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What happened when Neha, 14, attended the Habitat III conference

Published November 2, 2016 – by Neha Thakur

Namaskar! I am Neha, a 14-year-old girl from a slum in Narela in India’s capital New Delhi. I am one of the six child leaders of Humara Bachpan Campaign who got a chance to represent the national campaign of 35,500 Indian children at the Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador, last month.

I am very happy that I got an opportunity to attend the Habitat III meeting and was able to make this journey to Quito. I travelled with my campaign friends and coordinators. It was the first time that I had ever sat in a plane and travelled out of India. It took us more than 24 hours of travel to reach Quito and the time difference between India and Ecuador is eleven and half hours!

Initially, I had lot of curiosity to see the city of Quito and attend the Habitat III meeting. When I reached Quito, I saw a very beautiful, child-friendly and pollution-free city. Quito is surrounded by mountains and that is what makes it more beautiful as a city. I especially liked the transport system in the city which was very systematic. They had:

  • Separate cycle/bike tracks;
  • Pedestrian pathways;
  • Separate tracks for cars and buses;
  • Separate bike stands.

Quito, although an old city, seemed like they have made lot of efforts to replan and design their cities to make it people friendly. The weather and the warm and friendly Ecuadorians added to the beauty and hospitality.

In the children and youth assembly we learnt a new game, called ribbon dance, which we can go back and play and engage with other children in our child clubs. We enjoyed playing this game. I even learnt how to design our cities through paper models by planning for separate airports, market places and parks.

I spent the evenings with other child leaders sharing about our child clubs, singing and dancing. I kept in touch with my family through WhatsApp. They were so excited and proud of me being in Quito.

 

HABITAT III

I attended many sessions, plenaries and roundtables. There were all very interesting and focused a lot on poor people’s right to housing but they never mentioned young children or even children. We raised questions regarding why children are being left out from the discussions. Everyone acknowledged it and said they will highlight the inclusion of children, especially young children, in their work and deliberations.

While my friend Jasmin Nissa from Bhubaneswar spoke on the importance of planning from the vantage point of our young siblings (0-6 years) in the World Stage side event, I spoke in the Children & Youth Round Table. It was the first time that I had ever spoken on a huge stage like this. There were youth leaders, mayors, city managers, experts and two of us representing children from cities – one from Ecuador and myself. The hall was packed with people.

I was nervous when I began, but gradually when the discussion centred on our problems, I spoke with a lot of confidence. I spoke on two issues affecting us – mobility and open space for playing. I accentuated our problems – how we have no pedestrian pathways, no zebra crossings, no separate bike paths, no ramps in buses or other public transportation, unfriendly bus stops and accidents due to speeding and lack of proper planning. We also have no open or play space, especially for very young children. I raised the question of how can our young children develop mentally and physically if they have no space to explore, play and move about? The city manager of Guadalajara, a city in Mexico, even invited to head their urban design and planning unit!

Other panellists and participants gave me ideas about how we could change and plan for our city. For me every session and meeting of Habitat III was a great learning experience. I am very happy and lucky to have been a part of this. I will share with other children from my city all that I learnt in Quito.


quito-image-nov2016

Neha Thakur, Child Leader Humara Bachpan Campaign, New Delhi