Aiming to Get Young People Active in International Policy
Anna Halpine's World Youth Alliance Works with U.N. and European Union
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NEW YORK, DEC. 22, 2003 (Zenit.org).- A twenty-something woman and an army of her peers are fighting to protect human life and the dignity of the human person in international policy.
Anna Halpine, president and founder of the World Youth Alliance, helps organize and train young people around the world for action at legislative and grass-roots levels -- building the culture of life and articulating that vision to others. Before establishing the World Youth Alliance in 1999, she was a music student studying piano in New York.
Halpine shared with ZENIT how her group unites youth, builds relationships with delegates at the United Nations and the European Union, and places life and dignity at the center of human rights.
Q: What is the mission of the World Youth Alliance, and what are some of its programs?
Halpine: The World Youth Alliance is a global coalition of young people and youth organizations, committed to promoting the dignity of the person at the international level and building solidarity among youth from developed and developing countries.
A small team of World Youth Alliance members works directly at the United Nations and European Union to protect human life and the dignity of the human person in international policy. The World Youth Alliance is able to positively affect the documents produced at major international conferences through direct contact with delegates, building relationships with missions to the U.N., and participation in the General Assembly and caucus meetings.
The World Youth Alliance believes that the first step in building a culture of life is to help our generation understand and articulate what that culture includes.
For this reason, the World Youth Alliance trains hundreds of young people each year in the use of diplomacy and negotiation, message development and grass-roots activities, as well as providing formation for our youth to talk about the dignity of the person in different sectors of society.
Other World Youth Alliance members are engaged at the grass-roots level, building a culture of life through charitable service projects and innovative cultural events.
For example, we have created "Ubuchindami," a book discussion group that meets in several locations throughout our regions and focuses on selected works of philosophy, literature and nonfiction that promote a common language for understanding the dignity of the person.
Q: Why did you decide to establish the World Youth Alliance?
Halpine: In 1999 I was attending Cairo-plus-5, a U.N. conference on population and development in New York. The United Nations brought 32 young people into the conference to participate.
In the course of the conference, it quickly became apparent that the majority of U.N.-selected delegates were caught up in politically correct nostrums and were not interested in engaging basic issues confronting most of the world's youth -- issues such as potable water, human dignity, basic health care, education and human rights.
I was with a handful of young people who felt the issues being discussed did not represent our concerns. So we went in the next day with a letter laying out an agenda addressing our concerns and presented it to the delegates. For two hours the conference stalled, and in that time the world divided.
The representatives of the developed nations clustered around the Clinton administration, which was in office at the time. The developing nations came to us one by one and said, "Thank you. Thank you for being here. Please come into our countries and work with our young people." And that really was the beginning of the World Youth Alliance.
We soon realized that there was an invitation and opening in the international community to actively engage in the process at the U.N. There was an opportunity to give a voice to millions of young peoples whose concerns and ideals were not being represented by the worldview expressed by the small, well-funded group of young people who claimed to speak for the world's 3 billion youth.
Q: What has been your experience working at the United Nations and European Union?
Halpine: The World Youth Alliance realized very early on that in order to be the most effective in working with these international bodies we needed to learn how the system works and work within it. We have found delegations are very open to dialoging with us, listening to the concerns and ideas of the youth we represent.
Recently, in November 2003, we held our first International Solidarity Forum in New York. We brought together 35 of our best and brightest young people from all of our regions, representing over 16 countries for a week of training and discussion.
In the middle of the forum, we held a reception where the permanent missions to the U.N. and our young people could meet. There was a mutual delight on the side of the delegates and the youth as they met and shared their backgrounds and ideals. I think this example is just a small indication of the rich opportunity that is present at the U.N. for truly fruitful work.
The World Youth Alliance's chapter in Europe has an active contingent of several dozen young advocates who are working diligently with ministers of the European Parliament to further policies that respect the dignity of the person.
Q: What success has your group had in influencing international agreements?
Halpine: Since its inception, the World Youth Alliance has developed hundreds of relationships with United Nations delegates. Through these relationships we have been able to influence the debates at the Beijing-plus-5 conference, the children's summit and the Rio-plus-10 conference on sustainable development.
