The essence of democracy is the active involvement of people, including the youth. For this reason, in 2000 the United Nations established its Youth Delegate Program, inviting selected young people from all over the world to address international forums and UN bodies to discuss matters of young people’s interests.
Belgium’s region of Flanders, through the youth advisory organ Vlaamse Jeugdraad, has sent delegations to the UN Headquarter in New York since 2009. For the year 2013, it will also participate in the sessions of COP 19 and the Commission for Sustainable Development, beside the General Assembly.
For the Flemish youth, the selection process began in September and culminated on December 1, 2012. KULMUN Newswire had the honour to report its organizing.
“Careful at making jokes.”
At 11 AM the final selection commenced in KU Leuven’s De Valk College with a friendly, though tense of atmosphere. All applicants had impressive records of volunteering and project initiation, but only three out of 20 would finally get elected.
Participants were free to choose between two workshops: public speaking or project management. Time restrictions would not allow them to join both workshops. A pity, since those two skills are equally essential for a UN Youth Representative.
KULMUN’s own Irina Botea led the workshop on public speaking. “You do not have personal space issues, do you?” she asked half-jokingly to Sunita Singh, a participant who volunteered to rehearse their speaking skill in front of the class. Irina ‘helped’ by ‘becoming her hands’, proving how difficult it is to deliver a good speech without being in control of your movements.
“Be careful when you make jokes,” Irina added. “Particularly when the conference that you attend use interpreters.”
“We are pretty good in translating jokes.” said an applicant who studied Translation. Irina shook her head. “But you’ll also have to consider that not all interpreters finish the translation at the same time. Too often, you will have to hear a delegation laugh ten minutes after the jokes is delivered. Imagine if by then you already move to talk about a serious, dreadful subject.”
On the project management training, Vlaamse Jeugdraad’s Wout Van Cainmere explained to us that it aimed to prepare the Youth Delegates carrying a mission. A project can be very complicated or start simple. “A few years ago, for example, a Flemish Representative tries to raise awareness on climate change by giving armbands.” Let’s just hope that a carbon footprint calculator also came with it.
After lunch break, the selection resumed with a mini-Model Human Rights Council. KULMUN’s Frank Hoogendijk chaired the council with enthusiasm, and Irina sat by his side.
The topic was the rights of the environmental refugees and the applicants were to be evaluated on their speeches and rhetoric skills. This made a few delegates felt self-conscious, as admitted by the Delegate of Russia. “I enjoyed it, though. Other candidates have a very good skill, which was a pleasant surprise to me.”
Being very Model United Nations about it, the candidates spent around half of the committee session talking about definitions. Candidates were split on how to interpret the phrase “environmental refugees”. The Delegate of Qatar denied that environmental refugees exist, and instead proposed that any refugee be categorized as either a “political” or “social” refugee. Unfortunately, there was no nod whatsoever to the International Organisation of Migration’s definition on the term.
The committee ended after two hours. “I am generally pleased by the performance of the applicants.” Lander Piccarts, the Chairman of Vlaams Jeugdraad, remarked. “I think the Philippines, Russia, and Hungary particularly nailed it,” said Frank.
“Let’s just not be so hipster about it.”
The selection result came shortly afterwards: Elien Raport is to represent Belgium in UN General Assembly, New York; Robbert Cassier in COP-19, Poland; and Steven Vanonckelen in the Commission for Sustainable Development.
Steven Vanonckelen (27) has expressed that this election “is an honor”. He is planning quite an ambitious project: either raising awareness on the importance of mangroves, or a research on the relationship between the growing urbanization rate and the loss of cities’ green soil.
Steven is a Ph.D researcher and Bioscience Engineer in KU Leuven’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. His experience includes being the leader, chief, and district commissioner at scouting groups Diependaal and Gouw Oost-Brabant. He is optimistic about the future of volunteering: “People will need to support each other on a voluntary basis and voluntary projects can counteract the growing apathy in society.”
Interviewed in Brussels, where he now worked at his organisation Internship Belgium, Robbert Cassier stressed the need to make more people involved in green campaigns. “The most important thing is to make the green movement acceptable by mainstream culture, and not seen as an exclusive, pretentious, hipster thing to do.” Robbert, who finished his study in geology at Ghent University, believes that educating primary school kids in Flanders will be a good investments. He plans to create a series of educational video on climate change, to be shown to kids at school. “Another key is the teachers. I hope they can be cooperative.” Intending to establish a cooperation with kids magazine Zonnekind, Robbert hopes to reach more magazines and other children media for his video campaign.
Your Turn Next Time?
Vlaamse Jeugdraad is holding this election on an annual basis. “The applicants are evaluated based on their experience, knowledge, and speaking skill,” explained Lander. “First you would need to fill an application form, then there would be an interview session, and if you pass, you’ll get to the final stage of the election.”
What about the Belgian non-Dutch speaking youth, then? “The Wallonians and German-speaking youth are holding their own elections,” said Lander.You might want to keep your eyes open. For the non-Belgians, you may check whether your country has a Youth Representative Program. If it doesn’t, here is how you can establish one.
Let us all be Sisyphus. Though the international political regime, deflating as ever, may not always consider opinions from the young generation as carefully as it should, it is always important to let the world hear the voices of the youth. Whatever the result might be, the struggle itself is enough to fill the heart. One must believe. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.