In her final installment of the series, Sadhbh reflects on her trip to the One Young World Summit in November 2015, taking place in Bangkok.
When I received my acceptance email to the One Young World Summit, dozens of expectations and possibilities began flooding into my mind. We often tend to build these things up too much in our minds, overestimating in our glow of excitement how much of an impact they will have and how transformed we will be afterwards. As the jet lag begins to fade and the taste of fresh pineapple becomes but a memory, I have the chance to reflect on my whirlwind trip to Bangkok – and I can safely say that my experience over those four days not only met every expectation and provided me with all the possibilities that I had imagined, but in fact left me with many, many more.
I expected Bangkok to be an incredible backdrop for the event, and indeed our host city had a huge role to play in the experience. It made it all the more exciting and exotic for me, and I enjoyed the bustle and movement of the city as much as I did the fresh pomegranate juice from the street hawkers and the smell of incense drifting from colourful roadside shrines. No modality of sensation is left untouched when walking the streets of Bangkok. The governor of Bangkok and his administration did their utmost to welcome us and ensure our safety, perhaps erring on the side of excess at times – I’m not sure that I’m quite important enough to warrant a guard of honour of policemen or three people to help me cross the road! Although we were very busy and didn’t have the chance to explore much, we got to see parts of the city, such as the gardens of the Royal Palace, Chulalongkorn University and Lumpini Park, that I wouldn’t have visited of my own accord. To top it off, when a dance off began in Lumpini Park on our second night, the governor himself came to join in, showing us his best moves and forever cementing Bangkok as one of my favourite cities in the world.
One of my biggest expectations was for a diverse and dynamic line-up of speakers, and one cannot find fault with One Young World in this respect. Every sector was represented, from business to sport, healthcare to media – even Durex came along to speak to us! Each speaker had something important and provoking to say, but I found Maajid Nawaz, a reformed Islamic extremist, particularly interesting. He explained the reasons why people turn to extremism and gave me a new perspective on the Isis situation and how it has developed. Kofi Annan and Paul Polman both spoke passionately about climate action and certainly provoked many of us into taking a more proactive stance on this issue. While it was mind-blowing to be in a room with such brilliant people as these, the most inspiring of all were the delegate speakers, young people taking incredible steps in their communities and abroad to make this world a better place. Yeonmi Park, who spoke bravely about her escape from North Korea and the challenges she faced integrating into society after this, made me realise how lucky we are to have our freedom – although she told us, “I didn’t escape for freedom. I escaped for a bowl of rice”. Lina Khalifeh from Jordan works to put an end to violence against women with her self-defence organisation, SheFighter. Bryant Zebedy emotionally shed light on the troubles of his country, the Marshall Islands, as they battle increasing coastal erosion due to climate change. Francois Reyes from Paris, president of a think tank called Reveil Citoyen, gave an especially moving speech after the tragedy in Paris the weekend before. His ardour and passion captured the audience as he declared, “We will fight intolerance peacefully and never, ever give up hope”. The inspiration and empowerment I gained from listening to these delegate speakers cannot be measured. Coupled with the advice from Professor Yunus to “solve the issue of the person in front of you”, I feel ready to use these tools to create further positive change in my community.
Of course, once the serious work was done, I expected great fun to be had in the evenings. After the long days of talking and debating, our evening entertainment was catered for with dinner, live music, DJs and even a miniature carnival at the closing ceremony, complete with game booths, rides and food stalls. The highlight of these would have to be the dance-off I mentioned above. I have shimmied my way into many a circle of boppers and shakers, but never one so multicultural as this! The Portuguese guy spinning on his head was followed by a hip-hopping Japanese student, quickly elbowed aside by a tangoing couple from South America, all co-ordinated by a young man from Essex, Hussein Manawer, who later went on to win the Kruger Cowne Rising Star Programme for his phenomenal slam poetry on mental health – meaning he won a trip into space. Yes, you heard me. Outer space. And now you see why it is almost impossible to underestimate the possibilities that One Young World allows you.
What I didn’t expect were the friendships. Yes, I knew I’d make connections (hence the hasty joining of Linked In) and I knew I’d come home with more Facebook friends than I’d left with. But I did not envision coming home with friends that I fully intend to keep in touch with, from Brazil to Australia and many places in between. One Young World is more than just an organisation – it’s a community, a collection of passionate, proactive, forward-thinking young people. Yes, there is a great deal of networking and exchanging of business cards, and of course some of it is tactical. But more so, there is genuine connection and the desire to maintain this bond, because every person there ultimately wants the same thing, regardless of cultural, political or linguistic differences – to take action in order to make this world better. I am hugely grateful to have been given the opportunity to attend this Summit, and cannot thank the Global Relations Office and the Provost’s Office enough for their support. I have come home with expanding expectations of myself, plausible possibilities to connect with others on international projects, and a renewed fervour and positivity. The message of One Young World is not just for the delegates who attended the Summit. Paul Polman believes that “the reason changes are happening is because of the millennials”. We, the millennials, can call ourselves the leaders of the future – but why are we waiting for the future? It is time to talk. It is time to act. What will you do?