POWERFUL SPEAKER: Young activist Malala Yousafzai
I RECENTLY headed over to Wembley Arena for We Day UK, where thousands of schoolchildren from over 400 schools from across the UK came together to be inspired to change the world.
A host of talents including George the Poet, Diversity, Jennifer Hudson, Dizzee Rascal, Gary Neville and even royalty in the form of Prince Harry joined forces to educate, inspire and empower 12,000 student leaders to take action on local and global causes that they care about.
Sir Richard Branson’s daughter, Holly is an ambassador for Free the Children and brought in all her contacts to support the annual event. Richard was also in attendance and I caught up with him backstage. He told me that his favourite speaker for the day was without a doubt, 16-year-old education activist Malala Yousafzai.
“Oh I think it has to be Malala,” Richard said of the young Pakistani activist, who hit the headlines in 2012 when she was targeted and shot by the Taliban, who opposed her outspoken stance on girls’ education.
“I mean to have spoken out as a 13, 14-year-old and asked the world to let girls have an education, which they were being denied; then to be shot and then to have come back really from the dead and speak so beautifully and eloquently to inspire the world to get rid of these awful prejudices against women… I had tears [in my eyes] and so did a lot of people around me.”
An event created to inspire youngsters to make a difference on issues they care about, We Day UK, as Holly explained, encourages youngsters to play their part in a variety of ways.
“Any young person has to find the cause they feel really passionate about and then they need to either volunteer to raise money, do sponsored silences, bake sales, school uniform days – all sorts of things.”
After getting the full lowdown on We Day UK, I couldn’t let Richard get away without asking about the latest about Virgin Atlantic space travel programme.
“Well, I’m hoping to take up [my children] Holly and Sam on the first flight,” he revealed. “We have now built the spaceship, we have now built the mother ship, we have a space port, the rockets are testing really well and I really do think that in the next handful of months we’ll be up, up and away.”
GIRL POWER: Jas with Abi Oyepitan (left) and Louise Hazel
Last week, I attended the annual Get Connected charity auction. Get Connected is the UK’s free, confidential helpline for young people under 25 who need help and don’t know where to turn.
In an age where young people are exposed to a host of potential dangers that weren’t prevalent in years gone by, such organisations play a vital part in helping young people overcome the challenges of the modern world.
When I was a child, I played on the street with my mates with only two warnings: that I must follow the green cross code whilst crossing the street and not talk to or go with any strangers.
Falling down and scraping your knee was like a rite of passage for youngsters years ago. It made us braver and stronger and we were proud of our scars. Today, children are no longer living their lives like children; going outside climbing trees, riding bikes and the like.
Instead, many of them are staying in their houses to play Xbox or play Angry Birds on their iPads. Well-versed with technology and social media, many young people also find themselves at risk of many dangers.
Get Connected’s chief executive Jessica Taplin told me: “We know that nine out of 10 young people say that they have been online to try and resolve a personal problem, but going online carries its own risks and young people can find forums that worsen, not improve their issues.”
Also in attendance at the event were athletes Louise Hazel and Abi Oyepitan, as well as EastEnders stars Shane Ritchie and Jesse Wallace, who came out to support the cause.
Working in the youth media sector, I know that there are more opportunities for young people today than ever before.
Thousands of youth organisations exist across the country to help young people make the most of themselves. And yet, worries around sex, education, safety, self-esteem, social media and privacy are more serious than ever before.
If you’re young, life’s pressures are greater than ever before, but there is help out there. If you need help, get connected!
For more information visit: www.getconnected.org.uk