Celebrated High School Musical actress Monique Coleman visited South Africa from 11-18 May as part of her world tour as the first-ever UN Youth Champion. During her time in the country she engaged with more than 1,000 young people in Gauteng to raise awareness of the United Nations International Year of Youth and of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
“I was deeply moved and forever changed by my meetings with South African kids from so many backgrounds,” said Ms. Coleman. “The enthusiasm and interest of the students demonstrated the enormous importance of their involvement with the development of this wonderful country”.
The International Year of Youth was launched on 12 August 2010 and runs through 11 August 2011. Among its aims is to advance the participation of young people on global, regional and national issues that affect them.
The UN defines youth as those between the ages of 15 to 24. Today, youth represent 18 per cent of the global population or 1.2 billion people. 87 per cent of youth live in developing countries facing challenges brought about by limited access to resources, health care, education, training, employment and economic opportunities. “As we expand our efforts, we must do even more to reach out, to listen and to learn from young people,” says United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
In her meetings, Ms. Coleman addressed the themes of dialogue and mutual understanding of the International Year of Youth. She led lively discussions on issues including self-esteem, bullying, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, academic and employment difficulties, child labor and HIV/AIDS.
The United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) worked with the International Labor Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Population Fund, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the U.S. Consulate, the National School of Arts, the SOS Children’s Village and others to host a range of events which were addressed by Ms. Coleman. She also met with the United Nations Resident Coordinator in South Africa.
Each setting provided Ms. Coleman with a different perspective on the challenges and opportunities facing young people in South Africa. “I want to bring the UN Champion to life by meeting with you personally and encouraging you to speak up about your problems and your dreams,” she told students at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, during a lively debate about education in South Africa.
Highlights of her tour included an enthusiastic welcome from 500 students at the National School of Arts, drama, song, dance and fashion performances by refugee youth at the UNIC Library, and a tour of the loveLife Youth Center health facility at Orange Farm. “Not only did we raise awareness of the challenges facing young people, but Monique’s visit also generated remarkable interest in the United Nation and its work here in South Africa,” according to UNIC Director Marie-Evelyne Petrus-Barry.
“Many students and NGO representatives asked us how they can become more involved in the UN and asked to meet with us again.”
Among the countries Ms. Coleman has already visited are Australia, Bangladesh, China, Greece, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, the Philippines and Thailand. She continued to visit several European countries before travelling to Latin America in July.