Our Youth Ambassador Anthony Ford-Shubrook reflects on his time at the United Nations General Assembly in New York last month, in his new role as a UN Young Leader for Sustainable Development
Last month I was in announced as one of seventeen UN Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are the UN’s 17 goals to transform our world by ending poverty, looking after our future, and bringing peace and prosperity to everyone. I was given this opportunity because of the work I have done towards inclusive and quality education for all – which is SDG number 4 – and I was keen to make sure that people with disabilities were represented.
Perhaps the most exciting part of being a young leader was being invited to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly, where I got to know the other young leaders and a number of high profile figures. Every single one of the young leaders had an inspirational story to tell: they have been fighting for the rights of women and indigenous people; fighting hunger; finding solutions to environmental disasters; all sorts of incredible things.
We were thrown straight into some media training where we were taught how to get our messages across clearly and keep interviews on point. Ahmed, the UN Envoy for Youth also talked to us about his vision for the young leaders and the significance of the SDGs. He explained that all of the SDGs are linked, and that anyone who’s campaigning for one of them was actually campaigning for every single one. This contributed to the feeling shared by the young leaders that we really were part of a team. We were then introduced on stage at the Social Good Summit where our appointment was announced to the world. This was immediately followed up with meeting the press to test out our newly learned skills. This gave me an opportunity to speak about the amazing work that AbleChildAfrica does. We then had more media training, this time at our own pace so we could go through some of the finer points.
In the evening the young leaders had a beautiful dinner together, cooked by Eat Offbeat, a charity that helps refugees by giving them work and an opportunity to introduce people to their local cuisine. Here I had the chance to properly get to know the other young leaders, as well as the wonderful team that had organised this amazing opportunity. Richard Curtis gave us a sneak preview of a video he had put together to advocate for the SDGs.
We got an early night because we had to get up the next day before dawn to make it to the World Leaders and Young Leaders breakfast. Ahmed yet again gave an inspirational speech, this time about how we really don’t have long to achieve the SDGs, and reiterating that the world cannot afford to fail. We were interviewed for UN TV after breakfast, and then we had a session for the group to discuss and develop ideas for what they wanted to do next and how they could work together and forge global links. I spoke about AbleChildAfrica’s use of the Child-to-Child approach as an example of how young people can achieve things where older people might not. I also had an opportunity to strategise for the AbleChildAfrica Youth Council that I’m working to set up.
That night was the Gala Dinner which was a highlight of my visit to the General Assembly. Richard Curtis hosted it and he officially showed us the videos we had seen the night before. Trisha, one of my fellow young leaders, gave a powerful speech to tell everyone about her experiences fighting sexual violence in India. I had an opportunity to speak to all kinds of interesting and senior people about AbleChildAfrica and the work we do, including the Senior Advisor to the Secretary General on the SDGs.
The final day was slower paced and centred around group discussion of the SDGs. This gave the young leaders a final opportunity for some bonding. In the evening I had a celebratory dinner with my Personal Assistants and a well-earned beer.
Overall I found the whole experience inspiring and I left feeling determined to change the world. I look forwards to the challenges ahead in setting up the AbleChildAfrica Youth Council and advocating for the SDGs, and I look forwards to advocating for and with young disabled people to ensure access to education.