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Raising voices: young people speak up in Parliament

It’s vital that my MP hears my voice – a lot of children’s voices are overlooked ” Steph, 15, Kent

What happens when you get 50 teenagers, 10 MPs and an International Development Secretary in a room to talk about the UK’s aid budget..? Energetic debate, new ideas and lots of selfies! (For evidence, scroll to the bottom of this post…)

Although Save the Children was founded 100 years ago to provide vital food, medication and safety for children, we haven’t always provided space for their voices. The assumption that adults know best is a hard one to shake. But creating a platform for children and amplifying their opinions is at the heart of our new strategy, and it applies whether we’re operating in Syria, Rwanda or the UK.

A new approach

We’ve taken this to heart with our public campaigning work to protect and improve the UK’s aid spending, engaging with schools across the UK to hear what they’d spend the UK aid budget on. Over the past few months, we’ve held workshops with 14-17 year old students, discussing the challenges set by the Global Goals and how the UK Government is rising to them.

We heard again and again that young people would prioritise strong education and healthcare systems – infrastructure vital to ensuring children in the poorest countries are able to grow up and transform their own futures.

Descending on Parliament

These workshops culminated in a lobby day to showcase young voices on aid – groups of students and their teachers travelled from as far as Belfast and as close as Lambeth. After a busy morning of training, where we were joined by volunteers from the International Citizens Service to hear about their placements abroad, and a session with ONE where they role-played meeting and influencing their MPs, we were all off to Parliament.

The groups heard from Lord McConnell and Lord Bates about their experiences working on aid and the Global Goals, and MPs and Lords popped in for chats throughout the afternoon. Groups of students talked with their representatives, sharing their vision for UK aid. Virendra Sharma MP declared that “their passion for international development fills me with great pride and hope for humanity’s future”, and Preet Gill MP tweeted that she’d been inspired by the students’ passion.

To close, Rory Stewart, then-Secretary of State for International Development, joined for a Q&A, fielding tough questions from the students assembled before holding an intense discussion with smaller group of students. He later tweeted “thank you all so much for giving me the chance to listen to all your practical and creative ideas on development.”

What happens next

As all the students chattered excitedly, we asked them what they thought of the day. One student said “I did something I never thought I would do”. Another said “it made me happy that my voice was heard and that my opinion was considered”.

And this was exactly the point of it all: empowering young people to raise their voices and be heard.

Students will be inviting their MPs for follow-up conversations in their constituencies, holding assemblies to engage with their peers and joining our UK aid work in the next school year. We look forward to engaging with new Secretary of State Alok Sharma MP and making sure he hears the passionate and articulate voices of young people from across the UK.

We made a short film about the importance of young people having their voices heard in Parliament – watch it now!

A few photos from the day:

A student discussion on UK aid
A student discussion on UK aid
All 50 students pose for the camera
All 50 students at the start of the day
A student asks a question
A student asks a question
A student takes a selfie with Lord Bates
A student takes a selfie with Lord Bates
Rory Stewart takes a selfie after his Q&A
Group of students outside Parliament
Students share their vision for UK aid outside Parliament
A student talks to Preet Gill MP
A student talks to Preet Gill MP

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