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Yangon - It was difficult for the more than 25 Myanmar youth to contain their excitement and nerves as they patiently awaited the arrival of Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark in the heart of Yangon on 10 January, 2014.

It was the first time ever that a real life princess would set foot inside the UNFPA supported Youth Development Centre in Yangon, and the excitement could be felt from outside the centre’s walls. When she finally arrived she was greeted by Ms. Janet Jackson, UNFPA Myanmar Representative and presented with a bouquet of white flowers by one of the eager youth. Denmark’s Minister for Development, Mr. Rasmus Helveg Petersen, Ambassador Mikael Hemniti Winther and a team of diplomats and media also accompanied the Crown Princess to the youth centre.

“It is a special occasion for us when Crown Princess Mary takes the time to visit one of our youth programmes. It comes at a very important time for Myanmar. Her visit highlights the importance of young people's participation and inclusion amidst the changes that are happening. Young people are key in helping to set the tone for now and for the future. This gives added impetus to the work we do in ensuring that every young person’s potential is fulfilled. It also confirms that we are on the right track in working closely with the Government of Myanmar to develop a youth policy to address youth issues nationwide,” said Ms. Janet Jackson, UNFPA’s Myanmar Representative. 

Princess Mary, who serves as UNFPA Patron supporting the agency's work to promote maternal health and safer motherhood, met with a group of Myanmar youth to learn more about what problems Myanmar youth face. The Crown Princess opted not to sit on provided chairs, but joined the 25 youths to discuss youth issues on the floor, a move which put the group of gathered teens at ease and surprised others. She spoke directly with them on issues relating to sexual reproductive health, subjects which are normally seen as taboo in Myanmar. Crown Princess Mary listened patiently to their views and it looked like she was enjoying the discussion, much to the delight of the gathered young people. “Their traditions and culture prevents them from talking about sexual diseases, which in return makes it difficult for them to get to know their bodies and have an informed opinion on what it means to enter into a sexual relationship with another person,” the Crown Princess told Danish Radio Television (DR) which was travelling with her after the informal discussion. 

The teens spent days preparing for the visit. The centre was given a new lick of paint, posters and banners were put up and the group rehearsed a specially choreographed dance which they performed for the Princess in a language that was not their own and done especially for the Crown Princess. The dance is part of a visibility campaign which emphasizes the wish of youth to grow up in safe environment and be part of a HIV free generation and to highlight sexual health and HIV/AIDS awareness amongst other youth. 

About one quarter of the world’s population falls between the ages of 10 to 24 years. In Myanmar, young people represent 30% of the population. The pressure on young people to get a good education and get a good job is high and nowhere more so than in Myanmar which is undergoing fast change in an environment that is increasingly competitive. Many youths end up becoming disillusioned, drop out of school, loose contact with their families or even become vulnerable to drugs and promiscuity. 

“The pressure felt on Myanmar youth to adopt a healthy lifestyle and do well with their lives is massive, and it can lead some to go down the wrong path,” said Dr. Ne Win, UNFPA’s Assistant Representative and expert on Adolescent, Youth and Reproductive Health. 

To ensure this UNFPA has teamed up with the Myanmar Medical Association to reach out to young people to increase their knowledge of basic sexual and reproductive health and motivate them to adopt healthy lifestyles and be part of a happy family environment. The UNFPA is contributing $150,000 yearly for the youth development programme. The programme helps to fund the youth centre in Yangon and in other parts of Myanmar. 

Through her foundation, The Mary Foundation, and her patronages, H.R.H. Crown Princess Mary is particularly dedicated to humanitarian, health and social issues such as improving lives of children, adults and families, with a focus on maternal health and young people.