As part of European Youth Week 2019, we wanted to understand how young people are engaging with humanitarian spaces and the role they can play in implementing global change. This week’s blog provides a platform for the voices of young people, and for their opinions and experiences to be heard.

Last month, MOAS spoke to students at Verdala International School, in Malta, who are actively engaged in global affairs through the Model United Nations and other voluntary organisations. We wanted to understand how young people are navigating some of the most challenging global issues of our time – conflict, displacement, migration and integration – and what innovative solutions they think are needed. Our co-founder and director Regina Catrambone also came to Verdala School to provide students with an overview of our mission at MOAS, and some examples of humanitarian work in action.

How does it feel to be a young person entering the humanitarian space, and how do you feel your participation in the Model UN is helping you prepare for this?

“I’ve been doing Model UN since I was in 9th grade, and I have to say that entering this type of programme really enlightened me on what was going on around me, and gave me a whole new appreciation for current events and global issues. I think education is the best thing that anyone could ever have access to, because you learn things, or how to think, from a variety of perspectives and that’s extremely important when assessing any issue, doing any debate or speaking about any topic whatsoever. With MOAS here, I had the privilege of listening to the speaker’s words, and after watching the video I was thinking to myself ‘wow, we really need to take the time to put ourselves in other people’s shoes’, and it’s really hard to do if you’ve never seen or been in that situation. Empathy is, I think, one of the best things you can learn through education and humanitarian services.”

What do you think you’ve got out of being part of Model UN?

“Being part of Model UN has helped us develop skills which are, I think, essential in order to communicate with others and to discuss the issues which are going on – like the immigration crisis, for example. When we are given the opportunity to discuss and to debate on these issues, I think new ideas come out more often, because then opinions are formed, stances are being made and more people are exposed to the issue.”

So do you think Model UN is a valuable experience?

“I do, I really do think it’s been great. I’ve been in Model UN for at least two years now, and we have discussed so many different issues concerning people and human rights in general. I think what’s important to understand is when politicians and countries speak about migrants and how they’re coming into countries, more often than not a lot of us forget to empathise and think ‘OK, we’re all human, we have the same needs, the same wants – we all want safety, the basic human rights’. I think that’s the key factor which is often forgotten.”

Do you think young people should be more involved in decision-making globally?

“I think so, because a lot of us have innovative and creative ideas that the older generation don’t. I think, I feel that some of the older generation are very old-school in their ways: I mean, they’re set on [the idea] that there’s only this way to do things. But I feel that nowadays, through bigger resources and technology and bigger funding, we could really make innovative creations, and do things differently and efficiently. A lot of times, certain procedures and rules hinder our ability to do that. But what’s not hindered is our creative thought: in school we’re encouraged to think differently, think out of the box, which [is something] I feel a lot of youth have that the older generation doesn’t – this creative way of thinking, and critical at the same time. I feel that’s very important, [something] which we could provide with support and funding from the older generation.”

“I do [agree], to an extent. Wason’s confirmation bias, or Janis’ groupthink theory – these are two psychological theories about how we reflect the opinions of those around us, or the opinions that have been given to us our entire lives, and how it’s a little bit hard to think out of the box. I think young people should be more exposed to other opinions, exposed to different topics and a myriad of opinions of these topics, in order to be able to truly decipher them and come up with new, creative solutions.”

If you had the chance to speak to global leaders, what would you say to them about the needs and rights of young migrants and refugees?

“For young people, it’s very important to try and get them involved. Around here, a lot of unaccompanied minors were just sitting around, they didn’t have anything to do. Now they’re starting school, and I think that’s important to start building [them] into society. In different countries, I believe there should be some sort of system which helps with integration. I think that is the first thing, also to prevent radicalisation, which often happens to people who feel unwelcomed. There should be more effort [made] to bring local people close to migrants, and close to the children who are coming into these countries. There has to be a lot of focus on that, I think, on sustainable development.”

“Building upon something Mohamed said, I would really try to stress integration, and how we really need to change the way we are integrating people into societies. For example, Sweden: they took in a lot of immigrants, but they did not integrate them into the school society, the [immigrant] students didn’t know how to speak Swedish. Focusing on that, the education part especially, is so pivotal, it’s just so important. Without it, of course people are going to lean towards radicalisation or extremism, or tend to go down these dark paths.”

“I’d like to expand. With many leaders, I’m sure they’ve been told, they’ve had their research, they’ve had people talk to them about many experiences. But I think [they’d do better] having first-hand experience themselves. If many of these leaders would go and, for example, join MOAS in one of their operations, I think that would be much more effective in actually portraying what is happening, and not just having someone telling them.”

“We need to show, not tell. I think even the video we saw is so impactful. I think even documentaries and forms like this are so impactful, because you really see what’s going on. And you remember that all of humanity has an intrinsic value. We’re all people, we all have emotions. It’s just luck that I was born in this society and you were born in that one, it’s not something we really have control over.”

MOAS would like to thank Isabella, Giorgio, Firas, Maria, Mohamed and Amra for taking the time to talk to us, and Danielle for organising our visit to Verdala International School.

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