High level visit puts spotlight on the resilience of young women and men

NAIROBI, KENYA – Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, the Honourable Ahmed Hussen, joined the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, to express the need for more adequate services in informal settlements after visiting Mlango Kubwa, Mathare, one of the largest informal settlements in Kenya on Thursday, December 21, 2017. The purpose of the visit was to learn more about United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) work in informal settlements and to highlight the important connection between migration and urban development.

Mathare has 500,000 residents. Within the settlement, the Mlango Kubwa ward has approximately 50,000 residents. Among them, 70% are aged 24 and under.

Hosted by Dr. Aisa Kacyira, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlement Programme UN-Habitat, the day started with a visit to the community-based organization, the Mathare Environmental Conservation One Stop Youth Centre (MECOSYC). The MECOSYC serves as community hub offering services such as vocational training, information and communications technology access, computer and internet training, HIV/AIDS education and entrepreneurship training.

“We founded this centre with support and assistance from UN-Habitat. Today, we serve meals to more than 300 homeless people in the neighborhood every weekend out of our community kitchen,” said Isaac Mutisya Mukasa, known locally as Kaka.

Kaka is a resident and a community leader in Mathare. His nickname means “brother” in Swahili—a name he thinks fits him well, as he considers himself a brother to many people in his community. Kaka’s efforts have been crucial to the developing public spaces for youth in Mlango Kubwa. Isaac is currently the youth centre’s chairperson.

After the tour of MECOSYC, Minister Hussen, Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake and UN-Habitat Deputy Executive Director, Dr. Aisa Kacyira, played a friendly soccer match against MECOSYC girls’ team. “The youth centre and soccer field have had a significant impact on the community both in terms in safety and in creating opportunities for young people,” said Dr. Kacyira.

Shortly after the visit to Mathare, Minister Hussen, Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake and Deputy Executive Director Dr. Aisa Kacyira reconvened for a town hall discussion with UN-Habitat staff and NGOs working in Africa to harness the potential of migrants and refugees.

“We need to change the negative narratives associated with migration and refugees, and focus on the positive contributions they make,” said Minister Hussen. “Refugees and migrants are not monolithic. Some refugees migrate with resources, while others are more vulnerable. They tend to move into the margins of the cities they move into and become vulnerable to violence, unemployment and exploitation. They often have no documentation.”

Dr. Aisa underscored the important connection between migration and urban development. “People who are displaced as a result of civil war, conflict, climate change and political unrest are increasingly seeking refuge in urban areas. Half of the world’s 38 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and more than half of the world’s 19.5 million refugees live in towns and cities. This poses a unique challenge for cities. It also offers an opportunity to work differently and to ensure that crisis response provides immediate humanitarian relief, while also strengthening urban resilience.”

Finally, Dr. Aisa highlighted UN-Habitat’s work in the area of migration with a particular focus on housing and access to services for refugees in Kakuma, Northern Kenya, Dr. Aisa also discussed UN-Habitat’s close cooperation with UNHCR and innovative work in Kalobeyei on planning for durable solutions in close cooperation with refugee host countries like Kenya.

See more photos here!

Media Contact:
Jeanette Elsworth, Advocacy, Outreach and Communications
Telephone: +254 723 268 135
Email: Jeanetter.elsworth@un.org


Engaging Young People to Implement the New Urban Agenda

Written by Anoka Abeyrathne

“Youth drive innovation at the local level, and can if given the proper support, develop solutions for our most pressing urban issues such as transportation, housing, climate change and inequality,” UN-Habitat, Youth and Livelihoods Unit Chief, Douglas Ragan


A year ago, the world’s leaders convened in Quito, Ecuador, and adopted the New Urban Agenda (NUA). This is a global roadmap that sets out standards for sustainable urban development. With over 60 percent of the world urban population projected to be under the age of 18 by 2030, youth participation and engagement in the implementation of the new agenda are imperative. Youth are proactively taking action to ensure sustainable urbanization, better urban planning and design, municipal finance and voicing their concerns in urban rules and regulations.

“Youthquake” is the Oxford Dictionaries word of the year for 2017.  It is defined as “a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people”. This gives significant focus to the influence that young people have in creating change in our current society, including in partaking key roles to achieve the global 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. In pursuit to implementing Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 on sustainable cities and communities, young people are change agents in ensuring that cities are inclusive and accommodate their needs.