In October 2002, during a meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on the International Convention Against the Reproductive cloning of Human Beings, the United States Mission spoke of "a call by over 1 million youth from all continents. They are members of the World Youth Alliance, who believe that only a total, comprehensive ban on human cloning would protect and respect the dignity of all human beings." During the debates on human cloning in 2003, the World Youth Alliance was active and present.
In the EU Parliament, the European contingent of the World Youth Alliance has successfully worked with MEPs to bring more attention to the need for a comprehensive ban on human cloning and other bioethics issues.
Q: What future initiatives does your group hope to tackle?
Halpine: On December 4, 2003, the United Nations opened the 10th Anniversary of the International Year of the Family. The World Youth Alliance will be busy in the next year planning and holding several celebrations of the family in solidarity with the international community.
Some of the events we have planned include a postcard competition on the family, a film festival on the family, and a bike ride across Europe to celebrate the family and welcome the newly elected members of the European Parliament -- particularly the 10 new Eastern and Central European members in September of 2004.
At the U.N., we will be continuing to work with delegations on the cloning issue, encouraging nations to take a firm stand for a comprehensive ban on human cloning. We are also preparing for the upcoming year of women in 2005. The World Youth Alliance continues to grow and we will be opening an office in the Asia-Pacific region next year.
Q: What are the easiest and hardest points for young people to accept about the culture of life?
Halpine: The culture of life message is compelling to people of all ages. It resonates with the human person on every level, calling the person to respond to the question, "Who am I?" with an affirmation of his or her intrinsic worth. Young people in particular, with our enthusiasm and vitality, are naturally drawn to this.
For some, encountering the culture of life message may be the first time they are met with the truth of the human person and of themselves. All over the world, young people are stepping forward, ready to commit to building a society that respects the dignity of each person, and that places human life and dignity at the center of human rights.
I haven't seen too many difficulties for young people in accepting the vision of a culture of life. What we are proposing is a vision of the human person that is in conformity with who they are, with the dreams they have and with the experiences that we've all had.
Among our generation there are so many young people who have experienced the heartache that comes when the human person is not understood and respected. This gives us a great deal of compassion, I think, for those who are suffering in these ways. But it also highlights a longing among all of us to understand and appreciate a more authentic, compelling and real vision of who we are.
This is why young people are so attracted to the culture of life. Our job is to make sure that we are presenting our ideas in a way that truly addresses the needs and longing of these young people. When we are able to do that, the response to the idea of the dignity of the human person is overwhelming.
Q: Do you see attitudes changing toward human life and dignity?
Halpine: I see cause for great hope in the young people we work with every day. These young people are willing to work diligently to promote and defend human dignity and life. Some are entering politics, others law. Some are starting families, others entering the medical profession or teaching.
No matter what their professions are, they are spreading the message of the dignity of the human person to millions of other people in their countries and cultures. This is bound to effect tremendous cultural change. I think it has already begun to.
We see examples of this all the time. Every day, young people are drawn to the WYA who are not in agreement with the principles that we are presenting. Still, they are drawn to these principles and drawn to the energy and joy of the other young people working with us. For many of these people, they have been waiting for an opportunity to question their assumptions and find a new alternative to consider. So I'm in the amazing position of watching the culture of life come alive for young people every day.
This same experience happens at the U.N. We'll talk to a delegate and they'll be interested. It's a new way for them to consider the issues and they're delighted to meet with a young person from their country. Over a period of weeks and months their attitudes start to shift, and they start to share their questions with us. That helps us to develop our message and make sure that it's related to the core issues with which these people are wrestling.
At the international level, you can see this shift in all of their policy and focus areas. In 2002, the U.N. hosted the first international conference on financing for development. They admitted at this conference that they had failed miserably in their aim for development and that they were looking for new models and proposals.
We've worked a lot on this, consulting with our young people all over the world and pulling together projects and activities that are succeeding. This formed the basis of our proposal to the delegates. What we are seeing in this area -- and in every area that we work in -- is that programs that respect the dignity of the person succeed. Those that ignore or violate this dignity ultimately fail.
This is something that is interesting to the people we're working with in the U.N. and EU -- a principle by which they can direct themselves and then concrete examples of this idea in action.
I've been in an incredibly privileged position where I can see this transformation among individuals, among a younger generation and among the institutions where we are working. With these experiences, I've realized that the limits for the future are limits only of our imagination. The desire for this information is immense and it is a real joy to see this transform the person and the world as we move forward.