Monday, 19 September 2011

Coffee with Kofi

On Saturday Morning I had the incredible privilege of hearing Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the UN, speak at University Church in Oxford for the UK launch of the charity Children's Radio Foundation. This was both a great opportunity to hear an influential man of our times speak and to find out more about a charity that is really going places. I also got the chance to further hone my developing journalistic skills resulting in a couple of articles in local and national press. A good Saturday morning's work!

As we approached the church on foot a car pulled up ahead of us and from it emerged a very impressive looking man that we assumed, rightly, was Mr Annan! Luckily after bumping into Miranda Hart on my way to hear her talk I was well practised at appearing nonchalant in the presence of celebrity and managed to calm down my husband who quite frankly is just not as cool as me. ;)

The talk itself, entitled 'The future of Africa – how young people can respond', was as inspirational as predicted. The Children's Radio Foundation does a ton of exceptional work across Africa. It's projects train young people to write and produce their own radio programmes, offering them a chance to air their stories and discuss issues that affect them. One project in Tanzania, created by a group of street children turned reporters, now has seven and a half million listeners each week. Children go where politicians tremble to tread addressing issues like preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and doing development their way. In a continent where 50% of people are under 25 this is vital work, empowering a new generation to take control of their future.

Alongside his support and encouragement for turning up the volume on the voice of young people in Africa Mr Annan had some interesting points to make on how we can use our voices closer to home. He praised the efforts of the people who took London back after the riots with their clean up efforts and the strength of the Norwegian people who refused to alter their way of life in the wake of the Oslo shootings. His point was clear. The moderate majority must speak out for what we believe in.

His message for members of religions was particularly strong. He said, 'People of faith must speak out and say, this is not what we believe. These people do not represent us.' Importantly, he said these voices must be heard before we see major attacks on our way of life rather than after. Perhaps this will go some way to prevent the blanket labelling of sectors of society and their beliefs, and the resulting segregation and hatred.

Mr Annan ended his presentation with a message for young people around the world to engage with their communities. 'If each of us does something, collectively we will make a difference,' he said. He cited many examples of young people serving in self sacrificial ways across the world. I wholeheartedly echo his sentiments that it is time we heard more from the voices of young people and celebrate the future we have in them.

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