For the past 3 days I’ve been a consultant at the Arab states youth, peace and security consultation and high level dialogue in Amman Jordan.
The consultation included young people from all over the arab region (Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, UAE and Yemen) to discuss the engagement of youth in peace and security. In addition to the best practices.
Around 61 youth (25 male and 36 female), working on peace building related initiatives in their local community gathered to exchange experiences from their respective countries, discuss common challenges, priorities and opportunities, and to strengthen youth-led networks and partnerships.
One of the most noticeable element about the gathering was the fact that young women in the region were so motivated to engage and participate in building peace in their communities and be active actors in the process.
This was so eye opening to me not because it was something I hadn’t seen before but because it was reinforcing my belief that women are the way forward to sustainable peace in the region.
Working in Libya gives you a crash course on practical realistic issues that young people face. It also teaches you that young people aren’t one entity even in the same country. Youth in Tripoli have different issues and struggles than youth in Benghazi for example. This notion was also reinforced at the consultation where I noticed a huge variation in definitions of the issues in the region.
It’s a general stereotype that the Libyan conflict is similar to the Syrian one but I was still caught off guard by the big similarity in our lives. Siblings having to travel abroad for the chance at a good education and the fear of kidnapping of young boys was one of those similarities.
One of the first sessions aimed at defining what youth, Peace and security meant to each and every one of us. To someone like me from Libya it means dignity, education, health and safety of my family and the people I care about, a roof over my head without fear of having to leave it and going about my daily life in a safe way. I reiterated the notion that without our basic human needs we can’t talk about peace building, it would just be empty slogans.
To other people from countries that don’t suffer from conflict It means freedom of speech, a chance at better opportunities.
It was really interesting to hear how the definition changes depending on the external environment.
Then we touched upon what we mean about youth. All over the Arab region older politicians call themselves “young at heart” and continue to take over the political arena. Can we ever agree upon a clear definition for “ who are the youth?”?
According to UNSCR2250 the youth are an age group between 18-29 years. However, they do note that there is a variation that exists on a national and international level.
The conversation delved into the real and superficial participations of youth that currently exist in the Arab region. Some argued that superficial participation can then evolve into real representation over time through having a seat at the table.
Is a seat at the table even enough? Would we allow ourselves to be used as the token youth to satisfy an external agenda?
These are all questions we asked ourselves and I’m not even sure we have made up our minds about it yet.
We all face the dilemma of either allowing ourselves to be seen as the token young person for superficial reasons or withdrawing our participation.
I would rather have a real effective equal participation or I disengage myself entirely. But again this is a personal preference and many might disagree with me.
The next session moved onto exploring and identifying issues that mattered to the youth. Again I have to stress that we aren’t one homogeneous unit. If youth were a rock type I’d compare it to metamorphosis rock (* i am a geophysicist i like to compare things to rocks *)
“A metamorphic rock is a result of a transformation of a pre-existing rock. The original rock is subjected to very high heat and pressure, which cause obvious physical and/or chemical changes.”
This is how I see the youth in our region, the original rock has been transformed due to heat and pressure to change into a new rock entirely. No two rocks are completely identical and the same thing applies to the youth in our region
One of the most heart breaking things that came out of the consultations was the importance of education in the region and how it has become a luxury for young people.
We then touched upon how our own organisations use innovative methods to work on the ground. This is where I shared our own methods at project Silphium. We work by empowering regular Libyans and building a sense of ownership with them. By connecting different people in different locations and allowing them to communicate with each other and share experiences you allow them to create partnerships. At project Silphium we believe in working from the ground up and empowering local actors first. They’re the ones who know what their community needs and they’re the ones who have a vested interest in changing their environment for the better.
The following session focused on youths perspectives for challenges and priorities. One of the things that kept coming up time and time again was the issue of funding. This perplexed me because there are many things you can do without money. You can use your time and you can use your effort to make a change. This is what we do at project Silphium, we crowdsource from our community the resources we need to carry on working. It’s a new creative method to not rely on unsustainable sources like donor money.
Donor money is extremely restrictive and they demand we are registered in the country we work in which isn’t always an easy matter to do.They also want to enforce their own needs on us which is something we have the freedom to refuse.
We recently conducted a whole seminar for 250 people and the cost was less than 10$ to us due to local businesses in our community supporting us. We plan to have a workshop when we return to Tripoli in the next couple of weeks and we’ve already secured a location with the help of a partnership from @jusoor centre of studies and development.
I personally think we need to go beyond asking for funding and start working on the ground with the resources we have. Once the work has been done and the evidence of the success collected then you have more leverage to ask for funding.
The last thing we worked on was developing recommendations for the action plan. This was extremely hard to do due to the variety of backgrounds the participants had. I think a better way to do this would have been to create sub regional – country level recommendations for better impact. It’s also extremely early to have recommendations without any evidence or data to rely on.
My personal recommendation would be we need to move away from the ask/wait mentality and move into the do/show phase. It’s the only way to create a buy in with the community and other stakeholders and provide them with evidence of impact in my opinion. The way I see that happening is the creation of a power base and partnerships through networks. This would provide an immense learning experience for all involved and allow them to have more influence and experience to conduct the work they’ve already been doing. This network can start small with even two participants that attended the last 3 days. It doesn’t have to be anything big. The most important thing is just to start working then others can join in.
This is what an organisation in the south of Libya has been doing. Fezzan Libya group have been bootstrapping their organisation for the past 5 years and giving a voice to the community surrounding them with little to no support from any national/international source. They’ve created a huge impact in the south and lobbied for many of their activists to have access to opportunities just like their peers. Even though there is clear evidence they have an impact there is still a silence from the government and other NGO’s and civil society actors like the UN.
How do we keep these organisations alive? How do we save them? That’s a question I am invested in answering.
I’d like to quote chris stephens that once said that organisations like project Silphium and Fezzan Libya are
“a raft of young people”
we either give them a helping hand or they will eventually drown.
The question of migration and immigrating was also brought up. I can only speak for myself .
why would i move abroad to live as a third class citizen when I have my career, my family , my friends and an abundance of oppurtunities to really make an impact in my community?
this is something that is not just specific to me but a lot of my peers in region feel the same way.
I would like to end this reflection on my participation with a checklist with what i think should be done . This checklist is to decision makers who design these programs and to the youth participating themselves. If you’re not asking at least a few of these things then you’re doing it wrong.
- Make sure the people representing us in any local/national/regional/international level are actually connected with what is going on,
- that they experienced what we’re going through and know our problems and challenges,
- that they will advocate for our rights and goals,
- make UNSCR2250 inclusive for all youth and not just the elitist community that sometimes gets created to benefit from these resolutions.
I’ve spoken to many of you during the last 3 days about this and you’ve said this is a hard thing to do.
Speak to us, ask us, you’ve brought together 62 new experts to help you, make use of their skills!
Written by Khadeja Hussein