20 July 2007

Giving Voice To An Entire Generation

After 24 hours in Mumbai it was back on a plane, en route to New Delhi. Six highly entertaining hours later (which included a disappearing rickshaw driver, two car accidents, reasonable airport security screenings (do we even know why we have to take our laptops out of the case anymore?), a rather delayed flight, exit row seating on the World’s oldest aircraft and one more go at the whole luggage, x-ray, driver thing) I was at Youth Parliament, a Change Looms (http://www.ashoka.org/changelooms) candidate team working to give a voice to young people across India.

Ishita started Youth Parliament five years ago after being asked at a government forum what young people wanted. “I didn’t know the answer,” she told me. “It seemed that no one knew the answer.” She gathered her closest friends, converted her family garage into an office and began building an organization that could give her generation a voice. “We can’t just sit and complain. We’ve got to prove that we deserve to be heard. It’s about active citizenship.”

Ishita ha built a structure that encourages leadership and entrepreneurship. She oversees the organization as a whole, but each issue or policy area is headed by a different department director. They’re tackling everything from peer mentorship to arts education and transgender rights, all with a passion and a poise that would make you think they’re actually members of Parliament.

Ishita started with 15 people around her; now there are over 800, and the numbers continue to grow. They recently hosted a conference and education session with actual members of India’s parliament, teaching them about HIV/AIDS issues and how they effect young people. Their social interest film competition received dozens of submissions from across the country.

To top it all off, they’re exceptional Hindi teachers! I butchered the two phrases I know (thanks Gunjan and Gunjan’s mom for that knowledge) then managed to butcher another six or seven phrases. Still, their patience was much appreciated, and I was blown away by their commitment to building this organization on a national level over the long-term. “This social activism isn’t a phase that we’re going to grow out of,” Ishita said. “This is who we are as a generation. People better start paying attention.”

I couldn’t agree more.

No comments: