By Naa Adei Boateng, Lead Pioneer for Generations For Peace in Ghana
Today, Generations For Peace has the incredible opportunity to share insight, experience, and expertise at this year’s Geneva Peace Week. Aya Albadarneh from Jordan and Frosina Kiprijanovska from the Republic of Macedonia are speaking in a panel about peacekeeping, peacebuilding, and preventing violent extremism. We are thrilled that their story will be told in Geneva, and we are also thrilled to share the experience of Naa Adei Boateng, in her own words, here.
I have seen it when I look at the world far from my home, I have witnessed in it my own community in Ghana, and I have experienced it in my own personal life: there are a growing need and desire for peace on a global scale. Yet, while we all seem to be aware of it and its urgency, there are a wide array of approaches that people in differing contexts and varying communities believe is the most fitting approach to actually building the peace we all yearn for.
Why are there so many angles and approaches, then, to peacebuilding? It might be that all contexts are facing unique violent conflicts that call for different responses or preventative actions. It might be that the leadership in one community comes from a different background, tradition, or system of beliefs, than another, which influences their perspective in transforming violent conflict. It might even be the media attention a region receives and the lack of press another witnesses.
However, I have seen one constant that I believe is true, spanning across all varying factors that impact peacebuilding and transforming conflict: youth must not just be involved. They must be at the forefront, heading the conversation, leading the movements, and passing the peace they build along to future generations.
This means that the role of others is to empower them to do so, and then to step back and let them take the reins. Youth are stronger, more influential, and more capable than many seem to want to give them credit for. They have unique perspectives and experiences that allow them to engage more directly with one another, expanding the scope of their impact across communities through relationships built and sustained. Any predispositions they have – anything causing division between them and other youth along lines of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, tribe, generation, or nationality are not innate. Youth, like all of us, were taught what they believe, what they understand to be true.
However, if they are to be expected and relied upon to build lasting peace, those negative assumptions they might have about both themselves and those that are different from them must be countered and diminished. I believe that that process begins from within. When we focus solely on the context of the violent conflict and ignore those that are involved in it, or undermine their views, perspectives, and values, we are missing some of the most important factors that will contribute to transforming conflict and building peace.
As a journalist, I have heard and shared stories of success and of conflict in Ghana for over 5 years. As Country Director for Youngstars Development Initiative, I have worked to empower and encourage Ghanaian youth to develop a brighter future. And as a Volunteer and Pioneer with Generations For Peace, I have witnessed the ways in which youth have the distinct power to build lasting peace, if only we give them the opportunity to lead in their peer groups and communities and learn more deeply about not only one another, but also themselves.
I recently met a young girl named Salma in Accra during a Sport For Peace Programme run by Generations For Peace. She attends a prestigious school in the suburbs of the city, at which bullying is unfortunately very prevalent. This is a widespread challenge facing Ghana today: bullying in elementary and secondary schools across the country is discouraging students from learning, from attending school, and from progressing in their studies and even in their relationships.
Salma was, by the accounts of many, not a victim of this bullying, but rather a perpetrator. At home, she fought with her sister and mother constantly. At school, her pride led her to undermine any relationships she had with other students. Although perhaps not always physically, Salma frequently bullied those around her, creating violent conflict within and between many she encountered at home, on campus, and in her community.
In joining our Sport For Peace Programme, Salma was given the opportunity not only to get to know her peers better, but also to get to know herself. After some time engaging with the activities, I remember something she said struck a chord in me.
“The confusion between who I wanted to be and my nasty attitude always bothered me.”
Salma’s internal unrest – her inner conflict – is what was translating into violent conflict with her family, classmates, and peers. And in this, Salma is not unique.
If we take a step back, we can learn how this might be applied to wider-spread peacebuilding. When we begin the process at the broadest level, we miss the personal details – the individual struggles – that are coming together to incite conflict in a given context. Yet by starting with the engagement of youth at the grassroots, we get a more accurate understanding not only of the conflicts they are facing, but also of the best ways to approach addressing them so as to create a lasting peace.
The use of vehicles like Sport act as an effective entry point for engaging with youth within local communities. Through them, we can learn of different forms of local ‘internal conflicts’ than we might ever have found or expected when we spend our time only trying to understand the broader picture from a further distance. Then, by providing youth from the grassroots with the opportunity to better understand themselves and one another, we empower them to take over, leading the important process of transforming conflict and building peace that will bring the world a brighter future.
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