As part of our month-long May campaign on Youth, Peace and Security, we’re highlighting the crucial work of youth around the world who are actively contributing to building peace within their local communities, and the importance of supporting them as active agents of peace. Activists Kessy Martine Ekomo-Soignet from URU and Engin Avci from the United Youth Task Force discussed the concrete actions being taken to empower youth in the Central African Republic and Kosovo with special moderator Vahe Mirikian of Peace Direct, a non-governmental organization that supports local people to stop violence and build long-term peace and the Global Coalition on Youth, Peace and Security.
The first youth activist, Kessy Martine Ekomo-Soignet, is a community leader, peacebuilding practitioner and founder of URU, a youth-led organization leading projects to increase effective engagement of and support for youth in locally-led conflict prevention and reconciliation efforts in the Central African Republic. In 2015, she was appointed as an expert by then Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, for the Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security, as mandated by Security Council resolution 2250.
Joining Kessy was activist Engin Avci on behalf of the United Youth Task Force Kosovo, an organization that brings young leaders from diverse communities, who overcame ethnic and religious boundaries to act together for more inclusive youth policies.
To discuss these important issues, UN Peacekeeping provided them with a platform on our Instagram to raise awareness and inform our public on the ways youth around the world are participating in their communities to foster peace.
Kessy begins by highlighting that in the Central African Republic, young people have always been involved in resolving conflict in their communities but that they truly became involved in peacebuilding issues during the 2014 conflict in CAR. Young people were active in their communities and “trying to find their place around the table,” yet were confronted with obstacles preventing their inclusion in the peace processes. Kessy emphasized the difference between participation and contribution, noting that even though young people have been increasingly involved in peace negotiations, their meaningful contributions are not always taken seriously.
Kessy went on to underline the negative and dangerous stereotypes that youth face, like being inexperienced or unwilling to participate, which is even more difficult for young women. Young women in peacebuilding continue to face prejudice and must be supported. Engin pointed out that diversity is crucial, and that through his work with the United Youth Task Force, he is actively seeking to include young people in local government. Engin stressed that they need to be part of consultations in order to provide solutions to issues that concern them.
Moreover, Engin noted that creative skills are important when pushing for change. Through the work of the organization, Engin is actively providing opportunities and different projects to invite young people to participate in their communities. One of their projects, “Breaking Borders Through Art” brings together a diverse group of people residing in Kosovo together in a joint artistic project that facilitates the understanding of other young people from different communities and cultures while developing their own skills.
Kessy spotlights the necessity of young people to participate in political processes stressing the value of the vote and the importance of accountability. The URU organization helps to promote this by playing a “simulator game” where young people play the role of governors, international organizations, or journalists, and recreating a country where they have to make decisions. This role playing illustrates outcomes when the “role of young people are not taken into account.” Furthermore, Kessy is working with local authorities and community leaders to provide young people opportunities to get engaged and see what role they can play. In doing so, Kessy noted that such roles come with a lot of responsibility and accountability towards their peers. Therefore, it is instrumental that the youth involved keep their peers updated about their work. Engin also stated that these types of activities aid youth to understand the role and how they need to deal with its responsibilities.
Engin highlighted the importance of understanding other people’s point of view when it comes to peacebuilding. Similarly, Kessy notes that discussion is one of the fundamental things others can do to support youth. Listening and seeing what is already being done in local communities, and exploring what can be improved together. The need to create something new is not always necessary, but building on something that already exists to support youth is crucial.
If youth are in situations where the narrative remains focused on the negatives, Kessy argues, it’s important for them to try to change the narrative not only on a local level, but on a national and international level as well. On this, Kessy wants young people to keep dreaming about a better world and continue working to make the world a better place. Similarly, Engin notes that it is important to remain positive, to make youth voices heard in the decision-making processes and peacebuilding since “young people are the leaders of the future.”
For those interested in becoming involved with peacebuilding activities, Engin and Kessy both suggest starting in your own communities and aiming to resolve the social issues that are currently ongoing. However, if you want to stay connected with other like-minded people, several Youth, Peace and Security Agenda groups exist on Facebook to discover the role that different young people are playing around the world.
Take a look at the full conversation, and get involved in your own communities as everyone has a role to play in fostering peace.
A global conversation on youth, peace and security was originally published in We The Peoples on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.