Today, on International Youth Day, Development and Peace — Caritas Canada salutes its partners’ work in Syria and Turkey to empower young people to demand and design a more just and peaceful society. The potential for a promising future for the youth in these countries is severely threatened by chronic conflict and democratic deficits.
Why focus on youth?
The UNESCO Operational Strategy on Youth (2014-2021) recognizes that the young play a lead role in “driving change and claiming respect for fundamental freedoms and rights.” To overcome the challenges that they face because of persistent crises, the Strategy recommends investing in policies and programs that “create an enabling and rights-based environment where youth prosper, exercise rights… and engage as responsible social actors and innovators.”
Our partners: vanguards of change
Dawlaty is a Lebanon-based organization whose name means “my state” in Arabic. Since 2012, it has been helping civil society groups and youths from different ideological, social and economic backgrounds to participate in and lead democratic transition in Syria. It fosters skills related to non-violent mobilization, transitional justice and citizenship.
PAX was formed from the union of the Netherlands’ two largest peace groups — the Interchurch Peace Council) and Pax Christi. It aims to “bring about peace, reconciliation and justice in the world, by working with people and organizations in conflict areas.” In Syria, PAX works in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2250 to engage youths in the peace and security process.
Istanbul-based Mekanda Adalet Derneği (MAD, Center for Spatial Justice) promotes living in fairer, more democratic and eco-friendlier urban and rural spaces. It uses insights from architecture, urban planning and activism to engage young people in creating and sharing knowledge and advocating for socio-ecological justice.
Bringing serenity to Syria
Scarred by the civil war since 2011, the youth of Syria face a severe lack of education and employment opportunities. To ensure that their voices are heard and have influence, Development and Peace is helping its partner Dawlaty document, analyze and publicize youth aspirations and conflict experiences. In the Aleppo-Attareb, Daraa and Sweida sectors, Dawlaty trained 15 youths (including seven women) to conduct workshops and engage communities. These “trained trainers” run Life Skills for Civic Engagement workshops that provide 72 youths (including 30 women) the space to discuss, conceive and formulate ideas on making their voices heard and participating in democracy. Their ideas will inform Dawlaty’s longer-term strategy.
Development and Peace is also helping Dawlaty expand its Syrian Oral History Archive project that involves youths in collecting their conflict-affected peers’ testimonies. Dawlaty is training young interns in interviewing skills, cataloguing and indexing, community mobilization, and communication. It will engage youths, civil society actors and researchers in analyzing the testimonies to draw out relevant themes and recommendations for youth programming. Thus, youth voices will influence the broader transitional agenda as Syria recovers from conflict.
Development and Peace also supports its partner PAX’s Kulluna Muwatinun (“We are all Citizens” in Arabic) project in Syria that builds grassroots organizations’ understanding of and capacity for youth engagement in peace and security processes.
In May 2019, PAX conducted a workshop to introduce the precepts of the UN Security Council’s resolution 2250 on youth, peace and security to 10 leaders from five grassroots organizations. Working with PAX’s gender and advocacy experts, they identified needs, opportunities and strategies with respect to engaging young people in peacebuilding.
In the politically and geographically diverse settings of the Aleppo countryside, Sweida, Deir ez-Zor, Afrin, Idlib, Raqqa and Qamishli, these organizations are engaging over 500 young people in activities designed to discourage violence, extremism and hate speech; forge peaceful inter-group relationships; promote gender equity; facilitate democratic community participation; involve youths in decision-making; understand the motives of joining extremist groups; and study the impacts of displacement. PAX also organizes events and seminars where hundreds of Syrian youths interact with and influence local and national political leaders and international agencies.
Bringing true transformation to Turkey
The erosion of democracy is making it increasingly difficult for Turkish citizens to assert their rights. To counter this trend, Development and Peace’s partner, MAD, is helping the youth resist policies that negatively transform their urban and rural spaces.
MAD’s “Our Neighbourhood” walks familiarize participants with the history and heritage of Istanbul neighbourhoods and the urban transformations that endanger them. Walkers create participatory maps on which they identify landmarks, institutions and facilities that they cherish. MAD is now producing a documentary film based on these walks. In select rural areas in Northern Turkey, similar walks are highlighting citizens’ concerns about the ecological and economic impacts of energy and mining projects.
To foster debate on the risks posed by unthought urban and rural development, MAD is deploying a host of youth-friendly social media messages, videos, and print articles. Its Online Citizen News Agency for Territorial/Spatial Justice and Summer School for Urban Environmental Justice are enabling and educating young activists to work for social, economic and ecological justice. MAD is also working to publicize other agencies’ legal battles for environmental causes.
A far-reaching investment
In war-ravaged Syria and authoritarian Turkey, Development and Peace and its partners are giving youths the platform and the power to shape the future of their societies. This important, far-reaching work is only possible with your support. Please give now, so that we can continue helping young people fulfill their potential and forge their futures.