More than half of the global population is urban. With more and more young people moving to urban areas, the challenges of ensuring sustainable urban development arise, affecting young people who would be the most impacted. While urban areas provide many avenues for prosperity, many young people continue to face unemployment, lack of basic sanitation and housing, lack of access to transportation, lack of access to public spaces and face the rise of inequality.

Through our work with “Growin’ Money”, an eco-social enterprise in Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Cambodia and the Maldives, we have been able to empower and enable young people as drivers of the NUA. Engaging over 5000 families, we have achieved this through sustainable employment creation which was brought about by urban environmental conservation in unison with eco-tourism, organic farming, bee keeping, hydroponic farming. All these were done through the provision of urban spaces for urban gardening and involvement in the municipal decision making processes.

Growin’ Money provides young people with the opportunity to have a say in their local community and among themselves. This has led to over 20,000 youth volunteers becoming changemakers who cascade this holistic model for better urban development. Through the UN –Habitat Youth Advisory board, our representatives have been able to take a step further by contributing to the Berlin Urban Agenda as well as the World Humanitarian Summit and its policies, while continuing grassroots level work to implement the NUA. They do this through innovative and scalable mechanisms like urban design, social enterprise and advocacy.

For effective implementation of the NUA, there are a few things that can be initiated to facilitate a smooth implementation and empower youth in the process. The outcomes in terms of the quality of an urban settlement are dependent on a set of rules and regulations and strategies for implementation. Proper urbanization requires the rule of law but also requires youth partnership, participation and opening of decision-making platforms so that youth voices are heard. In this regard, establishing the adequate provision of common goods, including streets and open spaces, together with an efficient pattern of buildable plots, requires the input of youth. For good management and maintenance of the city, local fiscal systems should redistribute parts of the urban value generated and ensure that this caters to youth needs and aspirations.

Another way to ensure that youth effectively implement the agenda is through the establishment of national urban policies which are a connection between the dynamics of urbanization and the overall process of national development. In this way, young people will effectively contribute to the NUA and achieve SDG  11, which can only be attained through sustainable urbanization. Ultimately, the key to a successful implementation of the NUA is for youth, government, civil and private sectors to coordinate and work together.


This article first appeared on DESA Youth Flash newsletter.

About Anoka Abeyrathne:

Anoka is the Asia Pacific representative to UN Habitat Youth Advisory Board. She is an eco-social entrepreneur and youth advocate and is passionate about sustainable development. Featured in the Forbes 30 under 30 Asia 2017, she is the youngest female recipient of the Commonwealth Youth Award for excellence in Development and Zonta Woman of Achievement for the Environment 2017. Anoka’s sustainability efforts through “Growin’ Money” past the 2004 Tsunami has led to over 50,000 replanted mangroves and social enterprise/education programmes that help over 5,000 villagers in Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and Cambodia, attracting more than 2,000 volunteers. Anoka is also the New Champion of the World Economic Forum and Co-Founder of TEDxKandy, and serves as the Global Youth Ambassador with the UN Special Envoy on Global Education and an Associate Resource Fellow of the Institute of National Security Studies in the Ministry of Defense of Sri Lanka. Anoka holds a LLB from the University of London, a Masters degree in Development from the University of Colombo and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Sustainability at Harvard University. Follow Anoka on Twitter @AnokaAbe.

#ActOn2250 : The importance of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security

Resolution 2250 is a resolution passed by the Security Council at the end of 2015 with the full vote and approval of the 15 members.

This is the first resolution of its kind that gives young people the opportunity to work for peace and security around the world. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the formation of a committee on this resolution. Its task will be to prepare a phase study on youth, peace and security.

The study will be presented at the beginning of 2018. The team consists of a group of 21 experts, including a group of young people In their communities in the implementation of activities and initiatives in this regard, particularly in areas of conflict and conflict.

It is clear that the Arab region and the Middle East region are most affected by the emergence of terrorist and tycoon groups that have caused the destruction of cities and the displacement of their people and the emergence of many problems  Such as corruption, unemployment, migration, the problem of refugees, education and health, violations of the rights of women and children, the drop of youth in the resolution of extremism and terrorism, the absence of their role in peace and security, or even their role in building cities and achieving sustainable development.

All of these have had a great impact and negative effect on the process of peace building and it is clear that most of the members of terrorist groups are young people. This follows reason that  young persons are most affected by what they suffer in their communities and their involvement in political, social and economic life.

