By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ (http://rcsocialjusticett.org) & Director, CREDI
Saturday, August 12 is International Youth Day. The theme this year is: Youth Building Peace. As the UN states, “there is growing recognition that as agents of change, young people are critical actors in conflict prevention and sustaining peace. International Youth Day 2017 is dedicated to celebrating young people’s contributions to conflict prevention and transformation as well as inclusion, social justice, and sustainable peace.
“The current generation of youth is the largest in history and young people often comprise the majority in countries marked by armed conflict or unrest, therefore considering the needs and aspirations of youth in matters of peace and security is a demographic imperative…
“Young people’s inclusion in the peace and security agenda and in society more broadly, is key to building and sustaining peace. The process of social inclusion for youth, including participation in decision-making as well as access to quality education, health care and basic services promotes their role as active contributors to society and affords young people with opportunities to reach their potential and achieve their goals. When youth are excluded from political, economic and social spheres and processes, it can be a risk factor for violence and violent forms of conflict. Therefore, identifying and addressing the social exclusion of young people is a precondition for sustaining peace” (www.un.org).
Our challenge as Catholics is to build an enabling environment in which our youth can use their talents to build peace. We celebrate those young people in T&T who are developing positive attributes e.g. through community service, building character/leadership skills, striving to be good citizens, excelling in various spheres – academically, spiritually, socially, mentally, culturally, physically etc. Sadly, though, in our throwaway culture, many young people live on the margins – socially excluded, and are not given the opportunity to participate fully in our society.
Our young people are in danger and ‘bad house’ continues to ‘call’ many who have chosen/been coerced to join gangs, and who choose guns, drugs and violence to peace. How many in T&T have joined ISIS? How many are languishing in prison, homeless, or have dropped out of school? How many are illiterate/semi-literate/unemployed/underemployed? How many have lost their lives through violence?
Now is the time for us to stand in solidarity with our youth to secure their rights and to lead them to the path of peace. We adults need to be role models and mentors to our youth to help them find this path. The families from which many of our youth originate need our support. We must do much more in our homes, our schools, and in our parishes/communities to empower our youth to do, as Pope Francis told those gathered at World Youth Day in 2016 – “build bridges of peace. Dear young people,” he said, “we didn’t come into this world to ‘vegetate’, to take it easy, to make our lives a comfortable sofa to sleep on. No, we came for another reason: to leave a mark… God expects something from you…God hopes in you… He wants to make you see that, with you, the world can be different. For the fact is, unless you offer the best of yourselves, the world will never be different. This is the challenge.”
Are we instilling in our youth the kind of knowledge, skills, values, concepts and attitudes that they need to be “peace-builders”, to leave their mark? While we are concerned about the situation in our own country, we have a duty to think about how we can build peace globally also.
The US Institute of Peace states: “The world’s most violent 21st-century conflicts are centered among countries with the highest proportions of youth. A staggering 230 million children live in lands that have become battlefields, and extremist groups exploit their traumas to recruit youth to violence. Yet from these same embattled lands, young leaders emerge, working to heal divisions in their communities and build peace. They often face large social or political forces of violent conflict, and even threats of suppression or violence by combatants. As they do, how can others help them sustain the personal resilience on which their work depends?
“In the contest with extremist ideologies for the hearts and minds of youth, no resource is more essential than those leaders who, themselves young, are campaigning creatively to bridge their countries’ divides and build inclusive societies…Transforming violent conflict into peaceful change requires the inclusion of young people as full partners.”
Join the ‘Non-Violence Begins With Me’ movement in T&T to reverse the culture of violence sweeping the country.