Young activists urge leaders to Act For Early Years

GYAs Siyu (Suzanna) Chen, Nelly Cetera, Tyra Gravesande, Manfred Kyenkyehene Osei, and Ceren Yürümez. Theirworld's event

Theirworld’s Global Youth Ambassadors were in New York during the UN General Assembly – highlighting the need for urgent and bold investment in early childhood care and education.  

Young people are the key to unlocking big change. So who better to deliver a message to world leaders about the importance of quality early years care and education than Theirworld’s Global Youth Ambassadors? 

Five passionate GYAs had an unforgettable week during the United Nations General Assembly as they spread the message of the Act For Early Years campaign. 

In a whirlwind week in New York City, they: 

  • Attended high-level education events hosted by Theirworld  and others 
  • Met government ministers and education campaigners 
  • Called for urgent and bold investment to reach children missing out on crucial early childhood care and education 

Ceren Yürümez, a 22-year-old medical student from Turkey, summed up the spirit of the youth activists when she addressed a Theirworld event attended by education champions, including UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and tennis star Roger Federer, who is supporting the Act For Early Years campaign.

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Ceren told them: “Believe in us, work with us. Make sure that our voices are heard because we are speaking for children who don’t have a voice.”

Also in New York to represent the movement of more than 2,000 GYAs in over 120 countries were Nelly Cetera, 22, from Argentina; Siyu (Suzanna) Chen, 20, from Canada; Tyra Gravesande, 23, from the United States; and Manfred Kyenkyehene Osei, 29, from Ghana. 

Here’s a flavour of the GYAs’ week in New York.

GYA Nelly Cetera with fellow panellists World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown and Roger Federer (Theirworld/Ilya Savenok)

Nelly – who works for an international NGO focusing on economic empowerment of youth – was part of an illustrious panel at a Theirworld event to mark the halfway stage of the Sustainable Development Goals. It was attended by international leaders, businesses, heads of UN agencies and activists. 

Nelly told them that young people have a great opportunity to make changes at both local and global level. She added: “We can do local impact programmes but also unite to share our messages and demand changes. 

 “We have power in numbers. Education is the biggest opportunity we have to make transformative, lasting change.” 

GYA Ceren Yürümez addresses at Theirworld’s Act For Early Years event (Theirworld/Ilya Savenok)

Ceren’s plea to leaders came two days later, when Theirworld co-hosted an Act For Early Years event with Sesame Workshop and the Early Childhood Development Action Network.

The event also heard from Tyra, an MA student with a background in women’s studies and bioethics. She said: “The youth are actively seeking change and driving social movement. We must recognise the importance of authenticity – rooted in real stories and the stories of young people.”

GYA Tyra Gravesande talks at Theirworld’s Act For Early Years USA launch (Theirworld/Ilya Savenok)

Tyra also spoke at a third Theirworld event, which officially launched Act For Early Years in the US and was attended by guests from the arts, international development, education and showbusiness.

When she had time to reflect, Tyra said: “This week has been so transformational for me. I’ve met so many amazing advocates, world leaders and changemakers.”

Siyu Chen meets Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the UN, and hands over a message to leaders about Theirworld’s Act For Early Years campaign

Siyu met a UK government advisor and Robert Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the UN. Siyu said: “As a disabled person, I advocated for more investment, policy prioritisation and disability inclusion in quality early childhood development.”

The GYAs spoke at a skills roundtable with business leaders, hosted by Theirworld’s Global Business Coalition for Education.

Nelly talked about the skills divide in Latin America and Tyra about the challenges for marginalised and black girls who struggle to get jobs in US organisations. Manfred spoke about visa and mobility issues.

GYA Manfred Kyenkyehene Osei meets former tennis star and education champion Roger Federer at a Theirworld event (Theirworld/Ilya Savenok)

Manfred and Ceren could hardly contain their excitement after meeting Roger Federer, whose foundation has been focusing on young children in southern Africa and Switzerland for 20 years.

Manfred, who is studying for an MSc in environmental leadership and management, said: “It has been an amazing week, getting all these opportunities – hopping from one meeting to another and connecting with people, learning from people from different countries and cultures.

“UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown introduced me to Roger Federer – it felt like a dream.”

Global Youth Ambassadors soaking up the atmosphere of New York City (Theirworld/Ilya Savenok)

Ceren also met Roger Federer at an event on investing in education systems, hosted by the Global Partnership for Education. She said: “That was my highlight of the week.”

Ceren is currently working on government-funded projects educating families about newborn health and prematurity. She added: “I see lots of children whose parents don’t have basic literacy and they’re suffering from preventable causes of death. If we teach those parents and those kids how to take care of their physical and mental health, we can prevent lots of diseases.”

The GYAs also went to an event at UN headquarters called Elevate Education as a Win-Win for the SDGs, hosted by Project Everyone.

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