We're the future, correct? Well then, and perhaps this may come as a surprise to you, but your future's well-being is far from what it needs to be.
Canada, are you surprised? So are we. We're surprised when we hear of another 17-year-old who has committed suicide because of the lack of funding for mental health services. We're surprised when we hear of another eight-year-old girl who's had to go to school hungry because of the financial inequality her family faces. We're surprised at the thousands of collective school days missed by kids who can't bear to face their bullies. And, mostly, we're surprised by how much you don't talk about it.
Don't get me wrong, Canada, we know it isn't exactly your fault. And believe me when we say that we love you. However, your children and youth deserve better. We deserve to be heard, our voices and opinions should be heard. We can help you turn these problems around.
We realize that Canada is a relatively well-off country, and that many of your citizens assume that all of your children live pretty happily. However, that just isn't the truth. Canada ranks 25th amongst the 41 richest countries in the world for child and youth well-being. You are among the bottom half for bullying, unhealthy weight, neonatal mortality, teen suicide and child homicide. Why? Partially because you don't talk about it. Partly because you're not always sure what to do about it.
Because you don't ask us.
Canada, you are a country of diversity and opportunity, but some of us are excluded, and for many so much opportunity is limited because you don't invest in your children as much as, and you are more unequal than, your peers in other rich countries.
I urge you, Canada, please, to see our potential. To see the greatness you could be.
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Pardon us for being emotional. We could list off statistics, like the fact that one in five of your youth live in poverty. Or that 15 per cent of us are regularly and repeatedly bullied. Or that one in four Canadian youth are obese. Or that a near quarter of us experience concerning mental health symptoms more than once a week.
What you won't find in those numbers on websites, in police or hospital reports and school report cards, are our dreams. Do you see poverty or air pollution as a natural part of life? Canada, it is most certainly not. It is not normal, and it needs to change. You may believe you know what is best for us, but we fear you don't actually know us. So we hope this letter will help you gain insight into our lives. Because each one is precious.
Some of us may grow up to find the cure to cancer, our neighbour's daughter could be the first female prime minister to run a full term, or the boy on our soccer team could end up becoming a gold medal-winning Olympian. All of us can make a difference in our own way. But only if we are given what we need to succeed today. When you invest in us, you're investing in yourself. So, please, we ask you to listen to us. We ask you to believe in us.
Ayra, 16, is a student from Vaughan who is involved in UNICEF Canada's One Youth, to make Canada the best country in the world for kids.
Are you in a crisis? If you need help, contact your local crisis centre. If you know someone who may be having thoughts of suicide, visit suicideprevention.ca to learn how to talk about suicide with the person you're worried about.
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