Representing TYO in Kenya

Last week, I participated in the Youth Solidarity Fund (YSF) Evaluation Workshop in Nairobi, Kenya. The conference, hosted by the United Nations Alliance of Civilization (UNAOC), brought together YSF grantees from across the global for three days of discussion and evaluation regarding the successes and challenges stirred up by our projects. The initiatives designed and implemented by YSF grantees addressed an impressive range of community needs including interfaith dialogue, civic engagement, health awareness and youth leadership training. I represented the Kalimatna Initiative (Arabic: Our Words), a 2010 project of TYO funded by YSF that brought together teams of American and Palestinian university students to engage in intercultural dialogue through multimedia production.

The workshop sessions ranged in theme and scope: we heard from Madame Ambassador Sofie From-Emmesberger, Ambassador of Finland to Kenya, about why the Finish government invests in children and youth worldwide; we learned that some of the YSF grantees were able to continue their projects to date through new partnerships; we discussed the values underpinning sustainability and the necessity of planning for sustainability from a project’s onset; we heard from each other regarding innovative work in Pakistan, Malawi, the United States and the Philippines.

Throughout these discussions, I noticed a few themes to what youth-leaders were discussing:

1) Youth are politically marginalized. Traditionally youth are viewed as part of their country’s social and political problems either due to unsuccessful integration into civil and political society or lack of awareness regarding their rights and potential roles in decision-making frameworks.

2) Youth are unemployed worldwide. Unemployment together with political marginalization leads to a negative outlook and creates space for youth to be vulnerable to engagement in violence and conflict.

3) Youth are vulnerable to the status quo. Bias, prejudice and misgivings are easily passed from generation to generation. Physical and metaphorical barriers between communities engender continued misunderstandings, estrangement and fear.

With these challenges in mind, almost all of the projects presented capitalized on youth’s potential to contribute to their communities rather than its problems. For example, many projects used the train-the-trainers model: identifying youth leaders and providing training that would allow them to engage and train other youth in their area. This approach allowed project leaders to exponentially multiply their impact and ensure credibility, ownership and project longevity.

Other projects focused on confronting cultural and ethnic diversity in countries such as Nigeria, Serbia, the United States and Bosnia and Herzegovina. These projects focused on effective ways to educate and raise awareness that challenged the status quo including a billboard campaign that acknowledged ethnic diversity, support from faith-based leaders and community elders and direct engagement retreats that built trust and provided opportunities for dialogue. These projects demonstrated that youth-led initiatives pave the way for present and future integration and partnership.

Three days of conversation were not nearly enough. The challenges and successes of our projects were numerous and interconnected, and the topics covered by the UNAOC were an opportune place to envision the future of our work. The pace with which we created strong personal bonds and welcomed the opportunity to work collaboratively was truly remarkable. In the last moments, legs were put on a plan to create an Alumni Network to mentor future YSF grantees.

I am not only incredibly grateful that I was able to take part, but renewed, reenergized and looking forward to collaborating with these youth leaders in the future.


Chelsey is the former Intern Coordinator