by Romi Nhung
Published on: Mar 29, 2005
Type: Interviews

I opened a dialogue room for fellows of the Singapore International Foundation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Student Fellowship 2004 to talk about their awareness of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). To state in advance, these are outstanding ASEAN students and recent graduates, if not youth leaders from countries in the region. However, I am not going to say that they could speak on behalf of all young people in their countries; the discussion was primarily initiated for a group of energetic ASEAN citizens to share views on the MDGs, as well as the MDG Campaign.

The invitation had been sent out two weeks before the live chat on Yahoo Messenger. Then on the day itself, only ten people were able to come over to my room, but encouragingly enough, we had representatives from six of ten ASEAN countries which are Brunei (Luan Yin), Thailand (Nutta), Vietnam (Hong Nhung), Malaysia (Shyuan), Singapore (Farhan, Desmond) and the Philippines (Richard, Patrick, Christopher, Maida).

Have you ever heard of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)?

Four out of ten accounts were blinking. The outcome of 40% in this small community of youth turned out to be positive because some recent research indicated that 95% had not. However, when going further into some more details, only Christopher, a writer to the Manila Bulletin, could answer responsively. He was very confident to say the Philippines must be among the first drafters and signers of the Millennium Declaration or any other strategies most of the time. He also stated that “more should be done because I myself heard of the MDGs a lot during the early part of the Millennium but now...not a lot anymore." His country-mate, Maida, a Peace Program Officer under the Office of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process of the Philippines, said that she had heard of the MDGs not so often, “might be once a year, during the international conferences” and lately when she was preparing a paper on Sustainable Development.

How important is the role of young people in the MDG Campaign?

Everyone unanimously rated the importance of youth participation at the highest point. Farhan, a Psychological Student at the National University of Singapore, commented, “The young have the energy, drive and idealism to promote and ensure the embrace of the objectives of the MDGs and the Millennium Campaign.” He insisted on “the very first attempt that youth can do is to read more about the MDGs and talk with people around them.” As the Head and Chief Editor of a club journal publication, he suggested that there were many opportunities for youth to be good contributors to newspapers in their countries by translating news around the Millennium Campaign (MC) into local languages.

“The youth being the largest sector of the population, and the group which will significantly feel the successes or failures of the MDGs is playing a key role in the MDG Campaign in any country”, affirmed Maida (the Philippines). “However, this role is not being taken upon by youth seriously enough, either because of ignorance or apathy.” Hong Nhung, a Linguistic Student at the Vietnam National University of Hanoi shared the same idea but looked ahead to a lot betterment of “actions in awareness of the MDGs done by young people.” She briefed everyone on an inspirational story of Tuyet Mai, a Law graduate, who made ”A journey towards a better future” by travelling to 23 provinces around Vietnam by public transport, talking about her country’s efforts to reach the MDGs to people.

Christopher (the Philippines) added on with his view of the youth’s burden. “Their duties are not only limited in making the plan survive and work for generations to come, but also contributing as active partakers in the quest for improving lives.” Everyone was agree with Christopher, “civic groups and NGOs need a lot of volunteers and awareness programs are needed to combat HIV/AIDS, discrimination and other social taboos and stigmas that causes drifts among people.” His fast typed speech was then concluded with a good statement, “The youth plays a key role in ensuring and at the same time improving the feasibility of the MDGs.”

What are your personal opinions on the MDGs?

“From what I know (which is not much, I am sorry to say), there is not much significantly new about the goals which are not already incorporated, either implicitly or otherwise, in the agenda of the national governments”, Maida (the Philippines) said.

Christopher (the Philippines) disagreed and said, “If all the governments in the world were doing the things they ought to do, we would not need the 2000 Millennium Declaration.” He remarked, “The objectives of the MDGs are roles that are part and parcel of every single government towards their people. The government as component of the state is an institution that ought to ensure the quality of the lives of its citizens.” His important point was that not all governments shared the same passion and drive towards the elimination of poverty, inequality, diseases, therefore, a global integration of efforts had to be done to further pressure other governments to work hard for these goals and at the same time to lend some helping hands towards other countries who needed crutches in order to move forward. “After all, every country is interconnected now in the globalized world,” Christopher concluded.

