This year, from the 10-20th of July, PATRIR and its partner organisations brought together 70 peacebuilders and activists from around the world. Coming from Argentina, Armenia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Egypt, France, Germany, Guatemala, India, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Lebanon, Libya, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Romania, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, the UAE, the UK, the USA and Vietnam, some of our participants and trainers represented organisations, while others came because of their personal interest and journeys towards peace.
The International Youth Forum took place in the mountains of Transylvania, where the mornings brought stunning sunrises over the valleys and the nights brought clear night skies and campfires (when they didn’t bring thunderstorms and rain!). Such a peaceful setting was perfect for morning strolls, for those who didn’t take part in morning yoga or enjoy a coffee on the terrace.
We started our journey by coming together to talk about the challenges facing the world today, and we were able to hear about what had brought each person here – what they were passionate about, what changes they wanted to make in the world, and what they wanted to get out of Global Youth Rising. Some had come because they were passionate activists in their own countries, others because they wanted to learn more about peace. We heard about human rights abuses, discrimination, environmental challenges and peace education from around the world as each of us shared our motivations for coming to Global Youth Rising.
After a day of reflection, where our reflection groups were first created, participants were able to get to know each other in the evening through a Living Library exercise. Looking back on the experiences that had shaped and defined them, everybody wrote down the title that they would have if their life were a book. Others selected the book they would most like to read and were able to “borrow” that person to hear their stories; a beautiful way to start truly getting to know each other.
The following days brought together an array of workshops – often too many to choose from! Participants were given the chance to focus on peacebuilding, learning lessons from the field and inspiring examples of real change; about Monitoring and Evaluation; Peace Education; EU Advocacy; Conflict Analysis, and many other topics. Those who wanted to learn to manage their emotions and develop inner peace were able to sign up to a 3-day workshop from the International Association of Human Values, who specialise in using breathing techniques to help people in the field of peacebuilding deal with trauma and difficult emotions.
In the evenings, we shared campfires, danced together, watched documentaries and heard some moving and inspiring stories from some of our trainers. Jo Berry, Bjørn Ihler and Asma Khalifa shared their experiences of trauma, but each one shared how they had learnt to humanise the person or people who had caused their suffering – a powerful reminder that those of us who commit to peacebuilding need to practice peace not only in our everyday lives but when we are faced with painful, and at times life-shaking, situations.
The following morning, we woke up to news of the attack in Nice; another stark reminder of why we are doing what we do. Later that evening, news of the military coup in Turkey arrived. In the mountains, where things were safe and peaceful, we might have felt detached and a million miles away from everything; but when members of our group were from France or lived in Turkey, the reality didn’t feel very far from home. Some of us reported feeling small – as if nothing we did could make a difference. In response to that, some of us came together with Erika Kulnys (a powerful singer-songwriter who focuses on social justice themes) and wrote a song. While a song can’t always change the world, it can remind us that most people in the world want peace, and that we are always able to turn to each other when the skies are stormy.
On Saturday, we had a day to relax and explore some of the nearby sights (or to sleep in late!). Some went on a city break to the historical city of Sibiu, while others were able to see Sighisoara, hometown of Vlad “Dracula” Tepes. Sadly, the planned hike wasn’t able to happen due to thunderstorms and pouring rain, although a handful of our participants stayed behind at the hotel and had their own hike in the mountains surrounding the hotel.
Over the next few days, PAX joined us and brought some of their Activist Hive workshops to Global Youth Rising, including the Activist Lab where participants created campaigns in 30 minutes and Activist TV, where powerful 1-2 minute films were made over the course of a couple of hours. Workshops gradually gave way to action groups as a lot of our participants and trainers were fired up and ready to start building plans and projects to actually do something. In just two days, we filmed a solidarity video for Black Lives Matter, worked on a statement as a response to events in Nice, learnt and filmed choreography for the Break the Chain dance (for One Billion Rising), while several new ideas and collaborations were formed and will continue to be worked on over the coming months.
Our evenings were inspired by some participants’ TED-style talks, where we learnt about Nineveh under Da’esh occupation, how social media brought about revolutionary change in Guatemala, about V-day and One Billion Rising’s campaign to end sexual violence against women, a community created for peace in Portugal, peace journalism in Lebanon, the Black Lives Matter movement in the US, the Japanese government’s Ship for Youth Peace programme, and the creation of the Peace Science Digest. We also shared an Open Mic night where we were able to discover how talented so many of our participants and trainers are – it turns out we have a lot of talented poets, singers, and dancers in the world of peacebuilding!
On the last day, we heard about all the new ideas and projects that are being dreamt up and started, but it
was also a day to reflect on what we had learnt and what we would take forward with us both personally and professionally. We ended with a beautiful graduation ceremony, where 1-2 people were invited to give appreciation to each person as they received their certificate. The result was a lot of hugs, and a lot of love being shared – a lot of solid friendships were definitely created during our 10 days in the mountains!
Now, as we return back to our ‘real lives’ post-GYR, we have heard that a few people have felt down, lonely, perhaps frustrated as their enthusiasm is dismissed as naïve idealism by friends or family members. It can be difficult to keep the momentum going, to stay motivated in our quest to make the world a better place when we are not surrounded with people just as passionate as we are. But we will all stay in touch via the Facebook group and our working groups focusing on specific issues, and we will always be able to support and motivate each other when things seem tough. And, of course, we can always meet again… at Global Youth Rising 2017!
What some of our participants said about their experience:
“As a peacebuilder and attendee of Global Youth Rising 2016, my life has transformed by all of what I learned in the workshop series and in the many conversations I’ve had with fellow peacebuilders. I am peace. I am love. I am beauty. I am power. This is to be conveyed in all that I do.” Thea Matthews, USA
“Having not fully immersed myself in peacebuilding, GYR helped me become clear about where I wanted to get involved, how to do that/which organisations are around and I was able to meet the most incredible and diverse of people in the process. A life changing event for me!” Josh Oliver, UK
“Global Youth Rising is about recognising values in every one of us and be ready to collectively contribute to a more inclusive world. Everyone has something to offer and this forum gives you the opportunity to open up and with your gift to build a united and diverse peace.” Sophie Helle, Switzerland
“Young people have a power to change the world to better. Only thing they need is to be connected and helped in raising their potential. Global Youth Rising is doing both: connecting and empowering Global Youth.” Katerina Reslova, Czech Republic
“Awareness of our self in the paradigm of the current world is (everything?) we all need to cultivate inner peace and empathy to transcend our egos and difference, and include and feel for the other. GYR gives a hands-on powerful and life-changing experience where global connections and perspectives and made to expand our consciousness.” Anirudh Goel, India