NET-MED Youth Inspire and Engage Through Creative International Youth Day Celebrations
They speak with one voice. They volunteer for civic engagement and active youth participation. They chose to take time off their summer vacation to inspire others to get involved in their communities. They are the young women and men of UNESCO’s Networks of Mediterranean Youth (NET-MED Youth) from Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine and Tunisia.
The International Youth Day takes place on August 12, but the celebrations of NET-MED Youth members have gone beyond the one day. This year’s theme is “Youth Civic Engagement”, and the second half of August has indeed been a period full of youth activities in different countries, where young women and men addressed the issues that affect them and that they care about through a series of creative workshops, talks, interactive campaigns and contests.
NET-MED Youth took the chance of the International Youth Day to showcase the exceptional potential of youth and how their innovative initiatives can contribute to the sustainable development of their societies. It was also an opportunity for young women and men to advocate for youth inclusion and to draw attention to the existing challenges towards their civic participation.
Algeria: We are all agents of change
In Algeria, NET-MED Youth collaborated with the United Nations Information Center (UNIC), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Sidra youth association to organize the UN Forum for Algerian Youth on August 12, 2015, in Algiers.
Over 120 young women and men from different civil society organizations in Algeria participated in the Forum. The day’s programme was rich and participatory. It included mini-talks and discussions that aimed at encouraging and promoting youth civic engagement through live, inspiring success stories of young Algerians whose projects have had an impact on their communities.
In small groups, participants also benefited from interactive workshops on civic engagement, education and employment, health, environment and sustainable development. These activities, and others throughout the day, were key tools to encourage young Algerians to use their creativity and potential to develop projects and carry out positive actions liable to contribute to building a sustainable and inclusive society.
“Civic engagement means that a young individual gives an extra something to their society, aside from studies and work. It means to be part of local development… to not think that it is only the state’s responsibility. Today we are all key players.” Meriem Chikirou, Project Coordinator at Sidra Association.
Lebanon: Living together for better or for worse
For each different context, a different solution. In Lebanon, and after a few productive brainstorming sessions, young members of NET-MED Youth decided to organize a series of summer camps on social cohesion that embody their civic engagement and that go beyond the International Youth Day on August 12. August 7 marked, indeed, the start of this initiative that aims at promoting understanding and at decreasing the social tensions between the Lebanese and Syrian refugees living in Lebanon.
The first phase of the summer camps was a training of young trainers, for both interested youth and youth members of NGOs. Around a panoply of workshops, talks and cultural activities, young Lebanese and young Syrian refugees got together and shared their personal experiences, their realities and their hopes to live together in harmony.
“This three-day summer camp was a turning point for me,” says Houda Bitar, founder of the Innovation Club and member of NET-MED Youth in Lebanon. “After listening to the thoughts and feelings of our Syrian peers, and hearing about the tough challenges they have to go through in life, I now understand how hard things are for them, and how hard it is to try to be part of a new community.”
Following the same vibe and the same target population, another phase of the summer camp started on August 8, for children this time. Youth trainers planned art activities to teach children basic concepts of social cohesion and tolerance. A third phase is expected to take place towards the end of September.
For International Youth Day, UNESCO office in Beirut organized on August 12 a seminar on Training Needs and Youth Employment in Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs). Members of NET-MED Youth participated in the event, alongside other organizations and experts, and discussed – among other topics – policies and ways youth can better access the job market and be key players in its sustainability.
Morocco: A sneak peek through the lens
“Chabab” (i.e., “youth” in Arabic) are the pillars of the NET-MED Youth project. “Chabab” is also the title of a documentary by Moroccan producer Zakia Tahiri.
In partnership with the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme, UNICEF, UNFPA and the Moroccan Association des Rencontres Méditerranéennes du Cinéma et des Droits de l’Homme, UNESCO’s NET-MED Youth aired “Chabab,” on August 5 in Rabat, to the wide public, and for free, to celebrate International Youth Day 2015 in Morocco.
