The voices of young people who have lived in institutions will ring out loud and clear tomorrow at a major international youth conference. Six Lumos-supported self-advocates - both with and without disabilities, and with backgrounds in institutions - will attend the 9th UNESCO Global Youth Forum in Paris in October, where young activists from around the world will give their verdict on the UN's new Sustainable Development Goals. Lumos and other NGOs have argued that children living outside of families, including in orphanages, should be an international development priority.
In a session on 28 October, which Lumos is co-hosting with two UNESCO Chairs, the self-advocates from three European countries will share their message that successful deinstitutionalisation can only be achieved through inclusion and meaningful participation in policy-making for disadvantaged and marginalised children and young people.
Under the banner of Building Bridges for Inclusion, the young people from Moldova, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic will bring their unique perspectives and styles of participation to an audience of young people from around the world.
They have used film, artwork, music and other styles to communicate with decision-makers in their own countries and at international events. In one presentation they will ask the audience to suggest the elements needed for inclusion and then write the suggestions on Jenga-style bricks which they will build into a bridge. Their aim is to build "a bridge that could contribute in ending the poverty, ensure inclusive and equitable quality education, reduce inequality, and build a lasting partnership.”
Arsen and Olga, from Moldova, will present under the theme: Citizens Together! The theme for Veronika and Veronika both from the Czech Republic will be: No more Institutions! Mihaela and Veliko, from Bulgaria, will say: Politicians: Hear our Voices! Veliko, 16, who has a disability and has been elected onto a national youth consultative group in Bulgaria, said: “We are going to this event not just as individuals but as speakers for the most vulnerable, the young people with disabilities, who have lived in institutions.” Olga, 19, said: “I really hope that the participants who will listen to our messages, representing the voices of children and young people from Moldova, will change their views. I also hope that our ideas will remain in their minds and hearts, and we all, our generation, will get involved in things that matter to us.”
The session will be opened by Prof Pat Dolan, of National University of Ireland, Galway and UNESCO Chair in Children, Youth and Civic Engagement, Prof Mark Brennan, UNESCO Chair in Rural Community, Leadership, and Youth Development, with Lumos CEO Georgette Mulheir.
Eighty years of science has shown that being raised in institutional care harms the development of children by depriving them of the close adult engagement they receive in a family. At least eight million children worldwide live in institutions and orphanages, at least 80% separated from living parents.
Lumos has established a partnership with the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway, aimed at gaining a fuller understanding of the causes of institutionalisation and long-term solutions. The co-hosted Paris event - which demonstrates the key contribution that Lumos’ self-advocates can make to the process of deinstitutionalisation - is supported as part of a grant from The Atlantic Philanthropies. The grant will see the development of a set of knowledge transfer and dissemination activities to be undertaken within a partnership between Lumos, the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) and Pennsylvania State University.
In the separate session on 28 October - entitled Youth as Researchers: Invoking Empathy and Activating Young People - Prof Dolan and Prof Brennan will be joined by the Irish actor Cillian Murphy, Patron of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre. He will take part in a conversation with young people to explore “the capacity of film and research to invoke empathy and to empower youth to add their voice to issues of importance to them and influence change.”