Young People Blurring Borders

  • by Beatriz Bissio (rio de janeiro)
  • Sunday, May 30, 2010
  • Inter Press Service

The important role played by young people in achieving peaceful cross-cultural coexistence was recognised by prizes for innovative youth initiatives at the Third Global Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilisations held May 27-29 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

'We must foster young people's creative capacity to build bridges and promote a multicultural society,' former Portuguese president Jorge Sampaio (1996-2006), who is U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's High Representative for the Alliance of Civilisations, told IPS.

'The prizes we granted them at this third forum was the Alliance's way of helping to make them more visible, so they can serve as encouragement for other young people to get involved in new projects,' he said.

Besides the focus on youth, the Alliance of Civilisation's other main areas of implementation are education, the media and migration.

The Alliance of Civilisations, created in 2005 at the initiative of the governments of Spain and Turkey under the auspices of the United Nations, works to improve understanding and cooperation across nations, cultures and religions in order to counter the forces that fuel polarisation and extremism.

One of the award-winning youth projects was Akili Dada, which facilitates access to education by bright girls from poor families in Kenya who have stood out for their leadership potential.

Of the girls who made up the first group of beneficiaries, eight have graduated from university, Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, the young Kenyan woman who founded and heads the programme, explained to IPS at the Alliance of Civilisations forum, whose theme was Bridging Cultures, Building Peace.

Kamau-Rutenberg said it was an immense joy to see girls who could not even have finished primary school go on to become professionals, with the help of Akili Dada.

Another prize-winning programme was Forgotten Diaries led by Anush Hayrapetyan, a young Armenian woman who lives in the northern Italian city of Milan, where the organisation is based.

The focus of the initiative is to draw attention to 'forgotten conflicts' -- armed conflicts that have received little coverage by the mainstream media, like the civil war in Colombia.

The Forgotten Diaries web site explains that the aim of the project is 'to continue the long-standing tradition of young people keeping a diary of their lives and their struggles in conflicts,' such as Anne Frank and Zlata Filipovic.

Children and adolescents in conflict areas are invited to keep diaries, talk about the experiences of their families and incidents in their lives, and describe the effects of armed conflict on their lives and dreams.

The youngsters receive training on the use of the internet, online social networks and blogs. 'This way, we can reach public opinion by means of intense, original testimonies that have a greater impact than a newspaper article,' Hayrapetyan commented to IPS.

Forgotten Diaries has projects in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Somalia, the Caucasus, Turkey and Kurdistan, Sarajevo in Bosnia, and other areas in the former Yugoslavia.

'RandomKid: The Power of Anyone' was another of the prize-winning projects. In this case, the aim is to encourage youngsters to help come up with solutions to concrete problems.

The idea emerged in the United States in 2005, when then 10-year-old Talia Leman explained her plan: urging kids to ask for loose change, rather than just candy, while trick-or-treating on Halloween, to collect money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, Anne Ginther, cofounder of the organisation, told IPS.

Through a web site that they set up, Leman made contact with children in 4,000 school districts across the United States, and 10 million dollars in donations were raised.

The ABC television network put the story on prime time news, reporting that only five U.S. corporations gave more than what was raised by the schoolchildren, said Ginther, who also works with the Catholic Church on projects involving disabled children.

RandomKid has orchestrated the efforts of more than 12 million children and teenagers from 20 countries, who have helped build schools and wells and expand health care in their communities.

Other initiatives focus on forming young leaders and journalists committed to fomenting social and cultural inclusion.

In the Undergraduate ParliaMentors programme, run by the London-based Three Faith Forum, university students with an interest in politics spend time with members of parliament who discuss with them the issues they are working on and foreign policy matters.

Many of the students are from families of immigrants. After their mentoring period with the MPs, each team -- trios of Muslim, Christian and Jewish students -- presents a concrete project to be carried out in a poor community in Britain.

The director of the Three Faiths Forum, Stephen Shashoua, told IPS that the interaction among the youth themselves and with the political leaders, added to the work in needy areas, enables young people with leadership potential to gain a broader vision of the various cultures, and to promote actions that foster inclusion.

The Euro-Mediterranean Academy for Young Journalists (EMAJ) was founded in Berlin in 2007 with the aim of combating the spread of stereotypes by the media about 'the West' and 'the Arab world'.

Through training of young reporters on both sides of the Mediterranean sea, EMAJ helps create solidarity networks to bridge the gap of understanding.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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