Thank you, Floor, Manpreet, and Gary. This event organized by YOURS and the Child Injury Prevention Alliance was full of both information and inspiration. I could not be more honored to be here to give the closing remarks. Thank you to Minister Kane of Senegal for his opening words and for sharing his country’s work.
I very much enjoyed hearing from earlier speakers about the global perspective and the innovative ways children and youth have been involved in road safety and how we must support young researchers. I myself would not be here today if someone had not helped and encouraged me when I was a student researcher.
This session is unique because it highlights both the impact of road traffic injuries on children and youth and how young people themselves can make an impact – a positive impact – on road safety. The Continental Carousel was terrific and gave us excellent insight into diverse projects as well as the countries and regions in which they operate. It was easy to see the deep knowledge each presenter had, as well as the passion.
My own passion, some might say obsession, with transportation safety was sparked when I was quite young. You could say it began on a dirt road in the Paraguayan countryside. I was there as a 17-year old volunteer building latrines as part of a public health program and I loved it. The community was welcoming and I loved that I was often surrounded by young children from the village. What I did not love was having nowhere to walk except along the main road and jumping into ditches or the bushes with my young friends every time large vehicles thundered past. It seemed so unfair that kids had to do that! It made me angry. Outraged, in fact. Outraged as only a teenager can be. And, in a way, that teenage outrage never really went away.
A little of that outrage is with me every time the NTSB investigates a crash. That is what my government agency does. We investigate accidents to find out exactly what happened, why it happened, and we make recommendations to prevent these tragedies from happening again. Outrage at injustice is something we should not underestimate.
The world often underestimates the young. We underestimate what they think and feel and we underestimate what they can accomplish. We underestimate the power of their passion and outrage.
This session reminds us of the power of children and youth. It reminds us of how young people must be a part of the road safety solution and why it is so vital to protect them. As the presentations today demonstrated, kids are the most vulnerable, but they also have powerful voices.
Children and youth have passion. They have energy. They are innovative. They are inspiring. And, we must never, ever underestimate them.
On my flight here from the United States, I sat next to a 14-year-old from Brazil. She looked like a typical teenager with her sweatshirt, her iPod, and her backpack. We had a terrific conversation and I found out she was concerned about poverty, the environment, health care, and yes, transportation. She had thought about these issues and discussed them convincingly with me in English, a language she was studying in school. We even talked about Malala, the 18-year-old activist for education who won the Nobel Peace Prize.
I recently saw an interview where Malala was being interviewed by the young actress and UN Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson. Although she was speaking about education specifically, Malala’s words ring true for us, who work in road safety, as well:
“It is each and every one of us. From world leaders to parents to civil society to everyone, even to you! Even if you are 11 or 12, don’t think you can’t do it. Now it’s time we ask our governments where the money is spent. We give taxes and we expect something from our governments. Now it’s time that we stand up and look where the money goes.” (Malala Yousafzai)
Wise words from a youth. What struck me, and many others who saw this interview, was that Malala also seemed to be such a typical teenager. If Malala and my young friend from Brazil are examples of typical teenagers today, then we are in very good shape.
Congratulations again to all of you for an exceptionally useful and inspiring session.
Let’s stay in touch. Let’s help one another. Let’s harness the power of youth.