The Malta Independent 19 September 2020, Saturday

International Youth Day

Wednesday, 12 August 2020, 07:22 Last update: about 2 months ago

Mark A. Schapiro, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires

On August 12 we celebrate International Youth Day, a day when we applaud young women and men who raise awareness about global challenges, and we hail these young people as agents of change. The theme of this year’s International Youth Day is “Youth Engagement for Global Action,” with an emphasis on the abilities of young people and their potential to shape the future of our ever more interconnected world. 


Young people across the globe are leading protests for change. They lead the Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S. and here in Malta. They lead the protests for democracy in Hong Kong. This next generation of emerging leaders has played an important role in addressing the multiple challenges the COVID-19 pandemic threw at us. We have all read the heart-warming stories of young people taking care of the elderly during lock-down, purchasing groceries and medicines, entertaining them with music in the streets.   

According to the United Nations, there are currently 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24 in the world. This is the largest youth population ever. However, more than half of all children and adolescents aged 6-14 lack basic reading and math skills, despite the fact that the majority attend school. The COVID-19 pandemic places unprecedented pressure on education worldwide and motivates concern that young people will drop out of school at an early age, resulting in a decline in acquired knowledge and skills. Governments must invest in resources that guarantee an education and educational equity for all. We must invest in the world’s future leaders.    

The United States is committed to providing opportunities for young people to ensure they are not only fully equipped and informed to be the leaders of tomorrow, but also agents of change today. Whether it is ensuring boys and girls have equal access to education; building skills to strengthen youth leadership in civil society, business and academia; or providing a young entrepreneur with the capital and network to build a start-up, we are investing in the potential of the next generation.   

Youth are often the voices at the forefront of advocating for societies to advance and improve, whether on issues of human rights, technology, climate change, or healthcare. As President Donald Trump said, “It remains our generation’s moral imperative to take responsibility and help our children manage the many issues they are facing today, including encouraging positive social, emotional, and physical habits.” We believe in open societies and freedom of information. This makes us stronger and unleashes creativity and innovation. But none of this can happen without good education, equal opportunity, and access to resources and information.   

Here in Malta, my colleagues and I regularly engage with Malta’s future leaders, learning about their aspirations and goals, sharing expertise through U.S. government exchange programs, and offering opportunities for interaction with young Americans.     

Every year, Malta participates in the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellowship program, an intensive short-term exchange created to foster long-term relationships among young Europeans and Americans and to encourage dialogue and action around the values of open societies. The four-week program enables teenagers, ages 16-18, to explore U.S. foreign policy priorities such as youth engagement, support for democracy and civil society, and economic prosperity.  Thus far, 13 young women and men from Malta and Gozo have participated in this program. Next year, Eve Borg Bonello, already a committed activist for democracy and human rights, will represent Malta.   

In an effort to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), we run STEM programs at the Embassy for students before they make their first O-level selections. In one program, students work in groups to build their own Piper Toolkit, an educational mini-computer, and develop technical skills and approaches that lead to inventive solutions. Thanks to Maltese Education Ministry support, over forty Maltese and Gozitan schools participate in The Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) Program. GLOBE is an international science and education program – led by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) – that brings together students, teachers, scientists, and the public to contribute meaningfully to our understanding of the Earth and the global environment. GLOBE gives Maltese students the opportunity to form part of an international network of budding scientists.       

This year, we partnered with MCAST’s Institute for the Creative Arts to host a virtual masterclass on Transmedia Storytelling delivered by U.S. film expert Sangita Shresthova. During her masterclass, Dr. Shresthova shared her years of creative transmedia storytelling experience with MCAST students and lecturers, focusing primarily on civic participation, cross cultural dialogue, and social change.   

We also worked with the National Youth Council (KNZ), the University Students’ Council (KSU) and the Malta Model United Nations Society (MaltMUN) to engage young people in Malta and Gozo in a live Facebook chat. Over thirty people asked me questions ranging from the bilateral relationship to regional and global issues. It was an incredible experience for me to engage with the participants and learn what issues are of concern to them – an experience that made me very optimistic for the future, despite the current pandemic and climate of uncertainty.     

We are talking about the world’s future leaders. The best thing we can do as responsible stewards of our countries and our planet is to pass the baton in an organized and informed manner. Social and political change is difficult. It takes time, effort, and often feels like you are shouting into the hurricane. But democracies are not about us at the Embassy; they are about you, about all of you, everyone in a society participating, working, and building tomorrow.  Activism changes the world, and organizations such as KNZ, KSU, MaltMUN, and so many others are ideal and inspiring channels to amplify your voices and achieve change.   


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