The resolution calls for the protection of young people from all kinds of extremism, which we now see through providing a stimulating environment for them,

Policies and mechanisms will be put into place to enable youth to contribute effectively to peace-building and the promotion of a culture of tolerance and respect for religions, which requires the effective and institutional integration of young people into their societies, the promotion of education and the provision of jobs that meet their needs,  Building cadres and not demolition tools.

As a participant in the Committee for the preparation of this interim study on Security Council Resolution 2250, I assured that:

  1. The study contain real statistics on the situation of young people around the world with a focus on areas of conflict by listening directly and building the study on real testimonies and stories from the ground to ensure real solutions and reflect the reality.
  2. Work on the rights of women, recognizing their role as changer makers.
  3. Protect the rights of children and provide an environment conducive to their normal growth, ensuring their future away from violence and extremism
  4. Assure youth participation in decision-making and policy-making at the local and international levels and support their initiatives and activities for peace, security, support for and partnerships with their organizations.
  5. Develop the skills of youth leaders in various fields to create a positive link to change the negative discourse and perspective and consider them as partners in building societies and achieving sustainable development.

I am convinced that building civilized cities that meet the needs of their citizens and give young people and women the real opportunities to participate in all walks of life is one of the most important elements for achieving stability, peace and security; a culture of tolerance and love for others; and, a suitable place for all according to their religions, customs, civilizations and colors because we are all created to build a better world.

In the end, I hope that the SCR 2250 brings about global peace and security.  I realize that unfortunately youth are growing up in a turbulent world, our problems are increasing day after day. We have raised the banner of change for a better future for us and for the generations to come.

The world in which we live deserves peace and security. We live to serve each other and spread love and good.

Article written by Hussein Murtaja, UN-Habitat Youth Advisory Board representative for Arab states

Refugee Youth- Why the Silence

The city, known for its diverse population from many countries and cultures, is home to various exemplary youth initiatives that offer social services, cultural programs or sport activities in their respective communities. With a big migrant population and so many vibrant youth initiatives, Friday’s panel on “Youth Migration: Why the Silence” side event held during the Global Conference on Cities and Migration could not have wished for a better setting.

The side event discussed the social and economic risks and opportunities of young migrants and ways on how to improve the social capital and economic integration of youth. Youth in audience had a good chance to listen and learn from best practices and experiences of the distinguished panelists in a discussion guided by Sharmaarke Abdullahi, Programme Management Officer at UN-Habitat’s Youth Unit and Livelihood Unit.

In her keynote speech, Emine Bozkurt, former Dutch member of the European Parliament and daughter of Turkish immigrants, reported how the situation in the Netherlands changed since the arrival of her parents in the 1970s. “Back then, my family was welcomed with music and joy, as labor force was desperately needed.”

In contrast, today European politics seek to discourage people from entering the European territory. Behind this agenda, the stories, wishes, hopes and desperations of individual youth fade away. Migrants are regarded as an anonymous part of a mass phenomenon.

This approach dehumanizes  individuals’ need labeling third and fourth generation migrants as foreigners in their home country. To overcome this situation, Mrs. Bozkurt highlighted the importance of creating opportunities for migrants to participate in civil service positions to contribute in serving the society.. She also indicated that “Ownership, participation, dialogue and creating a sense of belonging are key components to fostering a welcoming spirit among host communities to migrants.

For many communities, an unexpected increase of newcomers often creates new challenges, especially when it comes to spatial integration. In his research, Professor Frank Eckardt from the Bauhaus University Weimar focuses on the spatial integration of refugees and migrants in urban areas.Professor Frank Eckardt identifies three options for city planners to create sufficient housing:

1 Build own houses for refugees; 2) Build new houses in socially diverse areas and provide space for refugees and the local population; 3) Integrate refugees in existing social housing structures.

All options are practiced in Germany, however, Eckardt identified five factors that are crucial for their success:

1) Access to education; 2) A good learning and playing environment for children; 3) An environment that provides emotional support and social control – for young migrants, families often provide this environment; 4) A concentration of migrations in one area must be socially and culturally accepted by the neighbors. Eckardt warns to place migrants in areas with a strong history of xenophobia; finally,
5) The community must identify positive role models, communicate success stories of migrants or refugees and show that a successful integration benefits the community as a whole.

