Many Languages, One Voice: Damian Oakes, South African winner of UN essay competition shares his experience

Damian Oakes, South African winner of UN essay competition at UN Headquarters, New York

Damian Oakes, South African winner of UN essay competition at UN Headquarters, New York

Pretoria, 30 July – UNIC is proud to announce that Pretoria-resident Damian Oakes was selected as one of the 60 winners of the “Many Languages, One World” (MLOW) essay competition, co-organized by the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) and ELS Educational Services, Inc.

The winners, who presented their essays at a Global Youth Forum in the General Assembly Hall at UN Headquarters in New York City in June 2014, were chosen from among more than 4,000 students who entered the contest from around the world. The Forum is one of many planned events to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the UN next year.

10474022_811284955556088_566985212_nUnlike a traditional essay competition where entrants write in their native language, participants here were not only required to write in one of the six official UN languages – Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish – but one that was not their mother tongue or the medium of instruction of their education.

“It’s not just the acquired fluency in a foreign language that has astonished us in so many of the entries,It is the thoughtful and reasoned perspectives they bring, making elusive concepts almost colloquial,” said Ramu Damodaran, Deputy Director of the Outreach Division and Chief of UNAI at the UN Department of Public Information, commenting on the outcome of the essay contest.

10336729_669340196447624_8438833695334181391_nSharing his experience with UNIC, Damian Oakes described his trip to United Nations Headquarters as “a dream turned into reality.”He added that the MLOW Global Youth Forum “provided us with the unique opportunity to walk in the footsteps of truly inspirational leaders, and address the UN headquarters on the theme of multilingualism, an issue which I have a deep commitment to.”

Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information and the Coordinator for Multilingualism at the UN, commended the achievements of the participants and reminded them of their roles as future leaders.

Reflecting on his participation in the forum, Damian reminded his fellow participants that “multilingualism leads to greater intercultural understanding, decreases cultural misunderstandings and creates a culture of respect for other cultures” as he spoke of the ‘’renewed motivation’’ that  he gained from this opportunity to speak at the United Nations.