The following is the script of a speech presented by Sonja English (Class of 2016) to the Global Action Program assembly on October 20, 2015. Is is shared here with her permission.
"In light of the expiration of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals, they have released a new set of ambitions: the Sustainable Development Goals. In essence, they aspire to achieve a series of ambitious proposals by the year 2030. Here is a taste of what they have to offer: ending all poverty, everywhere, and with that an end to hunger and promotion of nutrition and sustainable agricultural practices. Another crucial goal, is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. Most studies strongly support the view that giving women a voice in their communities fosters a higher and more lasting level of development. Consequently, the role of women and girls needs to be emphasized ,especially in poorer regions of the world. We need more projects like The Girl Effect, as seen in 2008, which directly funded education for girls in Nigeria, Rwanda, and Ethiopia, with great success. We need to tread lightly on cultural issues like female genital mutilation and child marriage that results in girls trying to avoid the process by breast ironing. Child marriage and FGM isn’t going to go away by the developed world simply lambasting these practices. Instead, we must promote alternate ways of celebrating womanhood that still preserve indigenous values. Amhef Health Africa has founded an Alternate Rite of Passage (ARP) that replaces FGM with life skills teaching, and a ceremony. Over 9000 girls and their families have opted into ARP in Nigeria and Kenya. The UN functions on respecting the cultural traditions of communities, yet at the same time identifying where sometimes these practices do more harm than good. We must be able to consider both sides of the coin, because it’s too easy to say that “the world needs fixing”. It’s harder to suggest the means of solution that protect cultural identities and values while promoting universal human rights. The SDGs are attempting to bridge this divide and attain a more humane and respectful development for all.
Consider another issue: the part of the world that lives in darkness. We often take for granted the ability to turn on air conditioning, running water, lights. Even in Malaysia, many orang asli tribes not far from KL still do not have electricity. Liter of Light and MIT have invented a solar powered plastic water bottle light that has been introduced to rural communities. These ventures have not been government sponsored, but rather NGOs and normal citizens have worked to bring light to communities in Brazil, the Philippines, and Malaysia. This is only the beginning. Access to electricity and safe shelter go hand-in-hand. The UN’s Sustainable Development goals are all interlinked, and with the achievement of one, we get a domino effect into another. With the majority of you embarking on GAP this week, keep these goals in mind because they’re supposed to be the foundation of the trip, and we often forget this.
Malaysia with all it’s beauty invariably has its own struggles to quell. Before we embark on new journeys, we first should tackle those closest to home. Hence, Malaysia week and a Malaysian Action Program is what we should pursue. Act local, think global."