(The spoken version shall take precedence)
His Excellency General Michel Aoun
President of the Lebanese Republic represented by Mrs. Nadia Aoun, First Lady of Lebanon
Your Royal Highness Prince Turki bin Talal, Mentor Arabia Chairman
Excellences Ministers, Members of Parliament, Ambassadors
Dr. Fadlo Khuri, President of the American University of Beirut
Ladies and Gentlemen.
I would like to start by expressing my appreciation to His Excellency the President of Lebanon for his patronage of today’s “Mentor Arabia Youth Dialogue Platform” here at the esteemed American University of Beirut, represented by the Lebanese First lady.
This visit is my first ever to Beirut and Lebanon, and I feel honoured to be here in this renowned center of knowledge and development.
Let me quote a part of the mission statement of the American University of Beirut:
“to encourage freedom of thought and expression and develop critical thinking, for lifelong learning, civic responsibility and leadership.”
These powerful words express some fundamental values on youth and personal empowerment, values that are fully shared by Mentor.
When visions like this come to life, as they do within Mentor as well as here at the university, they create a force of change that will contribute positively to the society of tomorrow.
It has been 25 years since I founded Mentor together with members of the World Health Organization. Our mission was to empower young people while preventing drug abuse and risky behaviours.
Today, that mission is just as important as it was in 1994. Modern science and studies show that both the tolerance and the use of drugs are increasing.
This development is alarming. And it demands from all of us that we keep working for every youth, in all parts of the world, and their right to a healthy life, free from drugs and addiction.
Mentor’s mission relates to many of the global challenges we are facing today. And it is tied to the United Nations Agenda 2030 in five areas: good health and well-being, quality education, gender equality, reduced inequalities and peace, justice and strong institutions.
Mentor International reaches around 70,000 young people each year. Since 1994, Mentor has had projects in countries all over the world and has reached more than 3 million youths.
Our programs in the Arab world target hundreds of thousands of children and youth; in partnership with multiple entities and organizations that believe in our cause. We are very proud of the impact we have made on the lives of Lebanese and Arab children and youth throughout the years. Here in Lebanon and the Arab region over 60,000 students have enrolled in our life-skills school-based programs. And more than 45,000 young people have benefited from our community-based programs; such as the youth peer mentorship program with UNICEF Lebanon.
In this context, let me also just say how glad I am to be able to support the wonderful organization “War Child”, which is also active here in Lebanon. “War child” helps children in war-affected communities by providing them with access to education, opportunity and justice. And thanks to generous donations to my foundation “Care about the Children”, we are able to sponsor two such projects in northern Lebanon, close to the border of Syria. Tomorrow, I will meet a few of the children from one of the projects – a meeting I am very much looking forward to.
Ladies and gentlemen. Today, we see a threatening decrease in physical and mental health. Mental- and substance use disorders are among the top public health concerns in many countries. One of our own recent surveys found that 4 out of 10 suffer from anxiety about the future.
If we want youths all over the world to live healthy and meaningful lives, we need to take these issues seriously - and respond to them forcefully.
Mentor Arabia programs help create a sustainable society. We support the development of socially competent natural mentors and more resilient youth. Adults learn how to better support young people in their everyday lives, so that they can become more resilient and reach their full potential.
I would like to extend a warm thank you to the president of the American University of Beirut, Dr. Faldo Khoury, to all the inspirational panellists, and to the amazing team of Mentor Arabia who has worked hard towards the success of this forum.
I would like to end this speech with encouraging all of you to take an active part in creating the future you would like to see. Whether it being as researchers, developers or volunteers within the Mentor umbrella.
Together we can achieve true change, step by step and action by action. So that every young person can live a healthy, meaningful and prosperous life - and maybe, one day, become a mentor for others.