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OAS Lecture of the Americas Debates Youth Participation in the Search for Peace

  January 30, 2014

The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, today highlighted the importance of youth participation in the definition of the future of the Americas upon opening the 53rd Lecture of the Americas, which focused on the topic “Forging Peace in the Next Generation: Strategies for Youth Engagement,” and whose main speaker was Ron D. Burton, President of Rotary International.

In his welcoming remarks, Secretary General Insulza explained that “the role and the responsibility that we have as policymakers and governments to provide our young people with sufficient opportunities to realize their full potential are issues that are of the utmost priority for the OAS.” With respect to Rotary International, he said it is an institution “that connects leaders, better known as Rotarians, from all cultures and walks of life to promote lasting change and social development. Indeed, the work of Rotarians has impacted many communities by building peace through service around the world, and the Americas in particular.”

The OAS leader emphasized the focus of the Organization he heads on “promoting more widespread and solid democracies in the Americas,” that “not only freely permit our citizens to participate in making decisions about their future, but also provide protection of their human rights, access to justice, equal economic opportunity, quality education, a clean and sustainable environment, as well as security from physical harm and crime - in short, peaceful societies.”

These objectives, continued the Secretary General, present several challenges, and therefore the OAS “has been focusing numerous cross-cutting efforts throughout the Organization to help ensure a brighter future for our young people. For the OAS, the potential is too great and the stakes are too high not to give our utmost efforts to work to improve opportunities and prospects for young people.”

The leader of the hemispheric institution summarized the programs promoting youth participation of the OAS, among them the Inter-American Program on Education for Democratic Values; the Young Americas Business Trust; the OAS Scholarship Program; the Model OAS General Assembly; the OAS Internship Program; the OAS Orchestra Program in the Caribbean and the Armando Paz Program of the Trust of the Americas. Moreover the Secretary General said in the Organization, “we continue to encourage the youth of the Americas to strive toward a more democratic, peaceful future for the Americas by embracing the motto of Rotary International to place ’Service above self’.”

For his part, the President of Rotary International, Ron D. Burton, said that “young people are facing a pretty difficult situation throughout the Americas. The economy is a very serious problem, the cost of living is rising, higher education is very expensive and there’s no guarantee of a job once you finish school.” This creates an environment, said Burton, with “a very large population of young people who see a future with very limited opportunity, who have the potential to become disengaged from society, who are often dealing with issues of poverty and crime. And who don’t see a lot of ways forward.”

Burton said that in Rotary International “we have made it a significant priority not only to serve youth but to involve youth in our service which frankly is one of the best things we can do to advance the goal of a more prosperous and more peaceful world,” and added that the key to promoting youth engagement is to “give them the tools, you give them the support, the encouragement, the help that they need and you let them take it from there.”

Among the programs of Rotary, Burton said the organization had made since the 1980s the eradication of polio a main priority, and explained that the extent of the disease had dropped from some 350,000 cases annually in that decade to just 399 cases worldwide last year.

In his conclusion, the President of Rotary International said the concept of service to society is today more relevant than ever. “If you want to become a productive self-sufficient member of society at the most basic level that means engaging with society, being useful to society, being a contributing member of society and that is why it is so critical to teach kids how to contribute, how to value their contributions, to support them in a way that makes their contributions more meaningful and more productive so that they can see the results of their work and know that actually yes they can make a difference.”

The closing remarks for the event were delivered by the Assistant Secretary General of the OAS, Albert Ramdin, who emphasized that “we must invest in the next generation of leaders, policymakers, teachers, scientists and parents and remove as much as we can the obstacles that stand in the way of true development, peace and prosperity. The Assistant Secretary General said “I strongly believe that our efforts to fully and develop and support our youth must be carried out with and by the youth themselves.” Ambassador Ramdin recalled that during the annual OAS Youth Conferences, the message he has heard consistently is “don’t make policies for us, make policies with us.”

Following the keynote address by President Burton, the Secretary for External Affairs of the OAS, Alfonso Quiñonez, moderated a question and answer session with the public and expressed the gratitude of the Organization for the support to the Lecture of the Americas provided by the Universidad de San Martin de Porres (Peru).

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

The B-Roll of the event is available here.

The audio of the event is available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-026/14