My name is Hajer. I am 26, from Libya, and I am full time war survivor. I saw my country falling into the grips of various groups of violent extremists. Violent extremism affects my generation disproportionately.
Unfortunately, politicians never speak to us. They just speak about us. Until Kofi Annan decided to give us a voice. Last year, Kofi Annan and the Kofi Annan Foundation selected me and 9 other young persons with a track record in fighting violent extremism to join the Foundation youth leadership initiative called “Extremely Together – young people coming together against violent extremism”. What a privilege!
I can’t tell you how excited and intimidated I was before meeting Mr. Annan. I grew up watching Kofi Annan with my family on the news. I still very clearly remember asking my dad “who is Kofi?”, and my brother replied: “he’s the president of the world”.
When we finally met Mr. Annan in Geneva, he knew our names, which countries we are from, what exactly it is that we do. We felt valued as young people, taken seriously and recognized by the world’s greatest elder Statesman. Mr. Annan treated us as his counterparts and always fitted in a meeting with us in his busy schedule. And he challenged us because he believed that we are on a level where we can keep up with a challenge from someone on his level. At the end of this first meeting he concluded by saying: “Don’t let me down”.
One day Mr. Annan joined us at a press conference and said: “we are throwing you to the wolves, let’s see how fast on your feet you are”. As the media started asking Mr. Annan questions on world affairs, he kept redirecting all the questions to us. He would say something like: “Hajer is the best one to answer this, Hajer what do you think?” Both the journalists and we were amazed by how self-effacing Mr. Annan could be before us young folks who were of an age to be his interns at the Kofi Annan Foundation.
Kofi Annan gave us a voice that resonated far beyond our communities, and for that I will be forever grateful.
At a youth summit in Bogota frequented by celebrities, actors and musicians, it was Kofi Annan’s entry that resulted in the most enthusiastic standing ovations of the night. I remember the pride my fellow Kofi Annan Foundation young leaders and I felt that night.
For many of us, Kofi Annan and the UN were not two separate things: Just recently the UN youth envoy told me: “When I hear the words United Nations, I see Kofi Annan’s face before my imaginary eyes. What a privilege for my generation to have had such a role model.
I last met Mr. Annan in June. He simply said “see you next time”. I was devastated to learn of his passing that Saturday morning in August. But being here today with all of you who had the privilege to walk the earth at the same time as Kofi Annan, some closer, others a bit further away, I feel like this is the next time Mr. Annan referred to that day in June.
Kofi Annan is not the past, he is the future. His spirit will live on through the countless young people he inspired. As the Kofi Annan Foundation young leaders it is our mission to transmit the values he stood for to our peers and to the generation coming after ours.
We won’t let you down, Mr. Annan.
Hajer Sharief, Extremely Together young leader