(Reposted from: The Jordan Times. September 26, 2018)
By Camille Dupire
AMMAN — Young peacebuilders in the MENA region have a great need for safe spaces to work on humanitarian issues and empower themselves to impact the world around them, said Shadi Rouhshabbaz, a 24 year-old Iranian who recently took part in a United Nations Alliance Of Civilisations’ (UNAOC) Young Peacebuilders (YPB) programme symposium in Amman.
Organised by UNAOC and Generations For Peace with the support of the Agencia Extremeña de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo, the YPB programme supports youth leaders between 18 and 25 years old in gaining peacebuilding skills while bringing visibility to their actions and projects towards promotion of diversity and dialogue, a UNAOC statement said.
“For me, the YPB programme is many things but, above all, it is the safe space for young people’s peace journey,” Rouhshahbaz told The Jordan Times on Wednesday, explaining “to find myself happily sharing my stories in a room full of people who have so many similarities and yet, who are very different from me, was a blessing.”
“I believe this is an actual chance to appreciate diversity among ourselves — as young people and as a region because tolerance, identity and peace come hand in hand, especially in a region like ours,” added the young Iranian, who partook in the event alongside 18 youth from 12 regional countries.
The last stage of the YPB programme, the Amman symposium came following an online course, a face-to-face workshop and a guided implementation phase which helped them strengthen their conflict analysis, peacebuilding and designing skills, UNAOC Project Management Specialist Bram Van Haver said, highlighting “I, together with the trainers team, have seen the young participants grow fast in their peacebuilding knowledge, skills and attitude regarding tackling stereotypes, creating alternative narratives on diversity, intercultural and interreligious dialogue and project management.”
“The symposium clearly showcased the progress when the young peacebuilders presented their peace initiatives, also showing the power of peace education in strengthening knowledge, skills and attitudes,” he told The Jordan Times, citing the success story of Jordanian Osama Aljaber, who is scheduled to present his work to the Ministry of Culture on Thursday, as well as facilitate a workshop for fellow youth.
For Rouhshahbaz, who has been involved in the PeaceMentors project back in Iran, “there is no single way to build peace”. “We are all different and our peacebuilding trajectories and contexts are also different, that is why it is important to have a space to learn how to create safe spaces for young people — a place where leadership is developed with the support of mentorship,” he explained.
Sally Itani, a fresh architecture graduate from Lebanon, embodied that idea of diversity, partaking in the YPB programme to bolster the peacebuilding impact of her local architectural organisation “Architects for Change”.
“Initially, other participants were quite surprised to know that an architect was working on social impact, because of the dominant idea that architects only design buildings that look aesthetically pleasing, and this is the mindset that I wanted to challenge through my work,” Itani told The Jordan Times, stressing “YPB has definitely opened my eyes to important issues that must be dealt with, and the dire need to change the perspective of people on what we can and must do as architects and designers. Most importantly, it taught me that you can help improve people’s lives through whatever field you work in; all you have to do is believe that what you’re doing matters, and that people need you and you will get there.”
“The YPB programme provides a platform to young peacebuilders to bridge the gap between youth-led peace initiatives and decision makers by showcasing innovative, inspirational and effective youth-led peace work,” Van Haver pointed out, noting “we received very positive feedback from the decision makers who attended the symposium. Most of them loved to hear how young peacebuilders tackle certain conflicts and tensions in society and they said that they learned a lot and were inspired by the ideas of the young participants.”
Launched in 2016, the YPB programme is part of UNAOC’s efforts to support the important and positive contribution of youth and youth-led organisations in conflict prevention and peacebuilding, responding to the UN Security Council Resolutions 2250 and 2419 on Youth, Peace and Security, and the secretary general’s Plan of Action on Preventing Violent Extremism, the UNAOC statement said.
“UNAOC’s work does not end here, as another important achievement of the project is the creation of a regional and worldwide network of young peacebuilders who will all become part of the UNAOC Intercultural Leaders platform,” Van Haver concluded, voicing his appreciation to the Ministry of Youth Secretary General Thabet Alnabulsi, who took part in the Amman symposium.