“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room.”
These rather critical words were written by Socrates sometime between 469AD and 399 AD. And for many people the sentiment still stands.
It seems we hardly go a day without hearing someone criticise the millennial generation. The word ‘millennial’ has itself almost become a derogatory term, one associated with hyper-sensitivity to criticism, internet addiction, and laziness.
The millennial generation officially began in 1981, but the term continues to be applied to any young adult in our society, making millennials a surprisingly large generational group.
With all this hit-back against today’s young adults, one given an even greater voice thanks to the internet, it would be easy to assume that they are doing nothing.
But sitting in the awards ceremony for the Commonwealth Youth Awards at Marlborough House in London it is clear that this could not be further from the truth.
In its 30th year, this award serves to celebrate youth and young adults under the age of 30 who have contributed significantly to their community, country or the world around them.
In 2015 a new award criteria was introduced, for which the nominees must have worked towards achieving one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). This can include everything from Gender Equality (SDG5), Sustainable Cities and Communities, No Poverty (SDG1), and Climate Action (SDG13).
These goals aim to create a sustainable Commonwealth and world within the next 15 years. It is a big undertaking, and by no means the first of its kind, yet sitting in a room with young people dedicated to achieving these goals makes them feel tangible.
There are 53 member countries within the Commonwealth, from Kenya, to Malaysia, Jamaica, Vanuatu, and the United Kingdom. 45 of these countries provided nominations for the Commonwealth Youth Awards, 500 all in all. The sheer number is incredible.
But in the decorative stately home today there are just four. They are the regional winners, and finalists for the grand prize, and they are all remarkable, innovative, and motivated human beings.
Sitting in these plush surroundings you might expect the ceremony to be stuffy and reverent. But the event is full of life, reflective of the many countries and cultures of the Commonwealth. The Masters of Ceremonies keep the tone light and jokey and following the announcement of each regional winner the room is treated to a cultural performance. There is Burmese traditional music and lively Ghanaian drumming and dancing.
The Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland, is present at the ceremony to present the awards and laud the achievements for shown.
It is of course the winners themselves who provide the most extraordinary energy at this event. The four young adults, each from different areas of the Commonwealth, are united both in their achievements and their desire to make a difference to their worlds.
Winner for the Africa and Europe Area, and overall Commonwealth Youth Award winner is the incredible Oluwaseun Ayojedeji Osowobi. The Nigerian woman is just 28 years old but is the founder of Stand to End Rape, an NGO committed to providing support for all who are victims of sexual abuse and assault. Her organisation provides holistic support services as well as acting as tool for empowerment.
Her own experiences as a survivor of sexual violence caused her to take action and help others. Not only does she provide help to those who have experienced such horrors, but she is also campaigning for a change of world culture, to eradicate sexual violence completely.
For the future, Oluwasuen believes in empowering all women to take their place in the world with strength. “It is true what they say,” Oluwaseun said, “when you raise a woman you raise a whole community.”
The four winners plan to work with each other in the future, underlining an area that falls within the theme of this year’s Commonwealth Youth Awards, connectiveness.
And working together you believe they might just change the world. Their work is varied enough to take it on.
Padmanaban Gopalan from India is the founder of No Food Waste. His company collects surplus food from restaurants, shops, and functions, perfectly good food that would be thrown away, and delivers it to ‘hunger spots’ around the country. He plans to expand this to the rest of the world, and when accepting his award as regional winner he left the crowd with a stirring and strong mantra, “Feed people, not landfills.” He has fed over 650,000 people so far.
From the Pacific region, Bobby Siarani has been working to make his home country of Fiji sustainable and environmentally friendly. He combats both waste and youth unemployment through his bio-gas initiative. Importantly, he teaches others to turn waste into fuel and provide employment and clean energy sources to developing communities.
In the Caribbean, Johanan Dujon has also founded his own bio-tech company, Algas Organics. Making use of the toxic sargassum seaweed that affects fish landing sites and pollutes the coastline, he turns it into an organic fertiliser to assist local farmers throughout the Caribbean. His work also employs young locals who are in need of work.
The partnership of these four young people is something to anticipate eagerly. On their own they have achieved immense progress, so what will they achieve together?
However, one thing is clear after talking to each winner. It is not our place to sit and watch while they change the world, but to rise up and join them.