Haruko Takeuchi (left) and Jocelyn Voorhees, who are both youth representatives for the United Nations, stand in front of Italian sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro’s “Sphere within a Sphere.” The sculpture was presented as a gift to the UN by Lamberto Dini, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Italy in 1996.

by Sue Ann Rybak

A Chestnut Hill College student is one of two young women who have been named as the United Nations youth representatives for Global Education Motivators (GEM), an NGO (non-governmental organization) with headquarters in the Chestnut Hill College campus.

The women are Haruko Takeuchi, a junior at Chestnut Hill , and Jocelyn Voorhees, of Yardley, a recent graduate of St. Joseph University.

GEM, which is associated with the UN’s Department of Public Information, was founded in 1981. Its mission is to support the work of the United Nations and the important role of civil society in today’s world.

Wayne Jacoby, GEM president, said the creation of UN youth representatives was one of the most important things the UN has ever done. He said that since GEM’s formation the UN has recognized “the importance of civil society – not just governments.”

“The UN listens to civil society organizations like GEM,” Jacoby said. “Youth is the key for a better world tomorrow.”

He said today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders.

“They [young people] need to get a better understanding of the world,” Jacoby said. “One of the key pieces of that is to understand just what this organization called the United Nations really is and what it does.”

“The youth voice is increasingly critical in these international venues,” said Mark Schlachter, of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs, in an article on youthtoday.org. “What we do know is that in the history of the UN the youth voice has been largely missing.”

But that, he added, is changing.

“We live in an era in which international affairs are no longer dominated by states as the sole actors,” said Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 1997. “The participants include non-governmental organizations, national parliaments, private companies, the mass media, universities, intellectuals, artists, and every woman and every man who considers him or herself to be part of the great human family.”

Takeuchi and Voorhees, both in their 20s, want to educate young people about the United Nations Millennium Development Goals: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability and develop a global partnership for development.

Takeuchi, who is from Tokyo, said she became interested in GEM after participating in GEM’s 2012 Design Science: Global Solutions Lab. During the program, students have the opportunity to work with UN experts to develop strategies for solving some of the world’s most critical problems.

Voorhees became involved in GEM after helping to arrange a video conference between students in Philadelphia and students in Alexandria, Egypt, as part of Peace Day Philly in September 2011.

“I never had the opportunity to speak candidly with people who are my age in the Middle East,” Voorhees said. “It was an eye-opening experience.”

She said they talked about the Arab Spring that happened earlier that year.

“The Egyptian students contrasted for us what it was like before and after the revolution in Egypt,” Voorhees said. “They came across to me as very brave because they were willing to fight for what they believed in.”

She said the Egyptian youth asked them what they thought about the United States invading Iraq.

“Basically, the response that the Egyptian youth had was that they can achieve great things on their own,” Voorhees said. “The Egyptians said ‘look what we did – we did it on our own.’ They were trying to make us understand that they didn’t need any help. It was nice to hear them say that. I wish more countries would realize that.”

She said there were a lot of apathetic people in the United States when it comes to politics.

“The people I spoke to in Egypt were the opposite of apathetic,” Voorhees said. “They were excited after the revolution because they had more freedom. They took advantage of that freedom by helping out their community. The youth said if they see graffiti they go out and clean it. While in Philadelphia if I see graffiti, I walk by it and don’t think about cleaning it. I think someone else is going to do it. But, they are very active participants in their community.”

Voorhees said that community service is a big part of Chestnut Hill but added that it is “unfortunately, not the norm in most neighborhoods.”

“I know a lot of people call the United Nations irrelevant, but I think the United Nations is a symbol of how global unity can exist, which is something that is extremely relevant,” she said.