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Raise Your Voice, Use Your Vote

08/05/2017 10:19

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Eleanor Margetts meeting Pope Francis alongside Senior UN advisor Jeffery Sachs (c) Gabriella Marino

Right now, the world seems an especially scary place, a place full of uncertainties and distrust, but in the scramble towards the June election, young people need to feel empowered and realise their role in shaping a better global future.

In 2015 only 43% of 18-24-year-olds voted in the general election. Changing this is something we need to talk about. The young people of this country make up such a large percentage of the population and have the power to make a difference.

After the last general election, I decided to get involved with politics and share what I was passionate about: global justice. I wanted to show the importance of not letting domestic issues in the UK overshadow development issues across the world. Over the past two years, I have taken my ideas to UN representatives, the Pope and the Houses of Parliament and people have not only listened but acted.

My journey began when I visited Sierra Leone when I was 21-years-old. The visit, which happened only weeks before the Ebola crisis, transformed the way I viewed development.

I was used to being bombarded with so many awful facts and figures, seeing 'the poor' as a distant entity, something 'other' - yes, in sad situations, but not my problem. In reality, far from being horrified by what I saw in Sierra Leone, I was filled with hope.

The community invited me into their homes and during the month spent with them, they became a second family, people that I shared meals and celebrated with. I saw how communities had been transformed by UK aid. How international development works.

It led to an expansion of what the word neighbour meant to me; neighbour no longer simply meant the people who I lived next to, but people all over the world. I was suddenly not just Eleanor living in Brighton; I was part of a global family.

Since I have returned, I have made in my mission to speak to key figures about the importance and value of aid and international development.

I was one of 40 delegates invited to a conference with senior UN advisor Jeffery Sachs. I shared with him my experience of meeting people in Sierra Leone and my idea for an environmental education programme; some of the ideas we contributed will feed into future UN conferences.

When we were at the conference, which was being held in Rome, we were told that Pope Francis wanted to meet us. He walked straight into the group, offering kind words and it was then that Pope Francis approached me. The rule might have been no hand-shaking allowed, but I could hardly reject his outstretched hand. It was such a surreal moment for me, to meet this man who epitomised faith and justice.

Following the conference, I was invited to speak at a parliamentary reception organised by the aid agency CAFOD to share my experiences of speaking up for global justice. After my speech, I spoke to the Speaker of the House of Commons, Rt Hon John Bercow MP and other MPs who were present and urged them to keep in mind the poorest communities around the world in the upcoming general election. This is our chance to position the UK as a country that is striving for international development that stretches across the world.

Next month I will travel to Fatima, as part of a UN workshop on sustainability where I will have the opportunity to meet with over 100 youth representatives from Slovakia, Spain, Belgium, Canada, France and Portugal. We will speak about sustainability initiatives and how we can better live together.

The whole experience has made me feel so empowered. I am not an expert but I am testament to the fact that, despite the injustices in the world, we are still able to speak up and do something about them. It is so important to start a discussion on the humanity of global politics.

Young people have such an important role to play in the coming weeks. We need to engage with the election, read up on what every party and candidate are saying and understand the policies they are offering this country and the world.

By continuing to talk to our MPs and engage with policy, we can ensure that our country remains one that offers help to nations in need and seeks to grow relationships across borders. A UK that is ready for the future.

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