Yolanda Joab-Mori of the Federated States of Micronesia delivered a keynote address at the UN Economic and Social Council Youth Forum on 8 April 2019 in New York.
Empowered. Included and Equal. It can be hard
To relate to these words
Words that are big and that are worthy
of the pursuit to speak life into
Because the voice that I stand here with Has not always been
Empowered, included, or equal
So in order to talk about what it is to be empowered
Then we need to talk about what it is to be disempowered
In order to talk about what it is to be included
You gotta know what it feels like to be marginalized
In order to talk about equality
Then we need to understand what it is like
When you are treated like you are not
And remember what that was like,
what it still is like for too many people
that have to fight to be Empowered, included and equal
When they already are
we need to talk about why this is still a dream for too many people
Why this turns into privilege abused by too many people
Why this continues to be a fight for too many people
So this is for them
For the fighting ones
For the post-colonial brown girl who took her education and turned into a tool of cultural reclamation
For the young graduates returning home with no jobs to come home to so became job providers instead of job seekers
For the little boys and girls hiking uphill to go to school everyday
For the teachers that are making learning something worth hiking for everyday
For our families in the outer islands watching the taro patch that feeds them have a burial at sea
For the same families now planting mangrove on the coast,
because they say when the sea levels rise, then our resilience rises higher
For my Micronesian brothers and sisters absorbing racism abroad and moving relentlessly on because you know there is nothing Micro about us.
For everyone trapped in a culture of silence find voice in movements like the #MeToo campaign
For my mothers marching because hashtags like #MeToo shouldn’t even exist and our daughters deserve better
For everyone still fighting
As a twenty-something year old, indigenous, Micronesian, brown and proud, young woman, apparently, I embody a few things that many people still seem to be uncomfortable with. And like everyone in this room I am here to connect and cross comfort zones because progress does not happen any other way. Progress doesn’t happen when you’re comfortable. When you’re carrying on business as usual. It happens in the moments like these when the disempowered become empowered, when the marginalized become included and when everyone realizes their universal right to equality.
In the matriarchy of Uh on the island of Pohnpei, there is a village called Awak. Home of my roots, descendant of the Lasialap clan. In the village of Neauo, on the island of Weno, there is a beach facing the islands of Faichuuk. This beach is where I and the Pacific mother ocean greet each other every morning. Where my children swim. Where my son and daughter will learn how to fish.
The connection between people and place, is one of the last standing code of the ethics that indigenous people across Micronesia and the Pasifika still live by. Still identify with.
It is in these places, places that I call home, that climate change has come for first, but it will not be the last.
Eventually we will all need to be questioning things and planning for things as vital as food security, water security, the need for marine protected areas, relocation, coastal and cultural erosion, and even our identity. All things we are having to answer to now. The question now is, are you only going to act on this when it comes for the places you call home?
This is only one story, one voice in an anthem of warriors. And I know we are all fighting different battles, but we are united in our common pursuit of our common goals.
But as I look at all of these different battles that we are each fighting– climate change, injustice, inequality, conflict, poverty, I also see one simple connecting truth, the one that brought all of us to this room today, and that is– we still believe in better. As a global community we have set for ourselves the Sustainable Development Goals, because we still, despite it all, believe that we can do better.
And I know this because despite all of the ugliness that I have seen, I have also seen, hope in its most beautiful audacity. And that, is humanity’s finest gift. And no one is more ready and more eager to act on this gift like young people.
Time and time again, youth, have this burning fire, this resilient ability, that no matter how many times we get pushed aside, overlooked, talked over, and knocked down. We get back up because the challenges we face as a generation are big, and yes they are tough. So we have made the decision to be bigger and to be tougher. Everyday around the world young people, are teaching, creating, rallying, innovating, building, sailing, marching, questioning and DREAMING because we believe in better.
Breaking through spaces we are not welcome in but stepping in anyway Speaking up where we are meant to be silent but speaking up anyway
Standing up for the things you know you will be struck down for but standing up anyway because young leaders know that we cannot wait for permission to lead tomorrow, we deserve action now.
No one will reimagine our world like a young person with a fresh imagination.
No one will keep decision makers as accountable to their future like a young person with a future to look forward to.
No one will dream as fearlessly, as a young person who isn’t afraid yet.
President King, ladies and gentlemen, the discussions that will take place in this room, over the course of the next two days, must be as bold as we are. The decisions that will be made within the walls of this monument of a building as we move into the High Level Political Forum in July and the Climate Summit in September must be brave enough to look at our challenges and see opportunities to do better.
Such as increasing the space for meaningful youth participation at all levels because you cannot shape the future without the ones who are going to inherit it. Such as recognizing the necessity to increase Pacific participation in these spaces because you cannot talk about climate change without talking to the ones affected by it most.
Because all of the youth that we claim to represent, that are back home, watching us right now, they need to believe in us as much as we believe in them. So let’s give them something to believe in. And to my fellow youth, keep believing, keep rising, but as you do don’t forget to uplift others with you so that together we can all be empowered, included and equal.
I thank you for listening.