Student youth project resonates around globe

`Audacious' idea takes hold from Tibet to Tanzania

by Bruce Mason staff writer

The Youth Millennium Project (YMP) hasn't changed the world--not yet--but more than 4,000 youth have begun 80 innovative projects in 35 countries on five continents.

That's a start, say the organizers of the UBC/UNICEF project, which was officially launched in April. And it's proof positive that the world's young people--particularly in developing countries--are apprehensive about their future and are eager to get involved on a grassroots level.

"We knew it was an audacious idea," say YMP co-founders Rebecca Slate and Justine Wiltshire, "but we decided to do something about the ongoing universal tragedy that young people feel that they have no control over the world's future."

"This project is a testament to what young people can accomplish if they are given an opportunity to exercise their ideas," says UBC President Martha Piper.

After graduating from UBC in June 1998 in Education and Law, respectively, Slate and Wiltshire conceived the project in which people aged 11-14 in every country would be invited to discuss global issues of concern to them and to create local action plans.

A year later, YMP was wholeheartedly endorsed at UNICEF headquarters in New York and the invitation went out to 190 countries in 70 languages through the organization's international offices.

Almost immediately, youth in Vietnam started raising money for school supplies. In Sierra Leone, an education campaign on a peace agreement began after nine years of civil war. The subject of a similar campaign in Azerbaijan is HIV/AIDS. Villages are being cleaned up in Estonia, funds are being raised for Mozambique in Germany, and trees are being planted in Tanzania.

At UBC's Liu Centre for the Study of Global Issues, where Slate and Wiltshire work with a small army of dedicated volunteers and work-study students, word has been received that 500 Tibetan children living in exile in India have joined YMP. In Namibia, youth have pledged to eradicate poverty in their village by 2020.

"Although we do use the Internet, much of this overwhelming response is on pencil and paper and from Africa and South America," reports Slate. "People are honoured to be invited and take us more seriously because we communicate in their local language."

A team of 100 volunteer translators work on the project.

In July 2001, Slate and Wiltshire intend to bring a boy and a girl--randomly selected from a YMP group in each country--to attend a Youth Millennium Conference at UBC.

YMP is currently raising $3 million for the conference. The President's Office has had an immediate response from 14 universities to provide financial and other support.

YMP implements four specific rights from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: the rights to express views, receive information, education, and preparation for a responsible life.

"In too many countries, children are subject to dreadful abuse or neglect, ranging from forced military service or physical labour to denial of education and protection from physical harm," says Law Prof. Ivan Head, former director of the Liu Centre. "By encouraging youth to act in concerted, constructive fashion, and by raising awareness of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, this remarkable project contributes to a better future for children and societies everywhere."

For more information on the project, call 604-822-5028, or e-mail