Powerful youth voices reverberate across Expo 2020 as change-makers unite on UNICEF’s World Children’s Day

DUBAI, 20 November 2021 – The commanding voices of today’s youth were heard loud and clear across Expo 2020 Dubai on Saturday as the World Expo, UNICEF and the UAE Ministry of Community Development celebrated World Children’s Day with a slate of youth-led festivities that culminated in a spectacular concert at Al Wasl Plaza.

“We have the responsibility to take action. Our young people are eager to take action, but we can’t do this alone. We need inter-generational conversation; we need the support of our elders,” climate activist Priyanka Lalla, a UNICEF Youth Advocate and a government-appointed National Child Rights Ambassador from Trinidad and Tobago, said at panel event ‘Re-imagining the Future for Every Child’ at Expo’s Nexus for People and Planet on Saturday morning.

Lalla, who was recently at COP26, was joined by 16-year-old Gitanjali Rao, TIME magazine’s first ever ‘Kid of the Year’ in 2020; Nour Saleh AlBlooshi of the Emirati Children’s Parliament; and panel moderator Majid Al Usaimi, UNICEF’s first National Ambassador from the UAE.

Her Excellency Hessa bint Essa Buhumaid, UAE Minister of Community Development, and Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, were also present – the latter touching on the millions of children robbed of an education due to COVID-19 and the pandemic’s mental health effects on the young.

إكسبو 2020 دبي يحتفل باليوم العالمي للطفل
DUBAI, 20 November 2021. A child during Expo turns blue for World Children’s Day at Al Wasl, Expo 2020 Dubai. (Photo by Christopher Pike/Expo 2020 Dubai)

‘A day for children, by children’, World Children’s Day is celebrated every 20 November, and was established to promote international togetherness and awareness among children worldwide, and to improve children’s welfare.

“I think COP26, the voices of youth and the takeover of young people was truly remarkable; we should listen to and engage with young people,” said Juliette Touma, Chief, Advocacy and Communications MENA at UNICEF, adding that the festivities at Expo 2020 represented the largest World Children’s Day celebration that UNICEF has ever had.

She continued: “We can also learn a lot from young people – they’re extremely talented. We don’t know it all, as adults, young people and children bring their own perspective, their own vision, and so this thinking of ‘adults know more than kids’ needs to be broken.”

From innovations driving progress on child-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to honing in on education, mental health, climate and youth leadership, Expo’s World Children’s Day also featured a flagship concert at Al Wasl Plaza, with global performers and speakers inspiring a brighter future for all children.

Standouts included sparkling performances from the Emirati Youth Symphony Orchestra, who showcased 13-year-old superstar violinist Elli Choi, acrobatic displays from Circus Zambia, and multi-award-winning vocalist and instrumentalist Abby Chams, one of Africa’s youngest influencers and UNICEF’s Youth Advocate in Tanzania for Mental Health and Gender Equality.

DUBAI, 20 November 2021. A child having having their face painted during World Children’s Day at the Poland Pavilion, Expo 2020 Dubai. (Photo by Steve Holland/Expo 2020 Dubai)

Accompanied on stage by five of the 38 UAE athletes that will compete at the 2021 Asian Youth Para Games in Bahrain next month, President of the Asian Paralympic Committee Al Usaimi said: “My message to everyone: no matter what challenges you face every day, no matter what has happened, you have hope, you have courage, you have determination. Just continue your way and achieve your goals.”

The concert also saw Rao and 18-year-old Emirati Children’s Parliament member Saeed bin Omar Almutaiwei, become UNICEF Youth Advocates, the latter becoming the first to receive the honour from the Middle East.

Rao said: “My vision is to see a future where each and every student has access to education, irrespective of where they are, but also has access to innovation and problem-based learning resources. I believe if every student can be involved in that, then we are solving global problems one step at a time.”

Speaking on stage shortly before the announcement, Chaiban said: “On behalf of the entire UNICEF family, let me say how proud we are to be associated with Expo 2020, how proud we are to be at a place where children’s rights are respected, and to see so many young people present themselves, fight for their rights and speak up for themselves.”

Celebrated Lebanese singer and UNICEF Regional Ambassador Yara closed the event with an inspiring musical performance that included ‘We Want to Live’, a song written in collaboration with UNICEF.

World Children’s Day was celebrated across Expo 2020, with many of the 192 Country Pavilions hosting children’s activities, and the all-women Firdaus Orchestra inspiring future musicians with its performance alongside singer Khatija Rahman and 16-year-old pianist Lydian Nadhaswaram.

Various landmarks across Expo, including Al Wasl Plaza, turned blue to commemorate World Children’s Day, which offers an inspirational entry-point to advocate, promote and celebrate children’s rights – translating into dialogues and actions that will build a better world for children.