Our Perspectives


If you want it done, take action

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young Syrian womanYouth participate in a rubbish removal initiative in As-Salamieh, Syria. Photo: UNDP Syria

It pains me when people on social media comment that everyday civic engagement isn’t their responsibility and should be solely the work of governments and the UN.

Civic engagement is defined as “individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern.”

We don’t all need to be leaders, but we should all take part in our society. If we get a cut, do we treat ourselves right away or do we wait for a leader to bring us a Band-Aid? If we want an improvement in our community done right, our way, why shouldn’t we take initiative rather wait for permission from a leader to do it for us?

Being a Burmese-American, I’ve been following the actions around the recent floods in Myanmar with interest. A great uncle’s rice mill is currently submerged in over 20 feet of flood water. Laymyatna, my father’s childhood town on the Ngawun River, is under water. But it is inspiring to see how Myanmar youth are taking action.  They have been instrumental on social media, amplifying global #SaveMyanmar crowdfunding campaigns, and providing updates for the Burmese diaspora. My uncle remarked in awe in an e-mail that compared to when Cyclone Nargis hit in 2008, this time was different - the streets of Yangon are packed with youth mobilizing food relief items for hungry flood survivors.

In Syria and Yemen, as conflict continues, youth are taking to the streets to clean waste and debris through youth NGOs and as part of Cash for Work jobs they’re doing for UNDP-supported early recovery projects. The point of cleaning debris in the middle of a war may sound counter-productive but it’s a critical part of preventing sanitation-related diseases when massive displaced populations are packed into shelters in safe havens, without enough running water or functioning toilets. In war, there are no city workers left to haul away waste, no plumber to maintain water supply pumps or sewage lines.

Burmese youth move sandbagsYouth get involved in flood relief in Myanmar, through social media and direct action. Photo: Zayar183/Instagram

In Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, youth are fighting Ebola by volunteering to go door-to-door and use music, arts, and youth radio programs to promote Ebola awareness through UNDP-support and through their youth groups. Throughout 2014, schools were shuttered due to Ebola but local youth clubs continued learning with study groups and followed lessons on the radio. Youth are also on the frontlines of the health response, such as Ebola case finders, as part of burial teams, as survivors working on anti-stigma campaigns, and as workers in Ebola Treatment Centers.

For my generation of Millennials, whether we’re in peace time or not, it’s vital for us to actively participate in the well-being of our community. Global improvements take local efforts, and those cannot happen without individual action. We have to take up the torch from older generations.

Millions of youth are leading small and big social changes all over the world—some of them supported by UNDP’s youth initiatives. Just as youth in Guinea, Liberia, Myanmar, Sierra Leone, Syria, and Yemen inspired me, I hope that one of these examples will inspire you to take action.

Lei Phyu Youth Development Effectiveness Myanmar Guinea Liberia Sierra Leone Syrian Arab Republic Yemen Civic engagement

UNDP Around the world