From Armchair to Action: My Trip To 10 Downing Street

Growing up in a relatively impoverished area and coming from a family of Caribbean, working-class immigrants, I was no stranger to social injustices (or so I thought).

As a 90s baby/Millennial/ Gen.Z, I grew up watching typical imagery of starving children in Africa on TV, earthquakes in Latin America and tsunamis in Asia. Yes, I thought I was ‘globally-aware’. Although I really, really cared about the ‘third world’ I didn’t actually do anything. The extent of my active citizenship stretched to me spending my monthly pocket money on a Kony 2012 starter pack, which subsequently ended up collecting dust on a shelf.

So, how did I take my passion for change off the shelf, brush off the dust and turn my passion into action?

How did I go from an armchair activist to the garden terrace of Number 10 Downing Street, discussing development and Aid with the Prime Minister and Penny Mordaunt (International Development Secretary)?

Soccer Aid Reception at 10 Downing Street

It all started with a wonderful, UK-Aid funded programme called International Citizen Service (ICS).

My volunteer placement was in Uganda, one of the most beautiful and culturally-vibrant countries I have ever seen. When I signed up to volunteer I was expecting to see the same horrifying images of poverty I had witnessed growing up on TV. To great surprise, this is not what I saw.

What I saw  is infrequently mentioned. I saw the 7.3 million strong youth population (the largest in the world), filled with phenomenally inspiring activists, social change makers, entrepreneurs and most of all, leaders.

Flavia, a 17-year old student, who runs a local community health group, plugging the gaps left by the inadequate state provision. As well as balancing family, educational and extra-curricular demands.

Medi, the leader of 256Media, an educational health organisation utilising the power of music and dance to engage youth. Again, Medi is playing a balancing act, but this doesn’t dull his passion to make a change in his local community.

These are the young people that are using their voice in their local communities, to hold leaders to account and are refusing to be silenced. These are the young people standing up and claiming their undoubted entitlement to a prosperous and optimistic future.

Helpless? Yeah right.

Medi (red cap) leading 256Media

Upon my return from Uganda, it was obvious that I now had to use my voice. If young people around the world facing far more injustice than me are using theirs, then what’s my excuse?

Globally, there is more than enough money to eradicate absolute poverty, but we somehow still have over 600 million people worldwide living on less than $2 a day! As an Economics student, this misallocation of resources and absurd level of inequality still shocks me to this day. Hence, it made sense for me to join ONE, an international campaigning and advocacy organisation, fighting to end poverty and preventable diseases. During my time as an ONE Youth Ambassador, I have been able to stand up for young people around the world, attending events in parliament and subsequently meeting MPs and relevant decision makers, discussing global inequality and how #PovertyIsSexist.

Undoubtedly, I would say I am a massive champion of UKAid and an advocate of all the amazing work it does. Thanks to Restless Development, I was able to have the opportunity to speak at the UNICEF UK HQ and share with them the phenomenal impact UKAid has had on me by granting me the opportunity to embark on ICS, as well as on the rural Ugandan communities I saw.

Subsequently, I became further engaged with the astonishing work that UNICEF UK does, as one of their Children’s Champions. To kick-off (pun shamelessly intended) #SoccerAid, I was invited to 10 Downing Street for the UNICEF reception, an event attended by both Soccer Aid teams  to celebrate the importance of UKAid (yes, I met Usain Bolt and Mo Farah!).

Oh, and I was also invited to a private reception on the garden terrace of Number 10 to meet Theresa May and Penny Mordaunt. It was very empowering and inspiring to discuss with them, face-to-face, the importance of Aid and events such as #SoccerAid.

Soccer Aid at 10 Downing Street

Fortunately, I also was able to attend Soccer Aid at Old Trafford as a UNICEF volunteer, conducting bucket collections and raising awareness of UNICEF’s work, in Manchester City centre and Old Trafford. This remarkable experience with UNICEF was capped off by joining the 72,000 Soccer Aid fans inside an electric Old Trafford to watch some of the greatest sporting competitors of all time.

I commonly ask myself how I have been so privileged to get all these amazing opportunities and realistically I only used the existing networks and tools that already were put in place, combined with a little bit of tenacity and passion.

By no means have I achieved everything I have endeavoured to do and certainly, with each success, hundreds of failures lie within its shadow. But I simply encourage you to seize every opportunity and don’t be afraid to use your voice to turn your passion into action.

Lewis volunteered in Uganda on International Citizen Service (ICS) with Restless Development. Check out his other blog about the impact his team had on placement.  

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From Armchair to Action: My Trip To 10 Downing Street

by wearerestless Reading time: 4 min