Often, youth lobby for more access to decision making positions and leadership as a step to transforming their role in conflict while neglecting deeper and more meaningful engagement on issues such as economic development and resource governance that would facilitate broader youth development and long-term peace.
It is within this premise that we conceptualized and held the 6th Youth In Action (the second forum under the new cohort) forum in Nairobi, Kenya, from 20th – 24th May 2023. The forum brought together 25 diverse young leaders from 5 countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda) discussing the intersection between peacebuilding and youth economic development with an anchor on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB).
While introducing the 6th Youth In Action, Fred Nyabera, Director of Arigatou International – End Child Poverty lauded the young people for their understanding of FoRB, awareness of issues around FoRB including violation and their proactiveness on social media talking about FoRB. He challenged them to be champions of FoRB think about FoRB as an enabler for peace and a prerequisite for economic development.
“You are not here by accident; you were selected because of your influence as young leaders. You need to stretch your boundaries in thinking about FoRB” he emphasized.
In a bid to practically learn and experience youth economic development, the 25 young people interacted with Tetu farm (a dairy farm ran by young people) and EcoBana (a youth initiative producing eco friendly sanitary pads). This was in a field visit organized by the SDGs Academy for Children, in Limuru, Kenya. Through this experience, the youth were challenged to come up with initiatives and take actions towards economic development by using technology and available resources.
“Don’t work in silos, look for strategic partnerships and use what you have to get what you don’t have” echoed Grace, one of the young people after an exciting experience with young entrepreneurs.
Lennox Omondi, young leader at EcoBana challenged his peers to be innovative even within existing spaces and products in order to find their niche; giving example of their unique sanitary pads made from banana fibers.
“You don’t always have to come up with new solutions to problems. Instead, you can work to improve on existing solutions” Lennox Omondi.
While linking this field experience to FoRB and peacebuilding, Michael Adikwu, the Sustainable Development programme lead at End Child Poverty underscored that FoRB and youth economic development related to peace, adding that for development to happen, there has tom be peace and people have to live in harmony irrespective of their religious background. Michael urged the youth to be creative and meaningfully use technology in efforts to stir up development.
“The same technology used to cause or perpetuate violence can be used for sustainability and development” he emphasized.
In her closing remarks, Maria Osula, manager of the Norwegian Church Aid Eastern Regional Peace Programme (under which Youth In Action is convened) also urged the youth to be creative and impactful in their actions towards peacebuilding.
“I have faced many challenges working on peacebuilding but what motivates me to continue each morning is hearing from different people that I have made a difference in their lives”, she gave an example of herself. The 3-day forum was undoubtedly a unique opportunity to tap into the different experiences of young people in peace building and economic development as well as inspire youth to reflect on opportunities that exist regarding increasing their sources of livelihood and diversifying conflict resolution. This way, the forum positioned itself as an exceptional platform for youth peacebuilding.