My world drastically expanded when I gathered the courage to take this step. It was definitely worth it,
says second-year Takeda High School student Sakura OMURA, who became a 2020 UNITAR Youth Ambassador.
UNITAR Hiroshima Office/Division for Prosperity, in collaboration with the UNITAR Association, annually runs the UNITAR Youth Ambassador programme for high school students in Hiroshima. UNITAR seeks to nurture these young people, who are expected to play an important role in the international community, by providing opportunities for exposure to the global community. Sakura was one of the 24 youth selected for the 2020 programme, which was held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic was one of the reasons Sakura applied for the Youth Ambassador programme: her school was temporarily closed and the study abroad programme scheduled for the summer was also cancelled. She was itching for something to do when she discovered the application for the Youth Ambassador programme.
For three months starting in July, Sakura spent busy days learning through webinars and a smartphone app as well as interacting virtually with training participants of UNITAR's Innovation for Growth: Inspiring Youth Entrepreneurs and Leaders in Iraq programme. The Youth Ambassadors were divided into groups, chose one Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), and prepared a presentation about the goal.
Sakura’s group selected Goal 16: to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, to provide access to justice for all, and to build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.
Sakura first learned about peace and tolerance through hula dancing, which she has been dancing since she was young. As a student, she underwent a peace education programme for all Hiroshima students and was moved by the powerful stories of survivors (Hibakusha).
Nevertheless, the Youth Ambassador workshops made Sakura acutely aware of how little she knew about the violence and brutality that goes on in the world. If she does not know the facts, Sakura thought, there is no way for her to take action. In her final group presentation, she called on people to learn and take action together.
I’ve come to realize that living in Hiroshima has allowed me to think about peace deeply. It also means that we have that many more opportunities and platforms for us to communicate about peace.
Even after the completion of the programme, the Youth Ambassadors have stayed in touch and continued activities together, such as participating in an international forum and a poster exhibition. Led by another Youth Ambassador, Junya Takano, they have also launched a website promoting the SDGs.
The UNITAR Youth Ambassador programme started in 2010 and now has around 100 graduates. Many former Youth Ambassadors remain interested in the SDGs and play active roles in various fields, in universities or overseas. From 2020, a mentor system was introduced so that Youth Ambassadors can seek more direct or relevant advice from seniors whose ages are close to them.
Sakura was inspired by her mentors’ abilities to make things happen and by their sound advice. At the same time, she was motivated by her group members’ strong will to contribute to international cooperation, as well as their rich ideas. She was impressed with the powerful words of the lecturers, backed by their energy and experiences. “Everything was so inspiring. It made me realize how little I knew and how narrowminded I was. Through in-depth discussions, I came to understand there are as many ideas as there are people. I realized how important it is to gather the courage to take a step forward. There are many options ahead of us,” says Sakura.
Through her experience as a Youth Ambassador, her future path became clearer. “Low-quality education fails to produce people of talent. I started to think of becoming not just an ordinary educator but a professional educator who can impart necessary knowledge to people in need.” Sakura is now studying pedagogy in university.
Sakura talked to us with passion, thinking carefully before speaking her mind. “I’m a person who lacks confidence in myself. I’m very shy. My English is poor and my knowledge on the SDGs is insufficient.” That is precisely why she wants to convey her message to people who are hesitant to try new things, to youth like her before she participated in this programme.
Be courageous. You can gain so much. You get a lot of support from people around you. You can learn from that and start to take action.