“You are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”
This was the key phrase used in the inspiring speech given by Kenyan radio presenter Caroline Mutoko at the official opening of this year’s 34th East Africa Model United Nations.
Last month I was lucky enough to be a staff member accompanying a group of students from Isamilo International School in Mwanza to the annual conference at the UN building in Nairobi, Kenya.
Over five days Isamilo’s plucky students joined hundreds of others aged between 15 and 18, predominantly from East Africa but also from as far afield as Sweden, to test their ingenuity in debates and discussions about international problems potentially facing our world.
Mutoko’s inspiring speech left a room full of intelligent and ambitious teens speechless as she proposed that these were the people who have the potential to change the future. As a presenter on Nairobi’s Kiss FM breakfast show, she spoke not just about the need for change in the world, but she had a familiarity of their world and and discussed social media forums, such as twitter or facebook, where students could start to make those changes.
She said that somewhere in that conference room stood the future leaders of Kenya and other countries in Africa. She said:
“There is no tomorrow. This is the future, today is the future. Change will not come if you wait for someone else. You are the one we’ve been waiting for. You are the one we’ve been waiting for.”
Mutoko’s speech was so powerful that I, who was also speechless and with tears in my eyes, rushed down the front of the hall, pushed past a number of teens, and managed to shake her hand and thank her for her motivational words… and in true 2016 style, took a quick selfie with her.
The following day the award-winning Kenyan photojournalist Boniface Mwangi spoke to the students. Mwangi, who is involved in social-political activism, gave a hard-hitting speech which received a unanimous standing ovation. He also talked about the need for change and that change can only come from you yourself. He said that there are two great days in your life, the day when you are born and the day when you realise what you were born for.
These two speeches set the tone for the conference and for the next few days, the impassioned students were able to hone a number of skills including debating and public speaking skills, journalistic talents, leadership skills and develop their self-confidence.
Some of the resolutions which the students were trying to pass this year included: Combating human-trafficking in Southeast Asia using Laos as a programme; training doctors, nurses and other healthcare specialists to be prepared for future Ebola outbreaks using Sierra Leone a a pilot programme; ending all forms of child labour in cocoa plantations using the Ivory Coast as a pilot programme; and enhancing development of geoengineering to minimize carbon emissions in China as a pilot programme.
Some of the wisest words which were spoken at the conference came from high-school student Matthew Yun, who was voted in as the Secretary General for EAMUN 2016. He also said whenever he plans to do something he remembers the words of his parents, which are: “You should do it, you can do it and you will do it.”
Talking about why students should be involved with MUN he said: “Whatever drives you—the ambition to be the best, the thrill of the stage, or the desire for a novel experience—MUN will indelibly mark you in ways you cannot even imagine. That I can promise.”
At the end of the week, I’m going to be honest, I felt old and a bit past it – Maybe this had something to do with the last night. I had accompanied the students to an end of conference evening party and was ready for a boogie and a laugh, I had even bought a new top. Instead I sat in the dark at the back of the disco all night with the other teachers, sipping weak coffee, munching on a cold chapati and looking after the students’ bags and coats.
But ultimately my experience of EAMUN was positive. I have faith in these students. I feel like this new generation coming though, the students I am lucky enough to be teaching, should make a change, can make a change and will make a change to the face of the world we live in, for the better. In short – they are the ones we’ve been waiting for.