to speak on behalf of the youth, be sure you are aware of the condition in your country or region so that you’ll be able to propose feasible and sustainable solutions.”

The theme for the ISF that she attended was regarding health and education and she also shares that, “when we were discussing about our declaration, I can say that it was the most eye-opener part of the conference because you get the chance to know the stand of every region and from there, it really encourage you to think of how you can help the people who do not have the access to quality education and healthcare.”

When asked about her plans of further engaging with WYA after the ISF, she replies, “We had a post-ISF event in WYA Asia Pacific wherein we invited WYA members and non-members to participate in the discussion. I also had courtesy call in the Commission on Higher Education – Philippines and shared my ISF experience. I would love to have a long-term relationship with WYA, I will be working with WYA as long as I can.”

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Another of our featured ISF delegate,  Lilian Kamau,  hails from Kenya and she shares her ISF journey with us by hearing about the event through an update email she has received from WYA. “Having been a member of WYA-Africa since October 2014, I have frequently received information on the different forums held by WYA both in the African region and at the headquarters.”

“The forums by WYA that I had participated in since 2014 were very insightful such as the Emerging Leader’s Conferences; I was of the opinion that ISF would similarly be a great learning experience,” she responds when asked about what made her want to apply for the ISF.

“It was such an honour and humbling experience since it brought out the global exposure to issues around population and environment and more so challenged me to participate more towards realizing [the] youth’s active role in solving global challenges,” she continues.

When asked if there was something striking regarding the theme that was discussed during the ISF, she answers, “Yes, we talked about population and its link to sustainable development. Understanding that population control is not an authentic solution to the attainment of sustainable development changed the mindset on family planning a concept that has vehemently been advocated for in my continent.”

Lilian continued her engagements with WYA after the ISF as the shares that, “As a result of understanding in depth the role I have as a youth towards the realization of the sustainable development goals I have been an advocacy volunteer since April. I volunteer with the African Women’s Development and Communication Network that seeks to ensure women empowerment in Africa on this platform I have engaged policy. My engagement with WYA continues, I look forward to the Africa’s Emerging Leaders Conference and have so far been contributing to WYA’s blog. It is such an incredible experience that has made me identify with the youth movement from the national to the global level.”

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Lastly, an ISF delegate from Croatia first heard about WYA from a friend who was one of the founders of the WYA Croatia Chapter. She then became a certified member in January 2015 and is currently the WYA Croatia
President. Lucija Ćorić shares that she learned about the ISF after reading about it on WYA’s website.

“There were two things that made me apply: the theme of the ISF and New York. There is something profoundly evil in saying that you care for the planet and therefore regard this or that person as a burden. The idea of regarding children as a burden stays in people’s minds and it can easily be adopted as an excuse in the Western world also, in all those cases when the conditions are not perfect for having a child – and they never are,” she shares.  “That is why the chapter about population was my favorite in Certified Training Program and it actually made me decide that I want to be part of WYA, because it didn’t neglect this aspect of violating human rights. On the other hand, I was also always interested in ecology and concerned about the climate change, so when I read that the ISF was about population and environment, I wanted to participate,” she adds on.

“It felt great!” was Lucija’s initial response knowing that she was part of a group of young people who discussed problems and offered solutions. “It was really exciting to hear so many different approaches to the subject and to remember that our view is not the only one and might not be correct, “ she continues.

“For me the best part of the ISF was drafting the WYA Declaration on Population and Environment since it was challenging and inspiring to negotiate about the provisions of the Declaration and to find solutions that worked best for everyone,” she shares about her ISF journey. She also explained that when the Declaration was finally adopted by all delegates, they felt that they “owed the feeling more to being able to listen, hear, understand and apply thoughts and ideas from our fellow delegates.”

The ISF tackles various themes every year and for Lucija, “The most striking thing for me were stories of the African delegates, who told us that these depopulation measures really existed in their countries and that there were aggressive propaganda and also cases of forced sterilization.” She continues her story by sharing that, “Even though I read about it, it somehow becomes alive and true when you hear the firsthand experience. It just strengthened my determination to fight against the ideas, actions and measures which promote these measures.”

“In Europe we have a population problem, too: our population is dramatically declining and we have fewer children each year. Croatia is not an exception; actually it has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe. Being a small country of only 4.2 million people, this makes the possibility of extinction of our nation real and imminent. Therefore, we in WYA Croatia are preparing a document proposing some measures, based on the survey we conducted, which would help and encourage young couples to have more children and which would hopefully strengthen the role of the family in Croatian society,” she shares her experiences of applying what she learned from the ISF.

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Our WYA members who have participated in the past International Solidarity Forums would like to send their words of encouragement to young people all around the world who want to be part of the global discussion and create a positive impact in their own communities:

“I highly encourage people to apply for the ISF, because somehow after the ISF experience, at least for me, I felt equipped with some knowledge and tools to work for change in my country. Currently, I’m an intern at the WYA Middle East office in Lebanon and I’m planning to apply for an international internship in NYC.” -Souhir Jerbi, Tunisia (WYA Middle East)

There is a need to encourage more participants in the ISF to ensure that every member of World Youth Alliance experiences the powerful energy that motivates the push for human dignity which is at the core of the organization’s agenda. There is a lot of exposure and learning that awaits the participants as well.”- Lilian Kamau, Kenya (WYA Africa)

“I would say that the best part of the ISF is that it’s not a conference where you sit and listen to the lectures, but that besides great lecturers (who encourage you to ask questions – not very common for (Eastern) Europeans), you also get to meet people from around the world. And it’s not only that you meet them, exchange casual phrases and connect with them through Facebook, but you discuss very important topics with them, you exchange experiences and ideas and connect with their stories and their problems, which makes the ISF an unforgettable experience!” -Lucija Ćorić, Croatia (WYA Europe)

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WYA believes that young people, despite their circumstances, have the ability to impact and create positive change in their societies. With that, WYA invites empowered and pro-active individuals who want to take part in the global discussion to apply for the International Solidarity Forum. The ISF is open to all active and certified WYA members. Click here to learn more about the ISF details and application process.

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