Lenin Zambrano at 2023 UN-Habitat Assembly

Empowering Indigenous Voices: Youth, Culture, and Sustainable Development

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20 September 2023, New York. – “Good morning,” Lenin Zambrano began, the anticipation in the room palpable. He continued, “I am Lenin Zambrano, and I am deeply honored to be here today to represent the Living Museum Otavalango, an organization dedicated to preserving the culture, tradition, and life of our indigenous peoples.” As a proud Kichwa Otavalo and a cherished member of the Otavalango indigenous community, Lenin stood before the audience, ready to share the remarkable journey of his community and their involvement in a transformative initiative.

“Our work extends beyond the walls of the Otavalango Centre,” Lenin continued passionately. “We have accredited Otavalango as a One Stop and Integr-Habitat Centre so as to better serve the indigenous communities in Otavalo, Ecuador and the region.”

The One Stop Youth Centre and the Integr-Habitat Centre are essential pillars in UN-Habitat’s mission to empower youth and advance sustainable urban development. Otavalango, the world’s first Indigenous One Stop and Integr-Habitat Centre, symbolizes the commitment to preserving Indigenous cultures within urbanization. These centers operate in synergy, leveraging research and grassroots insights to create inclusive public spaces that reflect the aspirations of communities while addressing urban challenges. Their partnership facilitates an exchange of knowledge and resources, strengthening their collective ability to empower youth, foster community engagement, and promote holistic urban development. Through these centers, UN-Habitat strives to build cities that prioritize youth, equity, and cultural preservation.

Otavalango is as well actively involved in the Youth 2030 Cities programme, a project by UN-Habitat and Fondation Botnar that empowers young people to participate meaningfully in the localization of the Sustainable Development Goals and local government decision-making.

Youth 2030 Cities has engaged in its first phase, youth from six countries, including Ecuador. The goal was clear: to understand the work of youth organizations on the ground and provide training to enhance the local youth’s capacity regarding Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the New Urban Agenda.

“In Otavalo, youth from Otavalango presented the Otavalo Youth Declaration on Sustainable Urbanization for Indigenous youth to then Mayor Mario Conejo Maldonado,” Lenin stated. “This declaration outlined promises and actions that governments, civil society, the private sector, and the United Nations can take to address local challenges related to the Sustainable Development Goals.” The declaration was agreed upon and signed at the World Urban Youth Assembly in Katowice, Poland, marking the beginning of many Youth Declarations of Action to be implemented by local governments.

The Mayor of Otavalo, Mario Conejo Maldonado, recognized the significance of involving youth in achieving the ambitious SDGs. Together, they aspired to create a better future for their community and the world. “We believe that creating more spaces and forums for youth dialogue is crucial,” Lenin emphasized. “Our voices must be heard, and we must contribute to the democratic shaping of policies that mold our future.”

Lenin addressed the centuries-long challenges faced by indigenous communities, including the Kichwa people—marginalization, discrimination, and the erosion of cultural heritage. He stressed the importance of the SDGs which provide a framework for addressing these challenges and promoting sustainable development worldwide. However, he noted that for these goals to have a significant impact, they must be localized to meet the specific needs, context, and aspirations of indigenous communities.

“Localization helps preserve and revitalize indigenous languages, traditions, and cultural practices,” Lenin explained. “By incorporating our cultural heritage into the SDGs, we contribute to the preservation of our identity and the transmission of our knowledge to future generations.”

In conclusion, Lenin Zambrano emphasized that the localization of Sustainable Development Goals is vital for the Kichwa people and other indigenous communities. It ensures that their unique challenges, aspirations, and solutions are recognized and integrated into the global development agenda. By embracing localization, they could promote sustainable development that respects cultural diversity, empowers indigenous communities, and creates a more inclusive and equitable world for all.

“Thank you for allowing me to highlight the importance of localization for the Kichwa people,” Lenin concluded warmly. “Together, let’s work towards a future where indigenous voices are heard, and our contributions are valued.”

Lenin’s inspiring speech reflected the power of youth, culture, and localization in achieving sustainable development goals and ensuring that no voice is left unheard in the journey towards a better world.

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