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Global Youth Assembly greets tomorrow's leaders

Local student hopes to be inspired to make change

By: Scott Hayes

  |  Posted: Saturday, Aug 10, 2013 06:00 am

CHANGE AGENT – St. Albert student Ranya El-Sharkawi spent four days learning about social issues and making positive change at the Global Youth Assembly this past week at the University of Alberta.
CHANGE AGENT – St. Albert student Ranya El-Sharkawi spent four days learning about social issues and making positive change at the Global Youth Assembly this past week at the University of Alberta.
Supplied photo

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Ranya El-Sharkawi has spent the last few days trying to get a better understanding of the world’s problems and enriching her life to solve them.

The 17-year-old Bellerose High student has been taking part as a delegate at the fourth Global Youth Assembly at the Edmonton Clinic Health Academy on the University of Alberta campus. The four-day event is an international human rights forum for anyone aged 15 to 28 to learn about global social issues and how to become an agent of positive change.

She said that her participation stemmed from her involvement with the school’s Interact Club, a teenaged version of Rotary Club.

“I figured I’d go and get some ideas,” she explained on Tuesday. “There are a ton of workshops and speakers from different organizations. It’ll be a lot of workshops that I’m looking forward to, and talks.”

Starting on Wednesday, the Global Youth Assembly has featured several workshops and keynote speakers including Emmanuel Jal, the Sudanese-born musician, actor, author and advocate who spent some of his earlier years as a child soldier. He escaped these circumstances to be able to spread his own messages of peace, reconciliation and forgiveness.

Other special guests have included Nina Kahori, David Swann, Saa Andrew, David Zakus, Devon Harris, Francis Whiskeyjack, Abdullah Saleh, Sasha Wittes and Rénée Vaugeois, the executive director of the John Humphrey Centre herself, among numerous others. They discussed such diverse subjects as political injustice, workers’ rights, youth arts initiatives, international peace and aboriginal reconciliation.

“A lot of the young people are really keen about engaging in their community, or really passionate about making change, or concerned about issues,” Vaugeois explained. “It’s that space where they can come together face to face to dig into the issues, explore the issues, but also figure out where they fit and what their role could be.”

She said that as incredible as these four days always are, it’s the end that she loves the most. That’s when she sees all of the great things that these new leaders are inspired to do. She recounted one youth who came out of the last assembly with an idea to reduce the waste of plastic water bottles at her high school. She scored a $70,000 scholarship from TD Bank to realize her project. It wouldn’t have happened without the event, Vaugeois added.

“It’s really a place where they garner that momentum and they make those connections and spark that fire.”

El-Sharkawi went to the Thursday night session with Jal and had a full slate of other activities lined up as well.

“There’s something that’s similar to TEDTalks. It’s just 20-minutes of people who come up and tell their stories. The Red Cross is also going to be there and I’m involved with that as well so I’m looking forward to that too.”

The participants, known as delegates, have taken part in these sessions to “enhance their capacity as young change makers,” according to the event’s website at The assembly is held every second year. It’s put on by Edmonton’s John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights, a leading national organization that is focused on promoting the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Vaugeois was sad to report that attendance is way down this year, mostly because many international delegates were unable to get travel visas. It usually sees 600 people take in the programs but this year there are only 200 with only one international delegate from Cameroon.

“It’s crazy.”

This year, the theme is Ignite Change Now, a message meant to encourage delegates to reflect on the health of human rights and identify where they can contribute to fostering equality, justice and freedom.

There was even a one-day leadership program for participants aged 10 to 14 to learn about citizenship, leadership and human rights. Held yesterday, the attendees explored topics from health to human rights as they learned how to promote equality, justice and freedom in the world.

“I’m definitely hoping to use it for my Interact Club. Our whole purpose is basically doing what you’re passionate about in your community and internationally. So, getting more ideas and how to get involved, really inspired by people who’ve had various experiences and hardships. I’m pretty open to learning about everything.”

In addition to all of the presentations and workshops, the organizers hosted a “Dragon’s Den” of sorts, receiving proposals of youth projects with a chance to receive funding support.


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