Day Three started off with the launch of the official stamp for the World Youth Conference. While it was a nice commemorative gesture, I’ll gloss over it – stamps are possibly at the lowest of my list of priorities in life, even lower than the mantis shrimp and the three-toed sloth. Directly after this was the main plenary session.
I’ll just say this: today was far better than I hoped.
Given the previous day’s gross mismanagement, I was skeptical of today. I was wrong. Over those few midnight hours, the organizers seem to have pulled together and made something exponentially smoother. Yes, there still is some ridiculous stuff to be ironed out, but WCY actually lived up to it’s name today.
Overall, we saw a marked increase in discussion, communication and a consistent flow of ideas that will, at some point, make their way into the United Nations.
The event was structured such that a series of simultaneous breakout sessions happened directly after the main plenary. in these sessions, delegates got down the business of kicking around ideas of what they needed to address and how – in short, the real meat of the event.
In each session, we saw delegates from various countries engaged in debate (sometimes quite heated), bringing all of their ideas onto one common drawing board. The decisions based upon these ideas will eventually make their way into the Colombo Declaration, a document that will be given directly to the United Nations.
Perhaps these events worked well because they were completely devoid of any other presence – no officials save for the occasional media person stepping in for a quick photo and a couple of volunteers per room. We flitted from session to session, watching as young reps from completely different backgrounds began the lengthy process of outlining their views, then distilling core truths that everybody agreed on.
It certainly wasn’t an easy process: often we saw vast differences in opinion over a massive plethora of topics – in the space of ten minutes, for example, the Achieving Good Governance and Accountability group went from health services to education to media freedom, which sparked a debate over which country had true media freedom and why.
In addition to these sessions, there were also roundtable sessions happening in the general vicinity of the Sirimavo building. These were markedly suboptimal. Each session was preceded by a panel discussion of sorts, which in most cases, attendees informed us, were barely useful.
For example, one panelist in the Sports and Recreation roundtable wasted all of thirty minutes introducing himself.In another session, Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka took great care to explain the most rudimentary principles behind global warming to a massive cluster of climate-change activists, most of whom were involved in international movements on the subject – very little was said there that they did not know backwards, forwards and sideways.
These ARE representatives of entire countries: let’s not treat them like seventh-grade science students. Overall, the roundtables could have used some drastic improvement.
On the general logistics front, things seem to have greatly improved. Meals were served in a timely and much more convenient fashion – certainly nobody went hungry. The Secretariat, too, was much more organized and less clueless on what was happening. There still, however, are some glaring questions:
1) Why are there two events happening inside BMICH? One of them is WCY: the other seems to be a horrible attempt to show off the local youth organizations? Did nobody question the stupidity of having a completely unrelated, not to mention unprofessional, local event smack the middle of an international conference? Security issues aside, did nobody even notice that nobody even visited the event, which was still busy blasting baila music to all and sundry?
They’ve also set up a “global wall” – a board on which everyone’s scribbled things like “SRI LANKA ROX” and “X + Y 4EVER”. Delegates both foreign and local avoided it like the plague.
2) Why was there a group of wannabe bikers doing wheelies inside the premises? Once again, I must ask: is WCY meant to be a carnival? If so, can we at least have a better carnival? This one’s mighty poor fare.
If the whole purpose was to show the world how advanced the youth of Sri Lanka are, congratulations: they’ve been painted as an unsightly blot on a global canvas.These are jarring spots on an otherwise steadily improving event.
It was indeed good to see the delegates – talking, discussing gender equality long into the lunch break, exploring BMICH, even staging their own little roundtable sessions in safety and relative peace: I cannot help but feel that a true atmosphere for debate has been established, and that feeling of the very first day – of global collaboration, passion and international idealogical debate – has been rekindled.
At the end of the day, the true usefulness of WCY depends on the strength of the Colombo Declaration. We’ve seen strong signs of concern from most delegates over the current strength over individual components of this declaration and a constant drive to perfect and hone whatever they’re focusing on.
We’ve seen people show up at breakout sessions with folders stuffed with detailed factual research and people compiling reports late into the night. This is excellent: overall, there’s a very high awareness of how important this third global Youth Conference is and the limited time frame in which all of this must take place. Onward to tomorrow!