Youth connection: How our common experiences can bring us together

Working together youth can contribute to building bridges between various cultures and societies.

In a small fishing village in Ghana called Annkoannda I was enjoying a day at the beach when I met Thomas. He was friendly and he spoke with kindness as he warned us about the strong currents in the ocean. Thomas was enjoying a day off at the beach from his studies in geology at the university in Tokaradi and his job as a teacher at the local school. But the day’s relaxed beach setting did not subdue his ambitions and he asked my advice on how to continue his studies in Europe.

Later that evening, I realised I had spent as much on a dinner for two as Thomas’s monthly salary. Here was someone who clearly had much less access to the world than I. At the same time, we were able to connect through our similar experiences as youth. Thomas had always wanted to go to Europe. I had always wanted to go to Africa (this was my first time on the continent). Thomas worked to support his studies just like I had worked in many different jobs from Starbucks to retail while studying and applying for work in my field.

As my time as a youth begins to come to an end (according to the latest UNSC Resolution on youth, peace and security, youth are defined as being between 18 and 29 years old), I realise that I have met many incredible young people who are passionate about making a difference like Thomas. Youth work multiple jobs to be able to afford the cost of living, they persevere after receiving countless rejections to job applications, and they bring very powerful voices and perspectives on how to build more inclusive and peaceful societies.

Globally youth have similar dreams, expectations and frustrations

Youth between 15 and 24 make up about 17 percent of the world population, 10 to 24 ear-olds about 25 percent of the world population. In 2012, people under the age of 30 made up more than half of the world population. Sixty percent of the population in fragile and conflict-affected countries are youth. Yet, they continue to face challenges such as lack of access to training and employment, as well as to decision-making processes.

While my experience as a youth in the United States and Europe has certainly differed from that of Thomas, it is also important to acknowledge that in this multicultural and transborder world, youth do have similar dreams, expectations and frustrations. A young taxi driver I met told me that he moved to Cape Coast in Ghana to get away from his family and make it on his own. So, it seems that youth across the world want to get away from their parents.

Our experiences as youths is what connects us, from North America, Latin America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. This connection should not be underestimated. Together, we can work together to contribute to building bridges between various cultures and societies.

Youth engagement and ownership in sustaining peace

The UN Security Council Resolution 2250 on youth, peace and security is an important step towards recognising that youth participation is vital for the creation of sustainable peace and inclusive societies. The resolution is a result of collaboration between the UN, NGOs and youth-led organisations, including through youth summits held in Amman and New York in August and September 2015, respectively. It outlines the importance of engaging youth, including marginalised youth, in peace processes and violence prevention, building capacity of youth organisations, and strengthening partnerships between UN institutions and youth initiatives.

In implementing UN SCR 2250 and developing strategies for youth engagement and ownership, it is important that we keep the following in mind:

  • Youth already play important roles in their societies, including in peace processes.
  • As highlighted by the Guiding Principles on Young People’s Participation in Peacebuilding, youth should not only be included, but should have ownership in decision-making processes from the community to national and international levels. Discussions on the engagement of youth should be led by and include youth.
  • Youth value the advice and expertise of those who are more experienced (just don’t tell my parents I said this) and want to work together with experts in building more peaceful and inclusive societies.
  • Youth want to work. My own experience being unemployed following my Master degree taught me that it can really affect your self-confidence, particularly as a youth just starting out in your career. Providing youth with employment to allow them to gain skills and grow both professionally and personally is an important part of youth engagement and in allowing them to start having a voice.

In an effort to allow youth to have a voice in how they can and should participate in peace processes, the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation is hosting young leaders in a workshop on 16 May 2016. The workshop will focus on identifying how peace education programmes and communications and outreach strategies can engage youth, particularly those most marginalised. We look forward to sharing this work with you and call on all to recognise the value youth can bring to building peaceful societies.

Photo Disclaimer:  The person featured is not the individual mentioned in the text. 

Sarah Smith By Sarah Smith
Sarah Smith is Programme Manager at the Foundation in the thematic area of Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace, with a focus on implementation of the UN’s Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace agenda and the Youth, Peace and Security agenda. She also covers programming related to inclusivity in peace and development, as well as peacebuilding and dialogue. Prior to joining the Foundation, Sarah conducted research and supported policy advocacy on conflict resolution and prevention with the Uppsala Department of Peace and Conflict Research and the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C. Sarah holds a Masters from Uppsala University in Peace and Conflict Research.