Each year, the Emerging Young Leaders Award program at the State Department recognizes 10 young people, ages 18-25, from around the world for their courage in resolving conflict, promoting security and creating economic opportunity in challenging environments.
Mark Taplin, acting assistant secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs, said older people often complain about millennials being self-absorbed, but he added that does not apply to these 10.
“Our honorees are climbing mountains that other 20-somethings would typically not do. They’re ascending to new heights through courage and conviction that few would aspire to reach, and especially at their age,” Taplin said.
Victim to changemaker
Some of the winners come from dangerous and difficult places, such as Moises Salazar Vila of Callao, Peru, who developed a mobile app to fight crime. He told VOA he went from being a victim of crime to a changemaker.
“Several times I have very bad experience with criminals,” Salazar Vila said. “So when I was working when I was young, I realized that maybe I can do something against this kind of problem.”
He said at first he tried to learn about computer programming languages and platforms on the internet, but he was stymied by “economical problems.” So he attempted to teach himself and “discovered my way and find out how to develop this kind of applications, in this case, Reach, for crime, but I also have another project.”
Salazar Vila said he ended up doing this on his own, but “I feel like I must do it. It was a big thing. But I feel like if I have a chance to do something against this, I must do it.”
Amel Mohandi helped children with cancer and created a web TV program for youth. She told VOA she is honored to represent Algeria.
“My inspiration for doing my project is to make a positive change in my community and make young people in communication,” Mohandi said. “So in the future I hope that my web TV becomes a platform for different organizations. That we can talk about sensitive and different humanitarian causes like refugees, children, women, and young people because I believe that young people are the future of Algeria.”
Asked about what she thinks the situation will be like for girls and women in Afghanistan 10 years from now, Gharsanay IbnulAmeen told VOA she is very optimistic.
“We are giving leadership workshops to girls age 14-19 that [as] women, they find their potential and then this project is a path or a way for them to see their capabilities, to build upon those skills, to make the changes possible, to dream big, to take actions, to be the policy makers, be the leaders,” IbnulAmeen said.
Despite formidable challenges, the young winners envision a bright future, with youth on every continent leading the way.
The winners are:
Naomi Bugre of Malta. Bugre, an activist since age 16, is a law student and involved in issues including minority and human rights, and the rights of children and refugees, in Malta and across Europe.
Chamathya Fernando of Sri Lanka. Fernando’s efforts involve the causes behind gender-based violence. She also focuses on youth issues, including education, skills development, reproductive health and rights, and combating racial discrimination and extremism.
IbnulAmeen of Afghanistan. IbulAmeen organized the Afghan Girls Leadership Program and co-founded the Global Youth Development Initiative, which connects students and professional and peer mentors from across the world. Currently, she is a law student at the American University in Afghanistan.
Raj Kumar of Pakistan. Kumar became an active member of the Pakistan-U.S. Alumni Network following his participation in the State Department-sponsored Global Undergraduate Exchange Program in 2013. He secured grants totaling $10,000 for projects focusing on countering violent extremist voices.
Quyên Lưu of Vietnam. Quyên uses social media and creative arts to engage Vietnamese youth on key issues, such as raising awareness among Vietnamese youth about the government budgeting process and calling for greater transparency.
Mohandi of Algeria. Mohandi is active in protecting and promoting children’s rights, and founded a volunteer group to help children suffering from cancer.
Jahongir Olimov of Tajikistan. Jahongir works to fight violent extremism and radicalization in his conservative Rasht Valley region by implementing projects in the most vulnerable regions of Tajikistan reaching thousands of youth. He focused educational activities on the basics of the ideologies that lead to violent extremism, radicalism and terrorism.
Noé Petitjean of Belgium. Petitjean founded Our Shared Difference, an intercultural and interfaith project gathering youth from different cultural backgrounds to address the challenges of refugee integration in Europe.
Salazar Vila of Peru. Salazar Vila was born in the province of Callao, where the provincial government has declared a state of emergency more than five times because of high levels of crime. He created a mobile app called Reach that allows users to report criminal activity in real-time.
Hanna Tams of Jerusalem. Tams has been involved in youth engagement since 2012, when he established the Douban Dance Company in Jerusalem. Through his dance company, Hanna serves Palestinian youth who are at significantly higher risk of destructive behaviors than their peers in Israel and the West Bank.