Ahmed Ulla, a young Rohingya-Canadian, shifted the attention from practical guidelines for integration to the challenges he faced when becoming a refugee himself. He grew up in a rich household in Myanmar, but became a refugee when his family was forced to flee to Bangladesh when their life came under threat.

With his father killed, his mother traumatized and all the family possessions lost, his life turned upside down. Fortunately, in 2009 he was resettled to Canada and had the opportunity to start over.

Ahmed Ulla gave insight into the feelings and challenges he faced when he arrived in Canada. He did not know the language and he entered a society, whose way of life he had never imaged to exist nor to have. But, he wanted to take the opportunity he received and build up a new life for himself – with success. Today, he has become an active member in his community. When hundreds of thousands of Rohingya flew Myanmar in August 2017, he launched a campaign in Canada to raise awareness to the situation of his fellow Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh and called upon the Canadian Government to step up and help the Rohingya people. The Canadian Government agreed to match every dollar raised.

Kader Sevinç, member of the Turkish CHP and the European Socialists and Democrat’s presidency, underscored the need for richer countries to step up their support for the millions of migrants that are living under severe conditions in many developing countries. “Especially Europe should do more to support the three million migrants in Turkey and the refugees suffering in Libyan camps,” said Kader Sevinç She called for a more active debate in the European public about the responsibility Europeans have to support people in need. She emphasized the need for more local and national government to reject the anti-migration populism that has led to a severe restriction of refugee’s opportunities to find support in Europe and for non-Western migrants to integrate in European societies.

“The aggressive debate about refugees and immigrants that has taken hold of European politics in the last years has led to distinction between “good” and “bad” migrants in the last years,” said Jonas Freist-Held, European representative in the Youth Advisory Board of UN-Habitat adding that “the rights of refugees (e.g. the right to family reunification) have been restricted in the past two years and measures to prevent refugees from crossing Europe’s external borders increased throughout the last two years. At the same time, migrants that do not qualify for asylum have been discredited and labelled as criminals that illegally entered the European Union. Whereas refugees are considered as “good”, because their reasons to come to Europe are considered as legitimate by most people, irregularly arriving migrants have been labelled as “bad” as their reasons to come to Europe are considered illegitimate. This distinction has been enforced by the public debate and political decisions and created an atmosphere of hostility against many people that come to Europe in hope for a better future. “

The individual stories, wishes or hopes of human beings have become irrelevant. This climate poses a challenge to integrate migrants and refugees at the community level. Especially for young migrants, it is difficult to become an active community member in a society that is hostile to their presence.

The different inputs and discussions highlighted what stereotypes and prejudices migrants face, what needs and hopes they have and what impact the public debate has on the capability of communities to successfully integrate newcomers.

To successfully integrate migrants and refugees at the local level, essential challenges such as housing, language, education and labor market participation have were addressed. The panel discussion provided a platform to share different experiences that are relevant to develop policies and activities that facilitate the integration of (young) migrants and refugees in cities at this time when UN-Habitat advocates to #LeaveNoOneBehind.

Youth Migration In Cities – A Tool To Foster Development In Mechelen, Belgium

The city of Mechelen, November  2017 , just an hour away from the Belgian capital Brussels hosted the Global Conference on Cities and Migration. UN-Habitat’s Youth and Livelihood Unit, in partnership with city of Mechelen Youth Department and the Mechelen youth council organized a youth exhibition and a side event on  cities and youth migration.

One of the key elements in the migration policy of Mechelen is a solid network of several grassroots projects: a boxing club, a football club, a movie director, or a youth center.. All of these  telli the story of Mechelen as a diverse city hosting more than 120 nationalities  making it a good ground for social integration and promoting programs to counter radicalization.

The  story of Mechelen is one that has seen its transformation from neglect in all aspects of policies  to what has become today one of the most desirable places in Belgium to live. Nowadays, Mechelen has become a role model for integration, receiving recognition through the City Mayor, Bart Somers , who was awarded the 2016 World Mayor Prize.

Residents of North African origin make up almost 20% of the city’s 86,000 population. From a public opinion drawn from those attending the Global Conference on Cities and Migration, Africans in this city are “recognised and see themselves as full citizens of Mechelen”. A key commentary gathered from news within the city is that no young Muslim men have been reported to have left to join to fight in the wars in Syria and Iraq.