Through vivid and powerful images, and in their own voice, seven youth aged 18 to 25 tell their stories in the documentary. Despite their different backgrounds (working, unemployed, city- and country-side-dwellers, etc.), they all share their fears, challenges, perceptions of their social, cultural and political environments, and hopes for a better future.
The documentary, which was produced this year, was followed by a discussion session with the producer and representatives of youth civil society organizations. A moment of reflection and free expression proved important on this occasion. The attendance had a chance to reflect upon the salient issues and challenges affecting youth in Morocco, and to discuss the different ways through which Moroccan youth are and can be involved in their society.
Palestine: A brush stroke for youth
The city of Gaza lived on a new vibe on September 9. Gaza was the venue of a mural painting activity that gathered 64 Palestinian young women and men artists aged between 18 and 35. UNESCO’s Ramallah Office in Palestine celebrated the International Youth Day this year in color, in cooperation with the General Union for Cultural Centers (GUCC), an NGO member of the NET-MED Youth network in Gaza.
"Art, to me, is the finest way to express ideas and send messages,” says Fidaa’ Hasanat, a participating artist. “I draw in yellow because it is the color of energy and future. And I believe that youth are the future.”
Young members of NET-MED Youth in Palestine proposed this activity to celebrate the International Youth Day 2015 in a creative and engaging way using urban art as an advocacy tool. The artists used the northern wall of UNRWA’s compound to create a mural on canvas about youth issues and ambitions.
“With this painting, we want to break the Palestinian national record for the longest mural and for the highest number of participating artists, to be an expression of youth aspirations and hopes,” says Reema Khalil Salem, NET-MED Youth Coordinator in Gaza.
The painting created under the theme "Youth and Civic Engagement" is 100 meters long and 1m60 wide. The previous national record was for an 80-meter long mural in 2013. The new mural succeeded also in breaking the national record for the number of artists, as the previous one gathered only 15 contributors.
Tunisia: Your fingerprint to open the vault of ideas
With an active civil society, Tunisia marked the International Youth Day on August 12th this year with a new formula that aims at reinforcing the civic engagement, political participation and advocacy of young women and men in issues related to youth and their fundamental rights.
A new and diverse program was proposed and organized by young members of four youth organizations part of the NET-MED Youth group in Tunisia, with the technical and financial support of UNESCO. With a full house composed of representatives of youth organizations, institutional partners, young civil society leaders and young politicians and parliamentarians, the agenda offered the 100+ participants opportunities for talks, networking sessions, group work, workshops and even music and a poetry breaks.
The most prominent and key addition to the day’s agenda remains the Tunisian Youth Cares Challenge, a competition among seven youth organizations coming from seven regions across Tunisia to craft and present the best, and winning, idea related to youth civic engagement and sustainable development. The winning team, We Love Zaghouan, received the prize for their project on ecotourism.
The celebrations of the International Youth Day in Tunisia started earlier with a week-long campaign on social media titled “Be young and leave your fingerprint” (كون شاب و خلي بصمتك). The campaign has engaged youth to share their views on and ideas for civic engagement through an interactive platform that integrates their statements into a visual. The campaign is still ongoing on Facebook.
“We want to show our community that young people, civil society and NGOs are doing a lot of work in Tunisia and that youth do have a vision for the future,” says Abdelaziz Bousleh, Association 2 Mains tu crées and member of NET-MED Youth.
All these activities by committed members of a growing NET-MED Youth network, and in cooperation with other UN agencies and partners, come at a crucial time as today’s societies are in need for a renewed energy, and a breath of fresh and youthful air that embodies the universal United Nations values of participation, freedom and leadership.
Activities building skills among youth organizations and young journalists; to enhance youth representation in media and promote freedom of expression, media and information literacy and youth-generated media content.
Activities joining youth organizations, employment experts and different national stakeholders to engage in dialogue and work together on unemployment solutions and skills needs.
Activities empowering youth to participate in the communal and national development, revision and implementation of national youth strategies and public policies.