by Christine Odera (YES 2010-2011, Kenya, hosted by AFS in Sheboygan, WI)
Since returning from the USA, I’ve been an active alumna in Kenya and am currently the YES alumni president. During my YES year, I learned so much about community service, American culture, government and systems. This exposure to different ideas and perspectives led me to become curious about other western systems and how their interactions with the US work successfully, and that is how I started working with the Commonwealth Youth Division on peace and security issues. The Commonwealth Youth Council acts as a coalition of national youth councils and other youth-led civil society and private sector bodies from across the 53 member countries of the Commonwealth.
I finished my degree in international relations with a major in Peace and Conflict studies and a minor in communications. I know the world has so much to offer, and since conflict and insecurity dominated the news, I was more than willing to offer myself to help address the endemic nature of conflict, especially among young people.
Last spring, I was selected as a youth delegate to the Commonwealth Youth Forum, which was held in London alongside the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). I played a lead role in encouraging heads of government to adopt the ground-breaking United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250 (UNSCR2250) on youth peace and security. The resolution identifies five key pillars for action: participation, protection, prevention, partnerships, and disengagement and reintegration. This landmark resolution urges member states to give youth a greater voice in decision-making at the local, national, regional and international levels and to consider setting up mechanisms that would enable young people to participate meaningfully in peace processes.
I currently serve as the country coordinator for the Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassadors Network (CYPAN) which brings together young people from across the Commonwealth to upscale and optimise grassroots, national, regional and pan-Commonwealth efforts to promote peace, respect and understanding and prevent violent extremism. CYPAN aims at fostering collaboration between members and creates space for policy advocacy as it relates to peace and countering violent extremism. It is an initiative that is completely youth-led and supported by the Commonwealth Secretariat. We realised that, though the resolution was for and by the youth, most of the young people affected by violence and working at the grassroots level were unaware of the resolution, so we set out to reach out to more young people, especially those involved at the grassroots level.
To capacity build, I was able to conduct a pilot in the three big cities in Kenya: Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu. The pilot involved outreach to youth through sports, forums, training and youth assemblies where they could talk about their issues and how they have been affected while also seeking possible solutions.
Youth living in slums and school-age youth have been affected, as terrorist groups have been recruiting from and targeting schools. Peace is a product of good governance, justice, employment, respect of human rights and mental health, among other issues. The youth gatherings help us address the key, underlying issues, raise awareness of the UN Security Council Resolution and reach out to governments in partnership.
The progress study on UNSCR2250 found that there is no correlation between growing youth populations and violence; young people are not drawn to violence simply because of lack of employment or education and hard-fisted approaches to violent extremism can be counter- productive. Programs such as YES, where people learn how to interact with people from many different cultures, learn different perspectives and break stereotypes, are much more effective.
Young people need to help change the mentality that they are always the perpetrators while most of them advocate for peace. I continue to seek more ways to increase engagement in three key ways that have been proven to successfully engage youth: investing in young people, including young people in key political participations and negotiations, and youth partnerships being made mandatory where diverse youth are consulted on the impact of policies and practises and work in partnership with relevant Ministries.