G’day Mate! After an intense week at the Asia 21 Summit, it was time for some fun and sun! First up on my list was a trip to the beautiful “12 Apostles”, a collection of limestone stacks off the shore of Port Campbell National Park. It was a long day that began with a 3- hour drive on the Great Ocean Road, followed by a visit to the 12 Apostles, and a walk through the rainforest for some koala spotting. We were treated to an up-close encounter with a koala who waddled along, as all of us, tourists, crowded around him/her like the paparazzi!
Two weeks ago, I had an amazing opportunity to join up with 29 of Asia’s top young leaders in government, business, arts, media, and the nonprofit sector at the Asia 21 Summit in Melbourne, Australia.
This year’s theme was World Disrupted: Asia’s Future and we had the pleasure of learning from lectures and site visits focusing on geopolitics in the region to social innovation.
In two weeks, I’ll be jetting off to Melbourne, Australia to attend the Asia 21 Young Leaders Summit where I’ll be meeting with 29 other professionals from 20 countries who were selected as next generation leaders in government, business, arts, media, and the nonprofit sector.
Asia 21 is a network of more than 800 young leaders from 40 nations, collaborating to shape a bright future for the Asia-Pacific region. I was selected through a highly competitive process based on outstanding achievement, commitment to public service, and a proven ability to make the world a better place.
My time at CARE has been spectacular thus far, full of learning and insight. One of the highlights was organizing a Hot Topic session on gender-based violence at the CARE National Conference. The conference was in its 15th year, and brought more than 400 citizen advocates, corporate partners, philanthropists, humanitarians, and international development experts for three days of inspiration, learning, and advocacy on behalf of vulnerable women and girls.The conference theme was “Now More than Ever” emphasizing the need to act in the face of deep cuts to the foreign assistance budget.
This panel event was followed by a reception hosted by CARE USA that included CARE’s Tipping Point photo exhibit featuring images documenting the lives of girls in Nepal and Bangladesh who are child brides or vulnerable to child marriage. Remarks were made by a number of Members of Congress, as well as Dr. Kakenya Ntaiya who shared her experiences escaping child marriage and as a survivor of FGM/C, and advocate for girls’ education in Kenya.
One of the most exciting opportunities I’ve had at CARE USA, was the chance to be on the organizing team for the Overcoming Challenges, Empowering Girls Capitol Hill event held October 10, 2017 in commemoration of the International Day of the Girl. Hosted by Girls Not Brides USA, FGM Network, House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Ed Royce, and Congresswoman Betty McCollum, this signature community event was structured around a panel discussion moderated by Michelle, Nunn, CARE USA, with speakers Maryam Ahmed, Save the Children; Aubryn Sidle, AGE Africa; Yeva Avakyan, World Vision; and Quentin Wodon, World Bank. The event brought together over 150 policy-makers, girl advocates, civil society members, and the media to discuss and debate the unique challenges and opportunities faced by adolescent girls globally, and U.S. leadership in addressing them.
For 13 years, I have been championing the fight against the abuse and exploitation of children in Canada and globally, and have learned through my experience w/ some of the most marginalized children, that education is our most powerful preventative weapon. It is cross-cutting, leading to eco growth and the eradication of poverty; improving health and gender equality; and promoting inclusion and social cohesion; participatory citizenship and leadership; and sustainable peace. Yet, 58 M children of primary school age and 69 M children of secondary school age are out of school, and 130 M cannot read/write a single sentence after four years in school.
My success with Air Canada sparked Canada’s CST movement, and was also the influencing factor for the government, nonprofits, airport authorities, consulates, the travel/tourism industry, and law enforcement to collaborate for the first time in 2010, to initiate the first-ever multifaceted nation-wide campaign against CST. In pursuance, OneChild collaborated with child protection actors such as UNICEF Canada, the International Bureau for Children’s Rights, Plan Canada and the Government of Canada in conceptualizing, planning, and executing the campaign. As the lead for OneChild, I worked diligently with them to reach out to the travel/ tourism industry and host forums across Canada to sensitize them to the issue and increase inter-sectoral coordination; held consultations with youth; developed billboards, brochures, magazine inserts, and met with airlines, airports, tour operators, travel agencies, consulates, travel clinics, and tourism schools to ensure direct dissemination of the campaign material, which reached millions.
In an effort to offer young Canadians the opportunity to have their voices heard in the fight to end the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC), I initiated an innovative public education campaign to persuade Air Canada to screen a youth-produced in-flight distinguished itself for providing tens of thousands of youth—including survivors and at-risk youth—with knowledge, skills, tools, opportunities to be co-leaders in the fight against CSEC. OneChild offers PSA that would warn against the legal, social, and humanitarian consequences of traveling for the purposes of CSEC. The campaign was youth-led, and required the circulation of a petition, garnering letters of support from law enforcement and other organizations, presentations in which I drew from my travels in Sri Lanka, and rallying a group of seasoned young activists to star in and produce the PSAs. In 2005, our efforts were rewarded when Air Canada agreed to our request and began screening two in-flight videos on domestic and international flights to a
viewership of over 22 million passengers- a video that has been used by law enforcement agencies and schools; and a campaign that has been hailed as a best practice by the World Tourism Organization’s Task Force for the Protection of Children in Tourism.
My pioneering youth campaign was solely responsible for the Canadian private sector’s first engagement on CST, and sparked Canada’s CST movement, influencing youth, government, law enforcement, travel/tourism, NGOs to collaborate for the first-ever nation-wide campaign raising awareness of
Canada’s extraterritorial legislation, reaching millions.
As a child, my experience in Sri Lanka was the only case when my potential to contribute meaningfully was valued. Frustration was mounting, and after speaking with child survivors in Sri Lanka who expressed their desire to be decision-makers in matters that affect them, I knew I had to act. Speaking with them had left
an indelible mark on me, and taught me a valuable lesson: freedom is more than the absence of exploitation; it’s also having a voice and being listened to.