Can’t wait for tomorrow’s leaders!

Blog post of Kjetil Utne – Translated from Norwegian

Kjetil Utne is a senior political advisor for the Conservative Party in the Trondheim City Council, Norway. He is the Project Leader for ‘Children’s Rights to be Heard” conference in the St. Olav’s Festival in Trondheim.

Byron (14), and Tatiana (11) have never seen the ocean before. They also saw a dishwasher for the first time. The two young people from Nicaragua are not rich in money. However, when they entered the rostrum of the city hall in Trondheim with confidence to speak the  mayor Rita Ottervik, Head of the committee of  Family and Culture issues, Svein Harberg and other magistrates, they showed that they still were gifted.

Annapoorna (15) from Kundapur has once visited her state capital in India, Bangalore. Except for that she has not been far from her home community before she first boarded a plane and traveled to Trondheim with Venkatesh (18). Also these two young people contributed with  their knowledge and experience during five events on ‘children’s right to be heard’ as the theme. They talked with officials in the council chamber and the Western Front meeting in front of the cathedral with great confidence.

Atle (16) and Pia (17) were two of the members of the youth council and youth county council who attended. All engaged in intensive discussions with deep thoughts and  contributions. Everything in English. While Atle led the two-hour meet in the Council Chamber in English in a way that impressed everyone,  Pia who spoke on the Western Front Square. And not only did she speak. She also performed a self-written song about children’s rights.

The week that has passed has given me some of my life’s greatest moments. These events in the St. Olav Festival has been like ‘a dream coming true’ for me after I first received the approval of the City Council three years ago for the idea of ​​organizing such a ‘conference’. The whole thing was about to go down the drain because Trondheim never received a response from the Ministry of Children and Equality to be responsible for such a conference. After a year and a half they answered that they were the wrong addressee of such an application! That’s when I contacted the St Olav Festival and their newly appointed director Petter Myhr. There was a positive response from the start. The St Olav Festival chose to spend time and resources to make this happen and as a project manager, I have experienced a lot of goodwill and professional ability from their organization to execute the events. It has touched me greatly.

The youth City Council in Trondheim is perhaps the nation’s foremost youth cuncil, but a weakness in both the Youth Council in Trondheim and probably most similar councils in Norway and the Western world in general is that they consist almost entirely of resourceful youngsters. In countries like India it is the opposite.  It is the most marginalized that are involved. This was the reason we wanted to start this week with a workshop for young people who usually are not heard. Under the leadership of Berit and Moa from NTNU,  about twenty immigrant youth who are in Norway without parents met. Four of the members of the youth council were also given the opportunity to participate. It created the foundationt for the rest of the week and the Youth City Council now wants to change the way they work. One example is that the Unit for Adult Education (where immigrants get their first education in Norway after they have become residents in Trondheim) should also be represented on the Youth Council. They also want two ‘free seats’ that can be used by others who do not have access to the youth council through their school. This applies among others to older children that have dropped out of high school.

Another issue that immigrant youth were concerned about was a faster integration. As one of them said, ‘It is not easy to learn Norwegian when your friends speak Arabic.’ Participants from India were impressed that the members of the Youth City Council committed itself so strongly on behalf of those who are disadvantaged. And are we to believe the signals from the mayor Rita Ottervik, city council member Merethe Baustad Ranum and leader in committee of adolescence issues, Marte Løvik, it is likely that the changes that the youth council wishes are carried out.

We tend to believe that we in the rich West can teach the people in the poor parts of the world. We wanted to see this differently. Therefore, we invited the organization Concerned for Working Children (CWC) in India under the leadership of Kavita Ratna to lead two workshops on ‘children and governance’ and ‘children and information management.’ There were two tough days for members of the Youth Council who were really challenged on their opinions. But I am sure that  those two days are going to create effects both locally, nationally and internationally.

Children’s right to be heard is certainly about creating opportunities or children and young people to voice their opinions, but it does not help if no adult decision makers are present and listening. Therefore, it was important that the city council, county council, parliament and government were present. In addition to the aforementioned, also the leader of Cultural and Environment Committee of the County Council, Kirsti Leirtrø, assistant bishop Ragnhild Jepsen and State Secretary for Erna Solberg, Laila Bokhari took part in the events. And I am quite sure, that the young people made an impression on them. There is reason to quote Laila Bokharis status update on Facebook:

“After a trying few days for our country, getting into Trondheim and meeting those who matter the most: the next generation! This gives me hope, Warms my heart. If something is worth fighting for – and with – it is comfy. With children like these, the future is here! Kids from among others India, Nicaragua, Norway on “The right to be heard” @ Western Front meeting Olavsfestdagene. Can not wait for tomorrow’s leaders! – The Olavsfestdagene. ”

Is it only positive things to say?

Almost. The week ended with pizza party on Friday before the foreign guests took early farewell as they had an early flight the next morning. Tears flowed among many and most had lumps in their throats. These days have affected us for life in a way that I think will create positive changes. For my own part, I have already started planning my first visit to Nicaragua. And every year I visit India to learn more.

But where was the media? A month ago there was also a local event featuring youth democracy as a theme. Addresseavisen, the local newspaper was present and wrote an article that focused on Jonas Gahr Støre (leader of the labour party), who was a guest. The youth was almost forgotten. This time, the  “Speak Out” pages of the newspaper wrote a nice article last Thursday. Byavisa also wrote an article on their website in advance of the events Except for that the national broadcasting and other newspapers news reporters were absent. This was not important enough for them. Even the ‘Red Ribbon’ ceremony at the market square where the young people created a great visual frame suitable for TV and newspaper images by tieing five red ribbons around a tree to symbolize five demands for improvement of the situation of children locally, nationally and internationally, gained attention. When the requirements are met will the red bands replaced with white ribbon. Svein Harberg, head of the Parliamentary Committee of Families and culture received the demands on behalf of the “world’s adult decision makers” and said that he hopes to see a tree with only white ribbons as soon as possible.

  • When you look into a child’s eyes you expect to see hope, trust and innocence; but when you see these signs of childhood are replaced by betrayal, hunger, fear & suspicion, we need to take a serious stock of ourselves and the society we have created.

    - Nandana Reddy | CWC

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