In general, how has the mass media influenced young people in your national movement to achieve the MDGs?

“Their role should be very important I suppose,” stated Luan Yin, a Mathematic Student at the University of Brunei Darussalam, “but I have not seen much efficiency. There is no dedicated channel for youth at all.”

“In Malaysia, we have several programs on TV for youth. One of them is especially for girls, if I am not mistaken, the rest are more towards entertainments,” Shyuan, a Finance Student at the University of Multimedia, Malaysia expressed. He expected to have a new channel or special program where young people in his country can discuss or debate on various issues including what are going on with the national MDG Campaign.
Meanwhile, Richard, an Information Technology Management Graduate of the Ateneo De Manila University, shared his excitement that his beloved Philippines had a wide range of publications as well as TV shows, programs for youth and “the mass media in my country have made positive contributions to the national development. Through the media, the Pinoys youth do have their own voice in the country.”

In fact, there is a significant lack of knowledge about the MDGs, so what are your suggestions?

Everyone, even those who had no idea of the MDGs and the MC, agreed with Farhan (Singapore), “A lot more need to be done, especially to inform, encourage and involve more young people all over the world.” However, we need some solutions to the national, regional and international MDG Campaign.

“To raise the awareness of the MDGs among people, we should best use media to disseminate information and invite celebrities to talk about it. We open forums for people to discuss. We also can publicize the campaign through road shows. In Singapore, we even display our national Exercise and Eat Healthy campaign on the MRTs,” said Desmond, a Financial and Information System Management Student at Singapore Management University.

Shyuan (Malaysia) added that we should give out examples through mass media. “Apparently, real examples of many enthusiastic activists for the MDGs will easily attract many other people, especially youth.”

Christopher (the Philippines) recommended, “For national campaign, we should improve budget allocations on health, education, environment and social welfare programs. Bulk of the budget has to be allocated in catering these basic needs in order to uplift quality of life. For regional campaign, I guess everyone expect a better integration of neighbouring countries. Conflicts and disputes like border disputes and foreign policy disputes have to be settled immediately without jeopardizing each other’s economy and citizens. Governments have to develop close relations with its neighbours because spillover effects of whatever problems close countries are experiencing. And lastly, for our global MC, every country needs to cooperate with UNDP resolutions and treaties. We should forge new ties and stronger bonds to not only the allies but also to countries that need help. We should share knowledge and developments so that more can benefit.”

In terms of engaging young people in the MDG Campaign, Nutta, an International Business Management Graduate at the Chulalongkorn University, Thailand proposed, “Governmental supports to instil and encourage the youth to be conscious of their crucial role in the efforts to achieve the MDGs by 2015 must be put forward.” She mentioned the strong Youth Network that the National Youth Council in some countries had built and she believed that was a vital factor to help enhance the success of the MC.

Nutta’s views were appreciated by Richard (the Philippines), “In addition, it is the government that should acknowledge different groups of the young people, both labour and educated, as different potential resources in their national development, particularly in their endeavours to reach 8 MDGs by 2015.”

“I am thinking of the power of the Internet...websites, forums, e-bulletins, e-communities, e-mails and such like, we have so many good means to propagate the MDGs but have we utilized them effectively enough? Have the youth considered seriously the possibilities to take action via the Internet?” questioned Patrick, a Development Associate of the Peace and Equity Foundation, the Philippines.

Patrick’s question was neither specially meant to anyone of these young people from three-fifths of ASEAN Community, nor implied at you who are “informed, inspired and involved” members of TakingITGlobal. However, it might make you and the other youth think of your involvement in the Millennium Development Goal Campaign of your country, of your region and of our whole world.

Friends, ask yourself then tell me, what is your response?

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