US and Russian Critical Issues Forum students shine in the Youth Forum in Nagasaki
By Masako Toki*
US and Russian Critical Issues Forum (CIF) students participated in the “Forum of Youth Communicators for a World without Nuclear Weapons” in December 2016 in Nagasaki presenting the CIF project and demonstrating how the project empowered these young leaders.
The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) invited four student participants in the CNS education project, the Critical Issues Forum (CIF), to Nagasaki to participate in an extraordinary “Forum of Youth Communicators for a World without Nuclear Weapons,” held on December 11, as the first part of the International Conference in Nagasaki – Towards a World Free of Nuclear Weapons.
Since atomic bomb survivors (hibakusha) are aging and their numbers decreasing, the Japanese government launched the Youth Communicator program in 2013 to support efforts to convey the realities of atomic bombings to future generations. The MOFA appointed several CIF students as official “Youth Communicators” at the Spring 2016 CIF Conference, including some American and Russian students—the first non-Japanese students so appointed. After a rigorous selection process, including an essay competition, four of these appointed CIF students were selected to represent the CIF project at the December 2016 event.
The selected students were Kimberly Nunez – Dr. Olga Mohan High School (Los Angeles, CA), Eric Cuellar – Pacific Grove High School (Pacific Grove, CA), Arielle Landau – Choate Rosemary Hall (Wallingford, CT), and Galina Salnikova – Gimnasia #164 (Zelenogorsk, Russia). These CIF students are the only foreign students to have joined ten other Japanese “Youth Communicators” who are also high school students or college students, at the Youth Forum in Nagasaki.
In the lead-up to the Youth Forum, all participating Youth Communicators worked collaboratively via email to prepare the “Statement and Recommendation by Youth towards a World without Nuclear Weapons,” a virtual effort coordinated by Professor Keiko Nakamura at the Research Center of Nuclear Abolition (RECNA) of Nagasaki University. Most of the hard work needed to complete this statement, however, took place once the students were all in Nagasaki.
After short introductions, the students worked through a three-hour session to revise and negotiate the sensitive language that would be included in the working document. Through lively and diplomatic discussions among the Youth Communicators, they successfully produced a document that reflected their joint efforts, hopes, and desires for peace and security in a world without nuclear weapons.
On December 11, students visited the Nagasaki Hypocenter Park and the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. They then traveled to Nagasaki University where they met with hibakusha Hiroyasu Tagawa. Mr. Tagawa recounted the horrors of August 9, 1945, leaving a lasting impression for all in attendance, and impressed upon the students the urgency and importance of making Nagasaki the last city ever to be attacked with a nuclear weapon. After Mr. Tagawa’s sobering remarks, the students made their way to the Youth Forum.
At the commencement of the Forum of Youth Communicators, five students (including two CIF students, Galina Salnikova and Eric Cuellar) read the Statement and Recommendations to th e audience and presented the document to Mr. Kim Won-soo, United Nations Under Secretary –General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.
Students then presented their organizations’ youth efforts toward a world free of nuclear weapons. In addition to the CIF of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, other organizations included Hiroshima Jokaguin High School, Kwassui High School, Nagasaki University, Nagasaki East High School, and Peace Boat. The presentations culminated with the presentation of the Critical Issues Forum by Galina Salnikova, Eric Cuellar, and Kimberly Nunez. A panel discussion with questions and answers session followed, with Arielle Landau from Choate Rosemary Hall discussing future efforts by youth in the United States and Russia.
The Youth Forum concluded with a screening of the film Nagasaki: Memories of my Son (Original title: Haha to Kuraseba) and a panel discussion with Director Yoji Yamada, Lead Actress Sayuri Yoshinaga, Parliamentary Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Shunsuke Takei, Mr. Kim Won-Soo, a Tokyo University student, and CIF Student Kimberly Nunez. It was truly significant that the CIF high school student was included in the panel along with the well-known movie director and actress and high-ranking officials. The questions posed to Kimberly ranged from her thoughts on the film to “how the American people feel about President Obama visiting Hiroshima or how they feel about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visiting Pearl Harbor.”
All in attendance agreed that the panel, and in particular, Kimberly’s responses, illustrated the importance of disarmament and nonproliferation education for young people, and were a highlight of the evening.
Later, the students and teachers attended the United Nations Conference on Disarmament Issues (UNCDI) Welcome Reception, where they had an opportunity to meet with ambassadors, delegates, and NGO representatives.
At the United Nations Conference on Disarmament Issues on December 12-13, students and teachers witnessed firsthand the negotiations and discussions on these issues among diplomats and officials. While the CIF students agreed that the conference gave them both a sense of hope and frustration, there were two key highlights for them: 1) the opportunity to participate in a special event with Ambassador Karyat Saribay of Kazahkstan and Ambassador Mitsuru Kitano of Japan organized by RECNA, and 2) the unprecedented opportunity for CIF students Kimberly Nunez and Galina Salnikova to pose questions to the experts, which they chose to focus on the prospects of Pakistan, India, and Israel joining the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the efforts of countries to promote nuclear disarmament education.
Wide local and national media coverage highlighted CIF students. In addition, Eric Cuellar from Pacific Grove High School was featured in his community’s newspaper, the Cedar Street Times.
The CIF students conducted themselves professionally and excellently represented themselves, their teachers, their schools, the CIF project, and their countries. The students and teachers agreed that the opportunity to speak at a UN conference was a momentous event in their lives, and that the memories and experiences would shape their efforts towards nuclear disarmament for years to come.
With the CIF spring 2017 students conference scheduled for April in Nagasaki, this Youth Forum served as an excellent prelude. In the spring, CIF will bring over thirty US and Russian students and teachers to Nagasaki to join Japanese CIF students, and will present their studies on the nuclear-test-ban treaty and nuclear disarmament. With guidance of teachers and CNS experts, the students’ research will help them learn more about the importance of nuclear disarmament.
The CIF project is sponsored by the United States and Japan Foundation, and the Tom and Sarah Pattison Fund.
*Many portions of this report were contributed by Mr. Andrew King, assistant principal at Dr. Olga Mohan High School, who chaperoned CIF students to the Forum in Nagasaki.
Photo credits: Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Andrew King