16th November 2008

Good afternoon! How are you all doing?

I am really pleased to be here with you today to celebrate the official launch of St Joseph’s Guide Unit.

First of all - I’d like to introduce you to a member of my Youth Panel – can you all say hello to Lauren?

My youth panel is a group of 25 young people who help me do my work. They make sure that what I am doing is right for young people; and make sure I’m not another adult waffling on without checking with children about what goes on in their lives.

But I’m pretty sure you heard about one adult who caught everyone’s imagination over the last couple of weeks. I’m talking about Barack Obama – the man who will be the first black president of the United States of America when he starts the job in January.

When President Elect Obama won the election at the start of this month he said something very important about the young people who were involved in his campaign. He said that his campaign:

“grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation's apathy.”

What he meant is that there are a lot of people who think that young people are lazy and don’t want to get involved in things.

I know from the job I do as Children’s Commissioner that the vast, vast majority of young people are not lazy and they do really want to get involved.

A big part of my job as Children’s Commissioner is to listen to children and young people. Have any of you heard about the United Nations?

Good! For those that haven’t the United Nations is where all the Governments of the world get together and agree what should be done across the world. One of the things that the United Nations did was create the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This is a set of promises Government makes to children and young people.

I am going to talk very briefly to you about two of those promises.

These are a promise to let children and young people have a say about decisions that affect their lives; and, a promise that you should have the best possible opportunities to play and have things to do.

Last year I asked thousands of young people from all parts of Northern Ireland about what are the most important things you think I should be working at for the next years.

I was doing what I believe all adults who take decisions should do – I let children and young people have their say.

And what did they tell me? Nearly all of them said that the most important thing for them is play and things to do!

At the end of this month I am launching what my team and I will be doing over the next three years. You can find it in the Belfast Telegraph on 28th November and on our website.

But I hope it will be clear to all the Guides here and your leaders that what you are doing is finding out for yourselves some of the best ways to enjoy your leisure time.

The structure and learning within the Guides is such that I believe you will find positive and rewarding activities – as well as a lot of fun of course! 

Sometimes when you read the papers or listen to the news you would think that young people were always up to no good. But as you all know here, that’s simply not true!

My youth panel produced a video in August for Youtube. In that video they said that despite there being a very small number of young people involved in anti social behaviour not enough people remember the good things young people do.

In the video they reminded viewers that most young people are studying hard, volunteering to help others, taking part in sports, and involved in organisations such as the Guides. 

In other words no matter what others think most young people are…well there’s no other way to put; most young people are good!

When you are going about your activities as Guides I want you remember that you represent a great example of what being a young person is all about.

Of course, St Joseph’s Guide unit is getting back into business after some years when there was no unit here in Omagh.

Recently here in Omagh you remembered the tragic events of the bomb which brought so much suffering to the town.

I believe that you all represent the hope which Omagh can now face the future. Every time you attend your Guides meeting you are making the hope real. 

To all of you I wish you success, and wish that your unit continues to grow and expand further.

To all the leaders and volunteers who help out, to all the parents who bring your children to meetings, I’d like to go back to some words President Elect Obama said:

“The greatest gift we can pass on to our children – and that is the gift of hope”.

Every time you help out at a meeting, contribute to a fundraiser, or volunteer some of your time you are giving the gift of hope. 

Thank you.