I would like to highlight a few sessions that stood out to me. One was on The Role of Education in Sustainable Development during which the importance of learning about ones cultural history was stressed, as was multicultural education from early childhood. Integrating cultural competency in the school curriculum through diverse representation of ethnicities in textbooks and world history, mastering multiple languages, international exchanges and schools that encourage enrolment by individuals of a variety of ethnic backgrounds were suggested as methods to achieve this goal. The value of learning outside of the classroom – e.g. within the family, peer education and non-cognitive methodology through such avenues as arts and sports programs that would encourage emotional expression – was also emphasized. One member of the audience who had lived in many different countries throughout his young life made a poignant statement: “we all are minorities in the world.”
Secondly, the Youth for Development: Partners and Agents of Change session was particularly interesting. Ms. Natalie Forcier – an American panelist residing in South Sudan, who is also the Consultant and Managing Director of Forcier Consulting – shared some of her experiences in a country where cultural diversity is said to have led to war. She said that “young people are the building blocks of a country’s economy” and in South Sudan they comprise the majority of the population. Although young people have often been associated with violence, Ms. Forcier said it is important to understand the roots of youth conflict through research. It is vital that politicians have faith in young people and give them real opportunities, she urged. In fact, another panelist said that not only do young people need more courage to be a part of the political processes, but senior members of society also need the courage to have them involved. In addition, audience member and representative of Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) Germany, Sarah Simmank, stated that young people not only need a platform to share their views, but they must also be given the power and opportunity to participate in the decision making and implementation processes. “Youth is the present not the future” added a young male panelist from French-speaking Africa. What he meant was that if youth are to contribute to society as youth we cannot be given the power to do so when we are 40. Instead, we must be given such opportunities now while we are young and in tune with the youth issues that exist.
Lastly, in the session titled Muslim-Western relations: ten years past 9/11?, it was asserted by multiple panelists that the main relational problem is that the real social and economic issues have not been addressed. “We have to change the facts on the ground so that people form opinions of others on the basis of the facts on the ground that are considered to be fair and just” one panelist said. If Westerners believe that Muslims are human beings then that should come before their religious affinities and vice versa said panelist Mr. Ahmed Younis, Senior Analyst of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies in the United States (U.S.). He also told Muslims not to allow the West to define them: “ghetto is a state of mind.”
The Rio+20 Global Youth Music Contest: a project that contributes to the UNAOC goals lab session was also interesting as it is an exciting opportunity for young people to express themselves creatively, while learning about the important topic of sustainable development. Winners of the contest (www.glocha.info) will have the opportunity to perform at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20 Earth Summit) which is to be held in June of this year in Brazil. I was also informed, by Dr. Tom Gage of Humboldt State University (Arcata, California, U.S.), about an educational exchange opportunity for international high school students to spend time in both Washington D.C. and New York City where, among other activities, they will meet with U.S. Congress members. It is known as the Gulen Institute Youth Platform 2012 – An International High School Essay Contest (www.gulenyouthplatform.org).