Mechelen Municipality organized an exhibition of the Mechelen city youth social integration projects. The platform gave a chance to youth organizations such as Royal Gym, Youth centers, Straathoekwerk Mechelen, ROJM Mechelen, J@M and, H30 to share best development practices with the guest organizations worldwide. The presentations demonstrated solutions on how migration, integration and collaboration with non-citizens could be included in urban planning and development process for Mechelen City.

A review of the youth social integration model of Mechelen city will be shared by UN-Habitat Youth Unit in January 2018.

Youth Come Together to Tackle the Challenges of Political and Economic Exclusion in Africa

Nairobi, November, 2017 – Youth, diplomats and high profile public figures came to the United Nations Office of Nairobi today to attend the first session of Young African Think’rs (YAT) Convention.

Hosted by UN-Habitat, the Young African Think’rs Convention will run for three days of intense brainstorming where African youth will generate sustainable solutions to foster Africa‟s development.

Wangu Mwenda, Project Designer for the Billion Startups project, gave opening remarks to start the session pointing out that “It is a critical time that governments and organizations come out to jointly support the youth as problem solvers for tomorrow’s issues toward the transformation of Africa.”

Business Man and Philanthropist, Dr. Manu Chandaria with youth after giving a talk Young African Think’rs Convention

Businessman and Philanthropist Dr. Manu Chandaria said that the coming together for youth as urban thinkers was a reminder that “Young people have the energy and are very able to get Africa organized.”

Speaking during the opening of the convention, Dr. Manu Chandaria challenged hundreds of youth saying, “It is an economic challenge for youth to sit at home thinking about issues affecting their continent, and doing nothing about it! Youth must open up their minds to find new solutions that work to solve current urbanization issues”

Christine Musisi, Director for External Relations, UN-Habitat spoke to the youth through a shared conference video emphasizing on the need for youth to take charge on urbanization, “Africa is the fastest urbanizing continent globally, yet its urbanization is unplanned.”

The creativity, energy and innovation of Africa’s youth shall be the driving force behind the continent’s political, social, cultural and economic transformation.”– Agenda 2063/ Aspiration 6:58

The session went on to include discussions with youth groups on how to utilize the untapped creativity of Africa youth to fuel the on-going transformation and realize the anticipated urbanization in Africa.

Meanwhile the Youth as Peace builders Forum themed at UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial taking place in Vancouver enters day two today with high level representative staff of UN-Habitat.

World Leaders Gather with Youth to Promote Peace



Over 500 delegates from more than 70 countries are attending the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial conference in Vancouver being held November 14th and 15th in Vancouver, Canada. One of the key focuses of the conference will be on securing new pledges from Member States on the issues of peacebuilding, with a special focus being given to youth and women.

A two day Youth as Peacebuilders forum is being held during the conference which will bring hundreds of youth from around the world. A focus of the Forum will be giving input to the government representatives on how they should support youth. Also, the youth will be reviewing the recently adopted UN Security Council Resolution 2250, the first ever resolution to address youth issues in conflict.

“As UN-Habitat we believe that young men and women are critical to peacebuilding, and are very excited to see this as a focus of the conference,” states Tessy Aura, UN-Habitat Human Rights Officer, “I am looking forward to discussing what are the best practices in engaging youth in peacebuilding with the youth gathered here at the Youth As Peacebuilders forum.”

A two day Youth as Peacebuilders forum is being held during the conference which will bring hundreds of youth from around the world. A focus of the Forum will be giving input to the government representatives on how they should support youth. Also, the youth will be reviewing the recently adopted UN Security Council Resolution 2250, the first ever resolution to address youth issues in conflict.

The youth of today are yearning for peace and are ready to sacrifice everything else to realize the dream of a better future. This an opportune moment for the UN to invest in youth4peace that can have greater impact in Somalia.

Mohammed Arshad, Youth Activist, Mogadishu, Somalia.

It is estimated that a 600 million young people are living in conflict zones or fragile states, many of them in the cities and towns of the world. UN-Habitat, which is the UN agencies charged with sustainable urban development, is at the forefront of developing programmes for youth and peacebuilding in conflict areas such as Somalia, South Sudan, Afghanistan and Syria.

