International Development Studies student Thom van Stralen is in the final of the UN youth representatives’ election. If he wins, he and WUR student Martijn Visser will be the voice of Dutch youths in the field of sustainability.
These are busy weeks for Thom van Stralen. On 30 September, he heard he is one of two finalists in the race to become youth representative for the Netherlands at the United Nations. To win the competition, he will have to win the hearts of Dutch youth between 23 and 30 October. This means he will be trained in campaigning, visit high schools, be active on social media. And let’s not forget the two exams he will have to pass as well, after all, studying goes on.
Why does he want to become a youth representative? ‘I’m worried about the climate. The Netherlands are already very active in this field, but we should do even more. Young people have the power to change a lot, and I want to make them aware that their contributions already reach further than just a like on Facebook. Sustainability is in the little things; skipping meat once in a while, for example. Or using fewer plastic bags for your sandwiches.’
The task of a UN youth representative is to incite sustainable behaviour in youths and discuss their ideas and opinions with policy makers. ‘I like to work with youths. I used to be a coach at the running track, and now I teach about sustainable practices at high schools. Youths are creative and energetic. As a youth representative, I can push that creativity to the policy level.’
It’s not easy for Van Stralen to find the words to explain why the climate is so close to his heart. ‘The notion that we should be considerate of each other and of the environment is something that’s simply a part a me. I got that from my parents, who are very socially involved. I cook without meat as often as I can, separate my waste and avoid buying new clothes every other month.’
On the evening of the final, he will pitch for an audience. That, together with the votes he will gather during his campaign, could yield a ticket to the UN. He is not nervous about his speech. ‘I like to speak in front of large groups. I always try to tell people something they haven’t heard before.’ If he is elected, he will hold the post for two years, together with Martijn Visser, the WUR student who was chosen as youth representative Sustainable Development last year. ‘There have been youth representatives from Wageningen before. There are many students here who are willing to stand up for the climate, apparently. The fact there might be two at the same is a nice coincidence.’
Van Stralen would find it ‘fantastic’ to be at the UN and be the voice of Dutch youth. The climate top in Bonn in November will be the baptism of fire. But he remains composed. ‘I’m not following the campaign of the other finalist. I just want to run my own. I can’t change what she does, so I might as well put my energy in my own campaign. If I’m not selected, I hope I will at least have made clear that there is a youth representative through whom we have a voice that reaches even the highest echelons.’
Van Stralen will be busy on social media for the time to come. You can follow his campaign on Facebook.