Vietnamese youth redefining generation of our time – a dialogue with the UN Secretary General
Look back on the dialogue "Innovation for an Inclusive and Sustainable future" between the UN Secretary General and Vietnamese youth leaders.
Written by Tran Phuong Anh
HANOI – A blue beret Viet Nam’s UN peacekeeper building trust in the community she is protecting, a young WHO professional working at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic, a Climate Change youth activist mobilizing networks and strength of knowledge to advocate for climate solutions, an ethnic young girl defying barriers to advance and give back – all gathered at an unprecedented dialogue with the visiting United Nations Secretary General (SG), Antonio Guterres where they proved ‘there is no greater power than the power of youth.’
‘Captivating, inspiring and defining’ can somewhat illustrate the spirited conversation taking place on 22 October in a symposium packed with Vietnamese youths and adorned with the color blue coming from a large group of Vietnamese UN peacekeepers. The event gave a glimpse into the indispensable roles that the Vietnamese youth of our time are playing across the frontlines, their advanced way of thinking, and their hard work as a testament to the SG’s affirmation on this occasion: “young people are not only owners of the future but also owners of the present.”
“The youth of Viet Nam is capable of moving the country forward even more successfully,” said Antonio Guterres who was very emotional when greeted with a Portuguese dance by a group of Vietnamese youth. The SG was impressed with the young people of Viet Nam for “their dynamics, their will to give back and dedication.”
Opening the event, Viet Nam’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bui Thanh Son said, “We are honored to be joined today by a world leader who needs no introduction. His leadership, experience and vision will inspire you all.” “Make the best of your activism, innovation and determination to set your future, the nation’s future.”
According to him, the world today is home to more young people than ever in human history. Yet, young generations are growing up at a time marked by profound challenges, from climate change, inadequate education, youth unemployment to the COVID-19 pandemic. But young people are not passive accepting this world. They are taking the lead in preparing the world forward.
Sa Minh Ngoc, a former UN peacekeeper in South Sudan shared as she opened the dialogue for the youth, “Viet Nam is a peace-loving nation. The more we cherish and are proud of our history, the more we hope that people around the world live in peace, prosperity and happiness.” Ngoc is among more than 500 officers from Viet Nam having been called on duty. Almost 60 per cent of the deployed staff are young officers, who are members of the Viet Nam military youth union.
“As young people, we have been spearheading most of the assigned tasks. We’ve witnessed the tough lives of the people in the nations we are deployed to, the chaos, the misery, the poverty. We often see children who are not able to go to school,” said Ngoc. “We cherish more than ever the value of peace. We often try our best to overcome the obstacles to successfully complete our duties as staff officers of the contingent.”
She added that the Viet Nam youth movement in the UN missions also had pioneered in the civic activities – which helped build trust and connections with the local community. These were simple, practical and effective projects such as road building, repairing schools, making school supplies and children toys from recycled items or helping the locals with cultivation techniques. In the SG’s words, this was ‘crucial.’
“The crucial aspect in the peacekeeping operation is the establishment of the relationship of trust between the peacekeepers and the local communities,” said he. “What we’ve heard is the best description of this principle.” He added since Viet Nam has a long history fighting for independence and unity that was deeply rooted in the people, it helps today's Vietnamese peacekeepers understand the importance of immersing in the local populations where they work like ‘fish in water.’
Phung Kim Quang from WHO, meanwhile, shared an experience of fighting the enemy at the gates – the COVID-19 pandemic. The experience evolved around what he called “firefighting” and “housebuilding” – or being at the frontline finding solutions for emergency situations and putting all systems needed in place for the long run.
“In emergency situations like COVID-19, young people have proven to be the force to be reckoned with as we came in the scene with a fresh mind and a ready-to-act attitude,” said Quang. “For young Vietnamese, we are humble but ambitious. We are bold and not afraid to take the lead.”
According to the SG, across the world as learnt from the pandemic, there should be a perfect link between reformed health systems and the people’s needs. “My impression is that thanks to a very impressive vaccination campaign, Viet Nam was able to protect the population and open the economy. That’s a very difficult balance that many countries have not yet found,” said he.
Pham Ngoc Anh, a Youth for Climate Change activist, joined the conversation with her take on Climate Change as the “defining issue of our time” – quoting the SG.
“I just came from India where together with the Prime Minister we launched a program called Lifestyle for the Environment,” said Guterres. He added that like Ngoc Anh – who is working on the second Youth for Climate Change action report and a statement contributing to the global youth statement for COP 27, young people play an important part in mobilizing people in behaving in the way that are environmentally responsible.
“The truth is that young people have been driving global public opinions in a fantastic way. Young people on the social media, through their educational systems and on the streets as well as in so many places in the world have been pushing hard and driving the society to understand that Climate Change is the defining issue of our time and if we fail now our future will be comprised,” said he.
Adding an important note into the dialogue was the story of Le Thu Trang – an ethnic youth from the northern mountainous province of Cao Bang. She’s currently working on biodiversity preservation of the Cao Bang UNESCO-recognized geopark. A student of the Diplomatic Academy of Viet Nam, she defied challenges to follow her educational path and at the same time, giving back to the community.
Trang said: “My case is not the case for many people in Cao Bang. Not many people there can pursue education. My parents know the value of education even when they didn’t have the opportunity to go further with theirs.”
“We need to be aware that those who have access to education in the world are still the minority,” commented Guterres, “That means those of us who have access to education have a duty to use what we gain from education for the service of those who don’t.”
As the curtains were coming down on the event, the SG joined the four youths in sharing a “word of the day” in which he re-iterated the importance of ‘solidarity.’ “In our world today, we are facing enormous challenges. We’ve faced the pandemic. We are facing Climate Change and inequality. There’s only one way for us to not be defeated by these challenges – that is if we join efforts and we come together through solidarity.”