Speech by Mr Romulo Dantas by the opening of the UN High-Level Meeting on Youth

Romulo speaking at the opening, together with Ban Ki-moon and other excellencies
Romulo speaking at the opening, together with Ban Ki-moon and other excellencies

Good morning, I wish all of you here today a very good High Level Meeting

It is not every day that someone has the opportunity to invite Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Mr. Joseph Deiss and Alek Wek to come and visit my old street.

I come from Sao Paulo, Brazil, from one of the most violent and poor areas of Sao Paulo city in the 90’s. Even with a wonderful family, it would have be very easy for me to go along with some friends and to become, as some of them, a gang member, a drug addict or end up in jail or even dead; but, it did not happen and I promise I will tell you why in a moment…

We come together in the light of International Year of Youth in order to recognize an important chapter of the historical challenge of making visible the importance of young people and all issues affecting their lives.

They are from different cultures and backgrounds. They are boys and girls; young men and young women; poor and rich, from faith and not. They are from my street, from the streets where you live and they may not be celebrating this day with us. Some of them, who understand and know the existence of forums like this, are asking themselves right now: “what are those people doing there?”. They talk, talk and talk and nothing changes in my life.

– I am still knocking on doors for a job, and I don’t find one. This is a friend of mine from the 5th grade speaking. But do you know what? Along the way my street has become much bigger and I had the opportunity to meet many young people.

Another friend just walks in the daylight to make sure he will be able to finish this day alive.

– I cannot say things that I would like to or express myself properly about my sexual orientation, another voice said!

– I cannot tell the people from my community that I have the right to decide over my own body and that I should decide about the time to have sex or get pregnant;

– I would love to go to school If I could find one, or even find teachers to help me grow;

– I would stay in my country if I was not forced by incomprehensible wars or the need of finding ways to feed my family.

– I would not be in jail without knowing when I am leaving; if someone could understand the importance of having a fair trial.

– I would not be suffering from HIV and Aids if somebody had told me to use condoms, to just have one sexual partner or even to wait more for this step; worse, I cannot even treat myself given the prices of the medicines.

– I would have my legs to run and do some sports if some people were not hiding bombs because of conflicts that I have no idea when or why started and that do not mean this much for me and my buddies; at least not enough to exchange for a life.

These are the voices I have heard in many, many streets.

Would you imagine a world without young people?
We can imagine that!

When we see the rates of unemployment, the young people are the most affected ones.
When we take a look in the number of HIV infections… Guess what? Young people, especially young women, are on the top of the list.

When we watch news about victims of violence; there they are again: the young people.
In all countries and regions of our common world, we find young people with fewer opportunities, marginalized young people, and youth living with lethal diseases or illiteracy.

I could continue for a long time describing how we have been very competent in creating a hostile world for them

Yes, The International Year of Youth is close to its end but still much has to be done. It is time to celebrate, but is also time for us to call upon governments, civil society, the private sector and the United Nations to seriously tackle the challenges that billions of young people are facing. We all need to understand the fact that is impossible to build solutions for a diverse world once we are still lacking true partnership among all the important players in the youth field in many areas and at all levels.

If we want to have a minimum chance to succeed in guaranteeing dignity, freedom, peace and decent life for young people and for the population in general — a real and effective dialogue is absolutely crucial.
It is time for us to build a strong commitment to improve the situation of young people around the world and especially for marginalized young men and women that are suffering in many areas of this world and are oppressed in their thoughts, feelings and opportunities to act.

I am not saying that things have not changed or improved. Yes. We got better in my perspective! The world is more prosperous for my generation than for the previews ones. Some of you who are here are responsible for some changes we have seen. But, we cannot sleep until we get things done, until we are sure that we did everything we can do so we will not continue to hear these kinds of testimonials and we shall fulfill our responsibilities.

We are here to propose you a deal.
Let us be partners! Let us move on in the direction of mutual trust and respect. More than we have now…
We are here to say that youth-led organizations can help – and are key – for changing the situation because we are rooted where young people are.

We know what they are feeling;
We know ways to use resources efficiently
We build the solution with young people in the grassroots through our every day’s work, in both formal and non-formal education.

Believe in us! The youth civil society is inclusive in its nature, democratic in its processes and effective in its approaches.

We are practicing these principles by empowering young people to be decision makers and agents of change every day.

We co-operate! A good example of it is the International Coordination Meeting of Youth Organizations, a network of International Youth NGOs and Regional Youth Platforms that we are proud to belong to. We do it because egoism is not good, is not acceptable.

Let us work together towards the full implementation of the World Programme of Action on Youth. We do not need to re-create things – What we need is to see this ambitious program reflected in the policies and youth programmes of your countries.

Partner with us to strengthen the channels that allow young people to have their voices heard. Take the chance of sharing responsibility and decision making with us.

Make your structures more and more friendly for more young people to participate.
We invite you to implement programmes together at the global level. However, to do it we need more resources.

– Yes, resources! I know many of you are thinking: “There they are asking for money again”. And, yes; we are. We do ask you to invest in young people and their development!

Investment for the full implementation of the World Programme for Action on Youth, youth-oriented organizations and programmes are needed at national and international levels. As civil society organisations we are very busy doing what we exist for; so please make things less bureaucratic. Let us spend the extra time by thinking of better ways to serve young people.

After listening to it all, you probably ask yourself. Don’t they know that we are informed of everything he said until now? And, again, yes, we know. And it so obvious, that we should ask ourselves why is it not happening.

I am about to conclude, that’s why I will synthesize the ideas:
1. Pay attention to marginalized young people
2. Share responsibility with us
3. Invest money in the World Programme of Action on Youth and work with youth organizations
4. Design and implement new policies and programs to elevate the conditions of the younger population.

Before ending my speech, because I must, I will do what I have promised. I will tell you why my story was different from some of my friend’s.

It was because of a youth organization, the YMCA. The YMCA helped me to find something that I did not have as a teenager: self-esteem, self-confidence and real friends to prove that I was capable of doing incredible things.

With the YMCA I have learned how to be a leader, I decided the profession I wanted to have; I learned that I could dream of everything because I am allowed to. I learned to serve, and to serve makes me happy!

I had the opportunity to be healthy by practicing sports and to feel good by helping other people as a volunteer, to sing, to dance, to understand…that I am not a subject, I am a citizen! – I can participate, I can make a change!

I am one in 45 million people served by the organization I come from, but this figure goes much higher than 100 million with all youth organizations represented here today.
We empower young people, because we believe in youth and we exist for them. And, because of the positive transformations I have experienced, I took the decision of dedicating my life to this cause as many of you in this room.

“There is nothing about us without us”. Nothing about young people should be without the participation of young people! If we do that, the lights of hope and love will illuminate my old street and our streets in every corner of this world.

Published by ICMYO

The International Coordination Meeting of Youth Organizations (ICMYO) is an informal network of membership-based, democratic, representative and accountable International Youth NGOs and Regional Youth Platforms. Our main objective is to strengthen the cooperation of youth organisations at the regional and global levels in order to coordinate policy inputs to the UN and other global youth policy processes.

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