By Megan Bethell
The Latin America and the Caribbean preparatory meeting leading up to Habitat III held in Toluca, Mexico, carved out the space for organisations and governments to voice their opinions on numerous issues facing habitants of cities. During this conference, I was fortunate enough to work with and gain an insight into the UN Major Group for Children and Youth (UNMGCY). One person in particular within the Major Group, Saul Zenteno Bueno, stood out as an enthusiastic, intelligent, and genuine participant who has real experience of working within the region he represented. Here, I had a chance to ask Saul a few questions to understand his point of view on why the voice of the youth is important, and what keeps him motivated to participate in global discussions.
1) How did you get involved with the UNMGCY?
I have been working with grassroots organizations since 2009 – aged just 15. I first met the UN MGCY during the World Conference on Youth in 2014, hosted by the Government of Sri Lanka. There we discussed ideas and explored ways in which we could mainstream youth in the Post 2015 Agenda (better known now as Agenda 2030 or “The Global Goals”). This event hosted the first-ever intergovernmental negotiations where civil society, youth, could propose texts, discuss and vote. It was a genuine milestone in international relations, stakeholder engagement, and youth recognition. The Colombo Declaration negotiations were historical, challenging and quite fun. I had the opportunity to meet amazing people and members of the UN MGCY like Paulina Sandin, Christopher Dekki, Aashish Khullar, Lloyd Russell-Moyle and some other amazing people from regional platforms.
2) Why is it important to you to be involved in representing the youth and children?
I live in Chiapas, where the Mexican migratory corridor begins. Chiapas has an average population age of 23 years old and faces ongoing conflicts along with some systematic and social issues (ie. only 57 % of people have access to water and sanitation according to International Service for Peace) known as one of the most unequal regions in the Americas. I get to see how development projects and policies could influence every day, but there is a lack of political will and action. This has led me to take action, get involved in grassroots human rights advocacy and meaningful youth inclusion in decision-making processes at all levels.
Finding out about the little presence and few representatives of Latin American young people in the Major Group is a motivation for me to keep working and including new people from my region in an already very open platform.
I’m quite an off-roader, I could be this week all suited-up sitting in Geneva addressing the States on certain topics and the next one standing under the sun at some place of the southern Mexican border working with migrant people and refugees running away from Central America. I cannot conceive working with the MGCY without actually getting inside the challenges my region faces.
3) What is your position in the UN Major Group?
I am one of MGCY’s Regional Focal Point for Latin America and the Caribbean, in the Disaster Risk Reduction working group. I also play a very active and vital role in other processes such as Financing for Development, World Humanitarian Summit, Habitat III, and Post 2015. In our informal FfD working group I am the Thematic Focal Point for Trade & Development. At our WHS working group, I facilitate the policy formulation process globally, and as you could see, H3 Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) youth blast organizer, policy formulation, and trying to get more LAC grassroots people into the process.
4) What do you enjoy doing the most?
I enjoy the policy formulation and negotiation processes a lot. It is intellectually challenging and very demanding when mixed with University and grassroots NGOs projects, but at the end of the day, realizing that you are somehow making regular contributions to processes that influence global agendas is very rewarding.
3) What do you think the future of the UNMGCY is?
The MGCY will continue to facilitate spaces for youth participation and is currently exploring ways in which we can better include young people and collectives in the processes. We are also evolving, moving from a design and planning stage of the processes to a monitoring and implementation phase where everyone needs to keep an eye on each agenda implementation strategies in every region.
The Regional Focal Points will play a fundamental role in this new phase concerning outreach. Monitoring will allow us to build capacities amongst grassroots organizations and empower them to join global platforms such as the UN MGCY. This will then strengthen the follow-up, and accountability mechanisms created for these international processes.
The UNMGCY with the GLI fellows at the closing session of the LAC preparatory meeting in Toluca; Saul Zenteno Bueno is second from the left.
It is inspiring to see a young and engaged person acting on his own political will, and his recognition of the importance of youth participation is contagious. You can read more about the UMGCY, its processes and its members and their interests here: http://childrenyouth.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/UN-MGCY-Overview.pdf
Special thanks to Saul Zenteno Bueno, for taking the time out of your very busy schedule to answer these questions!