Youth for Peace

"A few months ago, I was fortunate to be selected to participate in an international conference ‘Youth for peace- 100 years after World War 1, 100 ideas for peace’ that took place in Berlin from the 14th-18th November. 

The event drew together 500 young people aged between 18 and 25 from 48 different countries in Europe and its neighbouring regions. The aim of the event was to create an international dialogue on how we can best promote peace in Europe and achieve peace in other regions that are at war. Having been divided into working groups of different nationalities, participants first focused on the history of the First World War, its causes, and its impact on the world. This was a chance for us to share personal connections to this and any other conflict as well as to compare and reflect on how and why history is taught differently around the world. It was humbling to be a part of this sharing of personal narratives, particularly when, for the majority of us, war and conflict is a thing of the past that mainly lives inside a history textbook, whilst for some of the participants from countries in the Middle East and Africa conflict is a current event. 

On the second day, we visited monuments and exhibitions in Berlin that are linked to conflict. My group visited an exhibition on the 1918/19 revolution in Germany and the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. The latter was not only a powerful demonstration of the damage of war but also of how we can learn to forgive one another and work together to build a brighter future. Inside the church, which was horrifically damaged in the bombing of Germany by the RAF in the Second World War, there is a cross made out of nails from Coventry Cathedral, after its destruction in the Blitz. The cross stands as a symbol for how both religious communities have learned the value of forgiveness and collective memory and, for me, was a representation of the international movement for peace.

After having explored the issues of war and its consequences, we then went on to the final stage of workshops which looked at the different meanings of peace and how this can be best fostered in our own respective countries and on an international level. Each group worked on developing a unique idea for peace and these included: a peace line connecting different monuments of remembrance for tragedies and war across Europe and its neighbouring countries, the promotion of an educational curriculum with an international, multi-cultural focus, the creation of social media platforms for young people to share their ideas and experiences of peace and different cultures, and a Pan-European Youth Office which would act as a facilitator for cultural exchanges and youth participation in politics and social action projects on a much larger scale. 

All of this work culminated in a closing ceremony on Sunday 18th November, for which I was lucky enough to be elected as a representative of my group to be one of three young people to take part in a panel discussion on our ideas and experiences with President Macron of France and President Steinmeier of Germany. In a trilingual discussion with the Presidents, we talked about our ideas for peace, how realistic these were, and how the presidents could work to achieve our ideas as well as greater youth participation in international politics in general. 

Overall, the conference provided a fantastic opportunity to engage with other young people on this crucial topic. The discussions and debates were eye-opening and insightful due to the way in which we each brought our own unique perspectives to the workshops. Yet the workshops were also international spaces that were free from the prejudices and the limitations that some participants face in their own countries. For example, young people from Israel and Palestine sat discussing respectfully with each other how the conflict that exists between their two nations could be appeased.  

Being part of such an event, marking the centenary of one of the most important conflicts in modern history, was an unforgettable experience, as was the opportunity to speak to Presidents Macron and Steinmeier about how we can best foster peace in Europe. I learned so much and when asked during the discussion what one message I would wish to share with other young people in my country, my answer was:

 “Stay open! Stay open to other cultures and to the world that exists beyond the boundaries of our island nation. Stay open to new ideas and opinions, and to accepting that you might not always be right, or that there might be a better answer that you haven’t thought of yet. If you can keep your mind open in this way, you can learn to understand and avoid the prejudices and hatred that foster conflict and become part of the solution in achieving peace.”