“We are currently working with local and national governments in Somalia and South Sudan to establishment youth-led peacebuilding programmes,” states Douglas Ragan, head of the Youth Unit for UN-Habitat, “For example, we recently established a mutli-purpose youth centre in Mogadishu, Somalia and soon in Juba, South Sudan. These centres work with youth in a holistic way, providing them with critical job training, while as well engaging them in governance and peacebuilding activities.”


Since the passing of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250 in December of 2015, youth have had high hopes for their recognition and engagement in the peacebuilding process.

The need to understand the dynamics of peace within the urban context has also become a critical issue for decision-makers globally. The International Red Cross estimates that fifty million people are currently bearing the brunt of war in cities around the world.

Peace can also be made in cities – those on the frontline are young people who often live in slums and informal settlements. Isaac Muasa who lives in the Mathare Slum in Nairobi, Kenya is one of those youth. In the ongoing election tensions in Kenya, he and many of his contemporaries continue to promote a strong message of peace.

“We must continue to engage in developing our communities, ensuring social change and dignity for all residents, states Muasa, “We don’t have to bleed so that they can lead. We will lead our generation to a better tomorrow.”

In another confict area, Mogadishu, Somalia, that same message and commitment is prevalent.

“Somalia has had a long protracted conflict of about three decades. Since the start of the civil war in 1991, the international community has made a number of efforts to broker peace negotiations among warring factions that had limited success,” reflects Mohamed Arshad, Youth Activist, “The youth of today are yearning for peace and are ready to sacrifice everything else to realize the dream of a better future. This an opportune moment for the UN to invest in youth4peace that can have greater impact in Somalia.”



Youth Gathered on Urbanization to Innovate Kenya

Mombasa | Kisumu 2017 – Youth, government officials, business experts in technology, media, finance and high level staff of the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat) came together to make the Innovate Kenya boot camp a success.

Hosted by UN-Habitat simultaneously in two cities of Kenya, the Innovate Kenya boot camp highlighted the significance of youth inclusion in setting up business models in urban places.

UN-Habitat Liaison Person, Linus Sijenyi said that the Innovate Kenya boot camp was a reminder that “Youth have the ideas and skills to develop sustainable city solutions which is a vital tool in the implementation of the new urban agenda by making them business investors in their own futures”.

Youth Business Models

Youth came out in large numbers to experience, learn and gain from the open opportunity amid heavy political demonstrations in the named cities.

The main purpose of the workshops was to demonstrate how to raise the capital for youth to begin their transition from a business idea into an actual product or service. The participants were further trained on how to package and confidently communicate the value of their ideas and the offerings of their businesses to other people to inspire them to bring about value exchange.

The boot camps sessions went on to include discussions with youth groups on the role that youth can play in building cities as such as developing sustainable business models that operate within a standardized legal framework–– with a special focus on the engagement of young men and women in increasing their income generation by utilizing possible and available resources in their cities.

The Kisumu Boot camp was driven at equipping existing entrepreneurs with skills to take their businesses to the next level.  The Mombasa one was aimed at introducing university students with varied career backgrounds to entrepreneurship as well as embrace that innovation not only works within ICT courses and careers but so does it open more opportunities for business students as well.

“Cities can generate more wealth by utilizing youth intelligence and the sufficiently attractive, available innovative solutions from youth,” Rhoda Omenya, UN-Habitat


World Cities Day 31 October| Theme: “Innovative Governance, Open Cities”

The United Nations General Assembly has designated the 31st of October as World Cities Day, by its resolution 68/239. The Day is expected to greatly promote the international community’s interest in global urbanization, push forward cooperation among countries in meeting opportunities and addressing challenges of urbanization, and contributing to sustainable urban development around the world.

2017 Theme: Innovative Governance, Open Cities

The general theme of World Cities Day is Better City, Better Life, while each year a different sub-theme is selected, to either promote successes of urbanization, or address specific challenges resulting from urbanization.

This year, the United Nations has selected the theme Innovative Governance, Open Cities to highlight the important role of urbanization as a source of global development and social inclusion

What Does Home Mean to You? Youth in Canada Launch Initiative to Strengthen Social Cohesion among Homes in Cities

From traveling to Ecuador in the Andes and the Amazon Rainforest this summer, and reflecting on the situation back home, Helen Chen realized that home is more than just a physical place-a house, condo-but it can be a feeling, or even something intangible that makes one feel at home.

