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Children International youth delegates Jiyaul Piyada from India, Rocio Garcia from the Dominican Republic, Lara Villanueva from the Philippines, and Charday from the United States participate in the opening ceremony of the Youth Assembly at the United Nations.
Teen Voice

Youth Make a Difference

-- Mary Beth Coudal

Four teens attended the Annual Youth Assembly at the United Nations August 12-14, 2008. Sponsored by Children International, these young people from poor communities around the world spoke up at this international forum, bringing a richness of experience, poise and vision.

At the United Nations gathering of nearly one thousand international youth leaders, two of Children's International sponsored youth, Jiyaul Piyada and Lara Villanueva, received the Kathy Ireland Achievement Awards for excellence.

Jiyaul Piyada, 16, India

As a youth council leader, Jiyaul was part of a team that educated kids and parents on the ill effects of early marriage. In West Bengal, where Jiyaul lives, it is not unusual for girls to marry at age 12. A girl's family, in extreme poverty, acts out of fear. Parents fear that as their daughter matures, she will become pregnant, thus stigmatizing the whole family. And parents also fear that as girls age, the family will have to pay more of a dowry to the future husband's family.

Jiyaul and other members of the youth council in West Bengal conducted a survey of neighbors and community members to provide hope in place of fear. The survey showed that a 30 percent reduction in early marriage is not only possible, but it benefits the whole community. Educating girls and allowing them to mature into adulthood before marriage creates a healthier and more prosperous family and community.

Education is important to Jiyaul as he intends to go to college, study medicine and become a doctor. His father, a tailor, earns between $16 and $40 dollars a month. Without Children International, youth like Jiyaul who come from dire poverty have less of a chance to make a difference.

The highlight of Jiyaul’s visit to New York was seeing the Empire State Building. Another highlight was traveling through revolving doors, a unique and humorous experience because Jiyaul had never been through a mechanical revolving glass door.

Jiyaul has been sponsored by Children International since he was 11.

Lara Villanueva, 17, Philippines

Like the other international youth, Lara had never traveled away from home before.

"I'm very lucky to have this experience -- to meet people from other races and cultures. I have a very high regard for all the people I've met at the United Nations because they all have a big heart for humanitarian efforts."

Slight and articulate, Lara, a sponsored teen through Children International, is president of her youth council. Last year's youth council determined that coastal dumping "kills marine life, threatens people's livelihood (those who work on the coast) and destroys our environment," said Lara.

"The majority of youth identify projects to benefit themselves. Seldom does a project benefit the community, the environment, and the next generation like this one does," marveled Eleanor Peña, Children International Regional Program Coordinator in the Philippines.

Lara said that coastal cleanup will be expanded through this year's project, the Green Patrol, which raises awareness on climate change, global warming and solid waste management. Other issues that the youth council in the Philippines seeks to address are juvenile delinquency, early pregnancy, and lack of education.

Like the other students, Lara is set on continuing her education. Her dream is to become a nurse. She is attending Bicol University to attain her Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Rocío S. Garcia, 19, Dominican Republic

The youth council projects in the Bayaguana community, of which Rocío is a leader, have focused on visiting orphans, raising awareness on child abuse, and learning about Dominican culture. The youth council recently visited the Mirabel Museum, which celebrates the lives of three sisters who decades ago defied a dictator and paid with their lives.

Rocío was moved by the experience of seeing so many youth together at the United Nations. "It's been so very interesting to see so many youth from different cultures. A potpourri of cultures. A misto -- a mix! … My family is excited, and proud of me for being selected to be the only representative from Latin America, as well as Central America," Rocío said.

Like the other international teens, Rocío was impressed by her first airplane ride and by the sights of Times Square. "It is beyond my expectations from movies and TV. All of this -- it is a spectacle to see!" Rocío said.

Rocío is proud to have been sponsored through Children's International since she was nine years old. She is one of approximately 30,000 sponsored children in the Dominican Republic.

Rocío is in her fourth semester of college where she is studying finance. She hopes one day to have an on-screen camera career as a finance journalist.

Charday, 18, United States

feels well prepared for college this fall. "The experience with Children International gave me a good feeling for being on a college campus." Charday is referring to the hub for Children International in Arkansas, centered at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, where she has been sponsored since second grade.

In addition to the location at a college, Children International also runs a dental clinic at Wakefield Public School, the only school-based clinic in the state.

Charday is part of a theater troupe. She is one of 12 high school graduates who are sponsored by Children International in Little Rock, AR. Next year the number will total 32. In Arkansas, approximately 2,400 children are sponsored by Children International.

At the United Nations, the four young people offered a workshop on Youth Empowerment Funds. The workshop focused on how regional youth councils plan, implement, and evaluate their projects to improve the education and environment for kids like them and their communities.

"We can reach across boundaries. We live on one planet. We breathe the same air. We are all part of one single family," concluded Gillian Sorensen, former United Nations Assistant General Secretary in her address to the four sponsored children from Children International and the nearly one thousand more who attended the opening session.

To learn more about the work of Children International, an organization that sponsors more than 300,000 children worldwide, please visit the website by clicking here

To view previous editions of "Teen Voice", please click here.

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