Honorable guests ladies and gentlemen and everyone in between, on behalf of the KidsRights Foundation thank you to the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates for the privilege to speak at this significant event today.
My name is Rena Kawasaki, I am 17 years old, a highschool senior, and most importantly, a child under the definition set by the United Nations.
Today we all have gathered here to discuss peace, a concept that, from what I gathered through my activism, is fundamentally connected to and solved by communication between conflicting parties.In my opinion, one of the most significant conflicting parties today are the adults and the youth of our global community.
I first started my fight for child participation back home in Japan from a particular phenomenon I witnessed while walking to school. Every election season, political candidates take their microphones and line up in front of local stations, greeting and advocating their causes to students as they head into the station to go to school. As I walk closer and closer to the candidates, the crowd’s pace picks up and I see students actively try not to make eye contact with the candidates as they head into the station as quickly as they can. Currently Japan’s youth have been described as disconnected and uninterested in the issues discussed in politics in general. This active avoidance of political candidates can be seen as just one of the manifestations of the supposed current situation in Japan. I also believed at that time that the fundamental problem lay in myself and my peers of the same generation who were disengaged.
In order to get youth interested in politics and the social issues being discussed by our representatives, I started hosting small zoom sessions between local politicians and highschool students. What shocked both me and the politicians who participated were the emotional but yet constructive opinions given by the youth. As youth and politicians exchanged their opinions one by one, a highschool senior quietly asked; “Why do you always listen to the adults, but not the youth? All the highschoolers who participated today have opinions, have ideas, have dreams. Why do you not listen?”
The stark contrast between the stereotypes of youth and the youth that were present that day shocked the politicians. The answer to this contrast was simple. These youth were never asked their opinion on any significant issue. They never felt listened to. Therefore, they stayed silent.
The simple act of listening starts to break down barriers of stereotypes and biases. That day, politicians broke down their stereotypes of disengaged youth. The youth in turn broke down their stereotypes of uninterested and unapprochable politicians.
We the youth are always told we are your future. However, I believe this statement is incorrect. We the youth are existing right here, right now. We have as much of a responsibility and the right to speak up as any other party. We are part of the present as much as you.
I strongly believe peace should be a collective effort between all parties existing in the present. Listen to us. Listen to the youth around you. Have you listened intently and with respect to your students, your children, your grandchildren? We complete the narrative, we will help solve the pressing issues of today. They are not just your burden but ours. We are working to fight with you.
In the wise words of late Nobel Peace Prize laureate, patron of the International Children’s Peace Prize and the KidsRights foundation Desmond Tutu, listen, listen, listen, but most importantly don’t forget to act.