PRESS CONFERENCE ON YOUNG PEOPLE'S CONGRESS
The Millennium Young People's Congress, to be held in Hawaii from 25 to 29 October 1999, would assess issues and set new priorities for youth in sustainable development by a truly representative level of youth participation, Argentina's National Coordinator for the Congress said today at the launch of the Congress during a Headquarters press conference sponsored by the United States Mission to the United Nations.
Argentina's National Coordinator, Marina Mansilla Herman, 16, who is also the Director of Mission Rescate, Argentina, said she had been working with environmental issues since the age of nine and that the members of many youth congresses she had attended were the sons or daughters of parents active in projects and businesses sponsoring the events. "At this Congress, the delegates selected by peers and youth are the organizers", she said. "Activists chosen to attend will be selected from among those who have been working hard in the environmental or social field. More than half of the Steering Committee members meeting in July will be youth".
Also present at the launch were representatives of: entities involved in the Congress; the Millennium Host Committee; the eco-tourist agency, Green Globe; the Commission on Sustainable Development; and United States government agencies. United States Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, in a video message as Chairman of the Hawaii Host Committee, said Hawaii was the perfect backdrop to discuss the priorities that needed to be upheld for a pristine environment for future generations.
The President of Peace Child International and Congress Co-Director, David Woollcombe, led the launch. He said he had been working closely with the United Nations since 1986 and with the Commission on Sustainable Development since the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) (Rio de Janiero, 1992). The idea for the Congress had evolved during the five-year review of Rio, when the President of Green Globe, an eco-tourism agency and the moving spirit behind Agenda 21 for Travel and Tourism, Geoffrey Lipman, had suggested a big congress bringing together children from all over the world "to set a real powerful youth agenda for the twenty-first century" with regard to the Rio "Earth Summit" process.
The Commercial Director of Green Globe, Reg Easy, said that, as his organization's work for the tourism industry included education and training programmes encouraging youth participation, Green Globe was fully committed to the Congress. The group's Dodo Programme, represented by the dodo symbol and incorporating wildlife with cartoon characters developed into video and text programmes for the school curriculum, would be offered to the Congress for its immediate use and on an ongoing basis.
A representative of the Commission on Sustainable Development, Federica Pietracci, said youth was a large component of the major group representatives with whom the Commission worked. The Congress would make a large contribution in the area of youth and sustainable development. The Commission looked forward to the outcome of Congress and to incorporating the outcome into the intersessional process in preparation for the 10-year review of the Rio process.
Mr. Woollcombe said the Congress was moving ahead, because youth were making a huge effort. In 116 countries worldwide, youth similar to Argentina's National Coordinator were working at various levels of effectiveness in preparing for national consultations. In India, according to the World Wildlife Fund, which was organizing the India consultation, over 300,000 young people were being consulted in the process. "That means 300,000 young people are wiser about sustainable development issues than they were before", he said. "I could go on. Viet Nam, Belarus, hundreds of countries, are using this opportunity of the Congress to sensitize their young people about the issues raised at the Rio Summit."
Congress Co-Director, Maeona Mendelson, speaking as Coordinator for the Millennium Host Committee, introduced Hawaii's volunteer support team and said her group's role was to provide ground support. "From the moment youth arrive in Hawaii, we've rallied to make their stay safe, fun and inspirational."
Ms. Mendelson explained that 400 families would host two delegates each and events would include activities, such as a full day at Sea Life Park, where the Oceanic Institute and other environmental organizations would demonstrate and work with the youth on the issues of protecting marine ecology. Meetings would be held at the State capital and at hotels, with many of the venues donated. Organizations, such as the Department of Land and Natural Resources, had designed hands-on service projects that would teach about such issues as watershed maintenance. That project would also reclaim the land around the foot of Hawaii's landmark Diamondhead. A peace garden would be built there as a legacy to the Congress.
"Hawaii has truly rallied behind this effort", Ms. Mendelson said, explaining that one legacy of the Congress would be to enable youth to set priorities and then act upon them. Therefore, a Millennium Action Fund was being established through a campaign entitled "A Lei for Peace". Every Hawaiian resident would be asked to make a contribution and a giant lei would be built with a flower for every dollar. The lei would be placed in the peace garden.
In addition, she said, Hawaii's Millennium Host Committee was recruiting youth in Hawaii and on the mainland United States to serve as millennium youth stewards, who would help manage and run the Congress. Recruitment would run through May and youths could most easily sign up through the Web site located at MYPC99.org. And finally, to ensure a support system for after the Congress, connections were being established through the International Rotary,
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the Kiwanis Clubs, United Nations agencies and government agencies, such as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The Under-Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs of the USDA, Michael Dunn, said his agency fully supported the Millennium Congress, because it would educate youths in growing contemporary concerns. One of these was the phenomenon of "invasive alien species", such as the Asian longhorn beetle and other bugs, whose cross-contaminations were increasing due to the greater frequency of trade and travel. The Millennium Congress was an important opportunity to convey information to the future world leaders in travel and trade, not just during the Congress itself, but once they'd returned to their homes.
Mr. Woollcombe said the Congress could serve as a model for other youth gatherings, which were not always satisfactory from the youth point of view. The Congress included the input of youth and it emphasized follow up with government agencies and ministries around the world. It provided for extensive follow up at the national level, and at the international level through United Nations agencies, such as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). In that way, it helped youth build on the experience.
In response to a question, Ms. Mendelson clarified that there would be a girl and boy delegate selected from each country represented. During July, a group of young activists or community leaders would also be selected and that would bring the number of participants up to about 1,000. With 200 youth stewards facilitating the Congress as an in-service experience, the event would truly be run by youth. Hawaii's state government had made a tremendous commitment to pick up the housing, food and entertainment costs of the youth. The youth and stewards would be staying in host homes. Adults would stay in hotels, with rooms either donated or offered at greatly reduced rates.
Mr. Woollcombe then clarified that the target for the Millennium Youth Fund was $2 million and it was hoped that it would be reached by the middle of 2000. "Reaching that target will depend to a large extent on the quality of the action plans put together by the young people", he said. "They tell us what they want to do and that's what we go out and beat the Foundations over the head for." However, his experience had been that the youth always deliver and came through with brilliant ideas.
In response to a question about scholarships, Mr. Woollcome said that Green Globe was helping to "scholarship" every child attending, through donated airline tickets and fund raising. A grant from the Government of Norway, for example, would bring children from developing countries and would, he hoped, be matched by other government grants. Island Press of Hawaii, as another example, would publish a report on the event.
James Olsen, Vice-President of the United Nations Association of the United States, asked for an explanation of the selection process and how non-governmental organizations were involved. Mr. Woollcombe said outreach
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had been primarily through non-governmental organizations, such as United Way of America, United Way agencies, 4-H Clubs, Youth in Action, the YMCA and others. The governor of every state had been invited to select two of the state stewards. A third steward from each state would be a joint selection by each state's United Way and America's Promise for Youth, with states being requested to help with funding. In Australia, the major national consultation was happening through the United Nations Youth Association, a most effective process.
Finally, Carol Murugi Maina, 21, of Home Planet and Young Media Partners, Kenya, said her country's National Coordinator was based in Nairobi. Because access to communication tools, such as the Internet, was limited, a press release had been used to inform youths about the Congress, to bring about a consultation and to solicit views of the country's concerns. A peace representative had been appointed, because peace had emerged as a priority concern with youth in Kenya. A national consultation had been held last week, but the results had not yet been reported.
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