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Yukon youth learn about sustainable development at the United Nations

Three Yukon youth are at the United Nations headquarters in New York this week for the 2016 Youth Assembly, where they’re learning about the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals and how to act on them.

Three Yukon youth are at the United Nations headquarters in New York this week for the 2016 Youth Assembly, where they’re learning about the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals and how to act on them.

Leilani Sharp-Chan, Liam Campbell and Cole Sinclair are the Yukon’s youth delegates to the assembly.

Sharp-Chan, 16, is a Tr’ondek Hwech’in citizen who now lives in Whitehorse and attends Vanier Catholic Secondary School.

“I’m keen on helping people and I think that this is definitely a foot in the door of learning ways to help people in my own community,” she said.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by the United Nations during a summit in September 2015, as part of its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They were intended to build on the Millennium Development Goals, which laid out targets for fighting poverty that were supposed to be achieved by 2015.

The Sustainable Development Goals are broad and far-reaching. The first is to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere.” Others include ending hunger, ensuring quality education for all, achieving gender equality, fighting climate change and using natural resources sustainably.

Sharp-Chan said she’s especially interested in fighting poverty.

“We all see those people on the street and it’s not a pleasant sight and it’s not something that I want to see in my community,” she said, adding that she’s interested in charity work to raise money and help those in need.

At the United Nations this week, she’s been attending workshops and presentations about health care, recycling and social justice.

And she’s been meeting other young leaders from around the world, including Peru, the Philippines and India.

At a presentation on Thursday, she said, someone spoke about coming from a country torn apart by ISIS.

“Everyone just supported her and clapped,” she said. “It was just incredible to see that support from everyone around the world.”

This is an eye-opening experience for Sharp-Chan, who said she’d only ever left the Yukon to go on family vacations before now.

She said she attended a presentation about the sustainability of the oceans, and learned that some scientists believe seafood may disappear by 2048, in part because of pollution.

She wants to share what she’s learned after she returns home.

“I definitely think educating people on little facts like that will open people’s eyes and change what they’re doing,” she said.

Leonard Boniface, the coordinator for the Yukon youth delegates, said the purpose of the youth assembly is to empower young leaders so they can share their experience with their community.

“We are trying to make sure that this world can be a better place to live, and to eradicate poverty and hunger, to make sure that there is better education, there’s health care for all,” he said.

Boniface attended the 2015 Youth Assembly himself, and is now the president of Teenage Life and Young Adults International, a not-for profit society dedicated to poverty reduction and social change for young people.

He decided to seek out other youth who were interested in travelling to New York this year. He gave presentations about his experience in Whitehorse schools, and Sharp-Chan, Campbell and Sinclair eventually signed up to accompany him.

“One thing which I wanted to do more is to make sure that a lot of young people are getting these opportunities,” he said.

Boniface said the Sustainable Development Goals are relevant in the Yukon, particularly those dealing with poverty and hunger.

“It is everywhere,” he said. “But those things, people don’t really talk too much about that.”

Boniface hopes to take more young people to the United Nations in the future.

The youth delegates will arrive back in the Yukon on Monday, and they plan to give public presentations about their trip.

“It’s an incredible experience,” Sharp-Chan said.

Contact Maura Forrest at