The International Year of Youth, with its theme of dialogue and mutual understanding, drew to a close last week. Although the formalities have ended, Benson Saulo, Australia’s 2011 Youth Representative to the UN, believes those sentiments should continue.
Each year, a young person is selected from hundreds of applicants around the country to become the Youth Representative to the United Nations. Since being assigned the position in April, Benson has traveled from Launceston to Broome, Darwin to Perth and many lesser-known towns in between on a national listening tour.
After speaking to thousands of young people in dozens of communities there is one thing that he found to be high on everyone’s priority list: education.
Benson speaks passionately about the need for children to understand why they need education.
‘They are not going to get engaged in education if they don’t feel it’s important to them,’ he says.
While in Hobart, Benson visited one of the many alternative schools around the country, the Big World School, which encourages disengaged students to learn.
‘There was this young fella walking around the school and he was open about saying, “I used to be a trouble maker, the teachers and I never got along and my mum begged me to go to this school”, and you could even see it, his whole body language changed, he looks forward to his exams because he can actually show what he has learned.’
Benson will present a series of findings and recommendations from his tour of Australia to the UN in New York.
While being Australia’s Youth Representative for the UN sounds like a plum role, it is voluntary. Representatives rely heavily on their own funds and corporate sponsors to finance the listening tours that are necessary to deliver quality recommendations to the UN.
‘I have used up all my savings…one of my key recommendations to DFAT (the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) is that this role is sponsored,’ says Benson.
Although Friday marked the end of the International Year of Youth, it is just the beginning for Benson and his colleagues as they work to keep conversations with Australia’s young people flowing.