‘YMCA’s young people are peace-workers in everything they do’

‘In this, the season of peace and goodwill, we must be at peace, and we must be promoters of peace’, said World YMCA Secretary General Carlos Sanvee at the World YMCA webinar on 14 December 2021 on the role of young people in creating peace and security in their communities. 

‘If the UN were at this event, it would know just how important a partner we are. But we have a long way to go.’

‘Peace and its opposites – be it war or lack of wellbeing – are as much about young people as older people’, he said. 

He went on to catalogue a number of places in the world in which YMCAs are continuing to operate and serve communities in conflict situations, including Ethiopia, East Jerusalem and Gaza, Ukraine, Myanmar. 

He stressed the linkage of young people’s work as agents of peace with the global Movement’s commitment to supporting Youth-Led Solutions, and also the linkage of peace work with YMCA Vision 2030: ‘Peace is embedded in each of the four pillars of YMCA Vision 2030: Community Wellbeing; Meaningful Work; Sustainable Planet; and Just World.’

Milla Makinen, International Programmes Specialist at YMCA Finland, told the 10-year story of how her country was the first to develop a National Action Plan in response to the 2015 UN Security Council Resolution on Youth Peace and Security (UNSCR 2250). YMCA Finland played a key role among Finnish civil society in developing the Plan, and a 2018 study showed how its branches were actively involved in all five UNSCR 2250 pillars of ‘participation’, ‘protection’, ‘prevention’, ‘partnerships’, and ‘reintegration’.

John Charles Njie, National General Secretary of YMCA Gambia, described a 40-year partnership between Gambia and Finland, focussing on areas like Peace Ambassador training, youth peace and security conferences, advocacy on irregular migration, interfaith dialogue and more. ‘We want to see our young people play their part in politics’, he said. ‘I’m very proud of the election monitoring work done by YMCA Gambia in the recent 2021 Gambian Presidential election.’

Pelisa Camagu, Youth Justice Coordinator at YMCA Nelson Mandela Bay in South Africa, spoke of her national context, in which young people had been at the centre of rioting and looting in July 2021. She described her YMCA’s programmes in active citizenship and building resilience and entrepreneurship skills.

 

Niclas Sannerheim, International Secretary at YMCA-YWCA Sweden, showed a powerful film outlining YMCA Sweden’s response to the UNSCR 2250. He outlined partnerships on peace work with other YMCAs such as South Africa, Ukraine, Ghana, Togo, Madagascar, Palestine and Senegal, and shared UN Guidelines on how to operationalise UNSCR 2250.  

‘Do we in the YMCA feel like peace-workers?’ he asked. ‘Not always – but that’s what we are. Peace is integral to everything we do.’

Vardan Hambardzumyan, YMCA Europe Executive Secretary and coordinator of Roots for Peace, gave an overview of the programme which aims at establishing peace and justice through empowering young people to transform conflicts.  Since 2007, Roots for Peace has enrolled some 2,500 participants from 45 countries, and in 2021 it has supported peace projects in Ukraine, Kosovo, Georgia and Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), and recently run events in Budapest and Tbilisi.  YMCA Kosovo was the Roots Peace Award winner in 2021.

‘YMCA is all about creating safe spaces’, he said, ‘and safe spaces are integral to peace. So ‘Roots’ builds bridges. We don’t need to be a big conglomerate: what matters is that we have and that we use to the full our shared learning platform.’

The webinar then split into breakout groups, exploring the peace work of YMCAs worldwide and how and if it could be linked to UNSCR 2250. Testimony was heard from countries including Niger, the Philippines (where a National Action Plan is also underway), and most movingly from Myanmar, recalling a World YMCA feature story of 24 September 2021 on ‘Inside YMCA Myanmar: three beacons of resilience, service and hope’.

 

FOOTNOTE:

Join the High-Level Global Conference on Youth-Inclusive Peace Processes (20-21 January 2022). The fully virtual conference is designed to celebrate and acknowledge the powerful role that young people play in building and sustaining peace around the world.

This is a milestone moment for the Youth, Peace & Security (YPS) agenda globally, making it a critical opportunity to engage and familiarize new audiences with this important work. The reality is that young people all around the world — regardless of whether they are living in a conflict-affected country or not — have a valuable role to play in peace processes.

The event is hosted at the initiative of the Governments of Qatar, Finland and Colombia and supported by the UN Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Search for Common Ground, UNDPPA, UN Women, UNDP, UNFPA, the United Network of Young Peacebuilders (UNOY), and Education Above All.