Meet Ell Merchant, the young people's ambassador

The very inspiring Ell Merchant, who volunteers for IDEAS member Montgomery Development Education Centre (MDEC) in Aberdeen, tells us all about becoming an Ambassador for Scotland's Year of Young People and the role of young people and the Global Goals in Scotland's future.

Ell 1

How did you become a YOYP Ambassador?

I was volunteering at MDEC one day and one of my colleagues, Steve Roberts, handed me a leaflet all about signing up to be an ambassador and what the year was going to be about. I thought about it for around 10 seconds and decided that this was an amazing opportunity for me and it was something that I would never get the chance to do again. So I sat down and applied. About a week later, I had an email to say that I had been chosen to be an ambassador and I was delighted and couldn’t wait for what was to come!

What's been your best experience so far and what are you most looking forward to?
I have had so many incredible experiences so far that it is impossible to choose one, so I have two! My first one is getting the chance to meet the First Minister at an event at Edinburgh Castle whilst also getting to shadow Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, for the evening. They were both so down-to-earth and were so interested in what we were doing in our local areas as young people. It really helped me feel that politicians are not just a face that you see in parliament. They do take an interest in their citizen’s lives and it starts with the youngest by celebrating all that is great to be a young person living in Scotland with YoYP. To this day I still have my photo with Nicola Sturgeon as the background on my phone and it reminds me of how this wouldn’t have been possible if Steve hadn’t got me involved.

My other experience was getting to go on a trip to Berlin for 3 days with ambassadors and Communic18 members from YoYP and also people from UK-German Connection. The group was made up of a mix of Scottish and German participants, and it was great to speak to other young people about issues in their country. In Berlin, we workshopped ideas about how we can strengthen UK-German connections given the current political climate, and how we can use our shared experiences in our own countries to see we want to be changed. Of course we got to do some sightseeing, including a trip to Checkpoint Charlie to hear about the Berlin Wall, and ate lots of great food and we also got to go to the opening of the Scottish-German Hub at the British Embassy. Later in the year there is hopefully going to be a chance to create future connections by having an event all about the two countries. Overall, it was an experience like no other, I met some fantastic young people who are so passionate about their society and where they live and I hope that we can inspire others to pursue making connections with Germany and to bring about change.

And, last but not least, I am looking forward to changing people’s attitudes towards young people by showing that we have the ability to understand our rights and we know what it is to be a citizen of the world. Year of Young People has been unpredictable, exciting and will hopefully get other countries of the world to look at Scotland and seeing how it is making a change to the way that we live.

Do you think the views and experience of young people are taken into account enough by politicians and people making policy in Scotland?
For many years now, I have felt that young people’s views have not been taken into account enough due to the fact that some politicians and policy makers believe that we do not have the knowledge or ability to make decisions which affect our lives. Decisions taken now will have a long-term impact on the youngest in our society and by disregarding our opinions this somehow makes us not seem worthy of having them. I really hope that Year of Young People can change that and show that young people do care, we do have a voice that should be heard and that our future is desperately important.

How have you enjoyed working with MDEC and what has been your best experience doing that?
Being a volunteer with MDEC has brought my confidence levels through the roof and I am proud to say that I work for such an amazing organisation. The work that the staff do is incredible and they are one of the many DECs who are enabling global learning to be at the forefront of education. My best experience has been when I went give a talk at my old school about what I had been doing since I left in 2013. To be able to inspire young people to go out and do something different, to help make those changes, is something that I love to do. To see those young people listening to me and looking up to me, made me very proud. The encouragement and experience that MDEC has given me has meant that I am able to go forward and pursue my goal of becoming a Youth Worker and as of August 2018, I will be taking those first steps by studying for an HND in Social Science.

What do you think should be taught more and better in schools?
Mental Health education is vitally important in today’s world and it is something which is not really talked about in school. Having a better understand of how to cope with stress, emotions or even situations which may lead to people struggling with mental health issues is a vital part of helping to create a healthier world for us to live in. By promoting the value of mental health education, young people will recognise that people around the world all go through difficult experiences and by coming together we can use a global perspective to make changes to the way that our society is run by promoting the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Which of the SDGs are the ones that resonate the most with you?
For the most part, all of them! But the ones that resonate with me the most are:

• Number 5 – Gender Equality, for the importance of promoting equality in all areas of life for all women and to creating a more equal world for all, including non-binary people.
• Number 10 – Reduced Inequalities, for the importance of discrimination and hate crime being reduced and that we should celebrate our difference not stigmatise them.
• Number 16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, for the importance of creating a fairer world in which society can equal down to the most basic level.

If you could become First Minister for the day and create one new law, what would it be?
I would create a law which would make it mandatory for the SDGs to be used in schools as the basis for every single subject. The SDGs are so vital in bringing about change and by making education a global issue we can protect people’s rights to being a global citizen.

Find out more about IDEAS and global citizenship for young people here.