In ‘normal times’, I’d be writing this in Paris.

But instead of cancelling their 12th Youth Forum, UNESCO decided to host the bi-annual international conference not in their French HQ, but over Zoom.

And, as I was chosen to be this year’s UK delegate to the Forum after Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature kindly nominated me, this meant that I spent the month of November taking part in Very Official International Meetings in my bedroom, while lounging around in my pyjamas.

Every other year, youth delegates from each of the UN’s member states come together to discuss issues affecting the world at large. Representatives meet to suggest and debate a series of Recommendations and Youth-Led Solutions designed to tackle matters that fall under UNESCO’s policy domains. Rapporteurs work to synthesize proposals from each of the regional groups into one Global Outcome Document, which is then presented to the UNESCO General Conference. Through receipt of this document, UNESCO ensures that the voices of young people are properly represented in programmatic decisions made by Member States.

Online video software is no replacement for in-person contact, and using the ‘Raise Hand’ function on Zoom in no way replicates the buzz of getting involved in debates with people you are physically surrounded by. Nevertheless, UNESCO must be commended for establishing a solution whereby young representatives from all over the world could come together to propose a document outlining our concerns 一 all the while ensuring the safety of delegates during a pandemic, while circumventing the kind of arguably unnecessary international travel that contributes to climate change (take that, COP26!).

Indeed, the context of our meeting was inevitably at the forefront of our mind during discussions. While I am not sure just how much I can delve into the policy actions we discussed during the intensive three-week Forum, matters of technological development, the use of technology in education and communication, ways to mitigate the negative effects of climate change, and future pandemic protection cropped up repeatedly during both our regional and global meetings.

while it is true that we might not necessarily have all of the answers, the first step to creating a better society is by imagining one.

It is something that is said often, but cannot be understated in a world that often seems on the brink of disaster, one which is led by megalomaniacal would-be-dictators who pursue no interests other than their own. The youth of today remain committed to tackling the injustices our current generation of politicians seem to perpetuate. It was truly an honour and a privilege to work alongside young environmental activists, lawyers, scholars, and people from all walks of life who are dedicated to tackling climate injustice, educational inequality, poor mental health provision, and systemic injustices on both the local and international scale. And while it remains uncertain just how many of our proposals will be carried forward by UNESCO, it is necessary that such international organizations continue to champion young people’s voices, carving out a space for us to create a world we wish to inhabit.

How can we ensure future pandemic responses are effective and efficient? How do we guarantee the rights of minority groups all across the world? What can we do to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change? How can we ensure education and employment opportunities are available for all, especially in the face of mass digitization? These are some of the many questions that my esteemed colleagues felt were vital and necessary to ask throughout the Forum. And while it is true that we might not necessarily have all of the answers, the first step to creating a better society is by imagining one. As Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature’s slogan is keen to stress, it is possible ‘to build a better world with words’.

At the risk of writing a segue that has all the grace of a YouTuber shoehorning in their video’s sponsorship, one of the key points myself and my fellow delegates stressed is the need to preserve UNESCO Heritage Sites and Institutions. I encourage everyone reading this blog to engage with, appreciate, and cherish Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature. It is difficult to overstate just how lucky the people of Nottingham are to have access to an organization that attempts to create a better world through literature, and which ensures literature and culture remain accessible through a programme of free events; by hosting competitions and workshops that get people involved in literature; and by championing people of all backgrounds, thereby ensuring that their words are heard.

I thank Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature wholeheartedly for the opportunity to represent the UK on the international stage.

Matteo ‘Teo Eve’ Everett

Teo’s debut poetry collection, THE OX HOUSE, is forthcoming from Penteract Press in Summer 2022. Writing Notts 2021: An Anthology of Nottinghamshire Poetry, edited by Teo Eve and illustrated by Agnes Sokolowska, is available to pick up for FREE from Five Leaves Bookshop, or to be borrowed from Inspire libraries. Teo’s story ‘To Be Seen’ was one of the winners of Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature’s 2020 MyVoice competition, and was subsequently published in Big White Shed’s Speak Up! Anthology.