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Youths and Peacebuilding: A Powerful Driver for Change

Pre-convention Youth Forum Kicks off August 6-15 Global Peace Convention

by Anu Lama

“Change happens in your heart and can only convince another heart if it is true,” shared Assaad Chaftari, addressing youths during the Global Peace Youth Forum 2021 Asia Segment on July 31. “Be an example to others and when people see that you are truthful to what you are saying, they will follow.”

One of many presenters on the virtual Youth Forum, Assaad participated in the Lebanese Civil War but now leads the Fighters for Peace in Lebanon and works towards educating youths in peacebuilding. Addressing the forum, he shared his life lessons that the path to peace is through non-violence, understanding and empathy. Quoting Mahatma Gandhi, he told the forum, “Be the change you want to see in others,” while urging youths to live life by principles and truth.

Top: Wouter Arriens (left) and Rain Russel Villaspin
Below: Gail Hambleton and Assaad Chaftari

Other diverse panelists shared experiences and encouraged youth to raise their voices for positive change and innovation. Speakers stressed the importance of breaking stereotypes and prejudice, and emphasized the significant contributions of youth leadership, participation, and advocacy for building peace and a better world.

Lakshitha Saji, Co-chair of the Global Coalition on Youth, Peace and Security, encouraged youth involvement in the decision-making process, describing youth leadership as a “horizontal leadership model” whose experiences [can be] “transformative in nature.” He encouraged youths to ask right questions, take time to learn, be fearless and have a “movement mindset” for bringing change.

Global Peace Foundation Senior Programs Specialist Gail Hambleton inspired youths to not lose hope and take struggles as the seeds of transformation for the community. She gave wise words of hope and advice, reflecting, “Peace building is long, hard, slow work and it takes time.”

Recalling her work in Rwanda in the 90s after the genocide, Ms. Hambleton said after some time it is possible to get burned out. “Patience, Endurance and Compassion, those are the things we need. At the end of the day, that’s what we really need a lot of.”

Building character, promoting peace

The Americas forum was also motivating and inspiring for youth participants attending virtually from around the world. Speakers noted that youths make up majority of the population; thus, believing in them and investing in them will have a widespread impact on countries around the globe.

Additionally, significant steps should be taken to engage youths in character education and teaching them to respect all people and diversity to counter violent extremism and promote peacebuilding. Peacebuilding fosters relationships of trust among different people and youths’ contribution in peacebuilding is crucial for long lasting, sustainable peace.

“If  you are adversarial with someone, they shut you off. So leveraging a relationship of trust in constructive ways I think is the cornerstone of how to create change.”     --Lakshitha Saji Prelis, Sri Lanka, Global Coalition of Youth, Peace and Security

Reflecting on the perspective of Hiroshima survivors, Ray Matsumiya, Director of the Oleander Initiatives, said, “You can see the message of the Hibakusha [survivor of the atomic bombing at Hiroshima] is not about anger. It is not about victimhood. It is not about revenge. They somehow took all the pain and loss they felt and channeled it outwards into a worldwide message of peace.” Hiroshima is an ideal location for peacebuilding programs, he said, as it has a deep-rooted culture in peacebuilding due to experiencing tragedy from nuclear weapons.

The forum also talked about the importance of giving youths the exposure and opportunity for their skills and character development. Dr. Markandey Rai, President of the Global Peace and Development Service Alliance, said, “Youth across the world--be it developed or developing or underdeveloped economies–aspire more or less for a better life, and should have the opportunity for vocational training for livelihood.”

In both the segments, youth and youth leadership were identified as drivers of change, peacebuilding and impact. The GPY Forum promoted youth involvement in finding innovative, viable solutions to sustainable peacebuilding and GPF informed its youth education work with its unique, values-based approach to peacebuilding.

The Global Peace Youth Forum was convened prior to and in conjunction with this year’s Global Peace Convention (GPC), GPF’s signature bi-annual convening. The theme for GPC 2021 is “Moral and Innovative Leadership in Peacebuilding for Our Changing World.” Due to the ongoing global pandemic, GPC will convene virtually from August 6 to 15 with a dynamic range of programs and expert forums.

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