Admiring the lifestyle of a small community of Sablog residing at the Andes, Helen tells us about one tractable practice that promotes social cohesion among the indigenous peoples living in Amazon, the “Minga”. “Minga” means working together as a community to achieve a common goal. One of the most compelling experiences was how people formed a chain to off-load luggage from the boats, passing it from one person’s hands to the next till it gets to its destination.

To her amusement, the houses of the people in this region are almost 20 meters apart yet these indigenous people know each other’s faces, names and families as compared to the everyday culture back in her city at Toronto, Canada. Watching small children walk and play around together; as well as beautiful women sat in circles making handicrafts that they would later sell for an income; reminded Helen of how people in her city must drive to and pick their children from school in the evening.

“In my city, neighbors share walls but do not even know each other’s names. The youth in my city will also be texting each other on Whatsapp yet they are in the same room. In my city,people own swimming pools, individual boreholes and homes separated by walls. These indigenous people share rivers, swim in rivers and of course feed each other from the foods gathered in the deep forest of the Amazon.  This is a custom we can borrow to promote coexistence in our city homes,” said Helen Chen as she began to narrate about the root of her inspiration about her new initiative to celebrate Urban October.

For a long time, home was known as the place to find shelter to enjoy good food and enough sleep in a beautiful house, with a cozy se­­t of seats and big bed.

Individuals and organizations then took the lead to advocate and raise funds focusing on building new houses especially in slums settlement areas. The rest of the persons in the world then followed suit and started working hard day in, day out to meet certain set standards of lifestyle.

However, upon her reflection after an interaction with the people in Amazon and new experiences around her, Helen landed a whole new image and meaning of the “home”

Many Syrian Refugees were coming to her school for studies and she felt a burning need to make the young ones acknowledge that the school is not just an educational facility but also a home to them. The refugees needed more than just classrooms but to make new friends and live harmoniously with each other as well.

This downed on Helen that a decent modern house far from the slums without persons who make you feel warm, laugh and contribute to your inner peace, is just but empty creative expressions of art put together to make beautiful structures of stone and iron sheet. All of these have been labeled as elements of a home, but they actually mean home to a number of people.

Tagging along her two close friends, Caryn Q and Molly Y. Helen then started the “What Does Home Mean to You?” initiative to welcome the new refugees’ students to their community.

“Conflicts are shattering families – and driving record numbers of youth from their homes. Even where there is peace, young people suffer from violence and discrimination. Young people are also on the vanguard of progress – as entrepreneurs, activists and community leaders. You inspire change,” United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres

The three friends then put up a big banner at their school for students to sign and illustrate what home really means to them! To amazement, every student painted a uniquely distinct description of home.

Helen and her two friends said in one voice, “We all live in harmony and peace through our commonalities and respect for our differences. If only we can learn to see the need for others to enjoy the same peaceful co-existence, then we could build strong-resilient cities in the world.”

At least 150 students participated in writing on the banner

At least 150 students participated in writing on the banner, and a good number of the rest viewed it and read the details of their school mates’ expressions on it. “You could also tell from their dazzling faces that something was going on through their minds after making a stop by the banner as they were walking down the halls,” added Helen.

From attending the Commission on the Status of Women Youth Forum and High Level Event on Education at the United Nations, Helen went further on to narrate her inspiration to UN-Habitat saying, “I learned that there are so many factors that make one like or dislike their home, such as equality in the household, safety, quality education, and how homes can be affected by climate change, an issue I’m extremely passionate about.”

Helen is also a mentor for the Decarbonize project which she is using to unite youth around the world to learn and write a resolution to be presented at COP23. This is being made possible with the continued support from the SDGs club at Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute in Toronto, Canada and her two friends .All their efforts are culminating into “What Does Home Mean to you?” thus stretching out the whole meaning of “home” to include building lasting relationships between humans and the environment to control extreme climate changes. This led her to write a piece on the indigenous people and how we are not respecting their homes through negative active human behaviors which is altering our relationship with the environment; for the Phrase of the Year Competition by the Dhillon Marty Foundation in collaboration with UNESCO, where she became a finalist.

Helen continues to make a call to other young people in the world to join efforts in developing more sustainable solutions for making better homes saying, “I really hope more students around the world could do this, because home in developed countries is often something we take for granted; it’s the little things in our everyday lives that could mean so much for others.”

Youth as Leaders of Today and Tomorrow