Interview with Two Young Peacebuilders: Unlocking the Potential of Youth-led Peacebuilding

Interview with Rezha Alausy Fauzan and Vera Al-Mawla

A mural painted by young activists in Sudan.

On May 5, young peacebuilders, international donors, and supporters of the Youth, Peace & Security agenda will come together at the Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development 2021. We reflected on the moment with two young peacebuilders: Rezha Alausy Fauzan, Advisor with Young Interfaith Peacemaker Community Indonesia, and Vera Al-Mawla, President and Co-Founder of the Lebanese NGO Peace of Art — both of whom have taken part in our Youth 360 pilot programs.

What motivated you to start working on peace and inclusion issues?

Vera: I have always wanted to find a way to foster acceptance and coexistence in my society, where villages have been divided into religious and conflict-affected islands since the Lebanese Civil War. I was born and raised in a multi-religious and multicultural family myself. I wanted to help bring this acceptance, diversity, and harmony to my community. With my peers, we were able to see that youth were highly drawn to arts, especially in marginalized areas, and so we created the first artistic, civic, and safe space for youth of different religions, nationalities, genders, and origins to meet and learn to accept their differences.

“I was born and raised in a multi-religious and multicultural family myself. I wanted to help bring this acceptance, diversity, and harmony to my community.” — Vera

Rezha: I grew up in a very homogenous culture in the sense that it was exclusive and the education system was narrow-minded and passive. I was lacking critical thinking skills and had no experience of a pluralistic society. It was a life-changing experience when I started to meet people with different backgrounds, particularly hearing from minority groups and other people that my society and education had taught me were “bad”. I could see the reality of deep intolerance in my society, and I wanted to help address it.

Why is the perspective of the youth important to incorporate in peacebuilding?

“If we want real peace in the world, we have to start with young people.” — Rezha

Vera: If young people become aware leaders and peacebuilders, they will be able to target the roots of conflict and discrimination, having lived the hardships of this conflict from the days of their parents. Young people have a wide vision and a great capacity to harness today’s technology and other resources to build a better and more sustainable community based on acceptance and coexistence. Young people are learning how to accept and embrace diversity, which is a key to prospering as communities.

Rezha: I believe that if we want real peace in the world, we have to start with young people. Most of the conflicts and violence that occur are inherited from older generations, yet younger generations are the ones most affected. Young people have felt the impact of violence and have an important perspective on how the violence should end. Empowering youth will automatically break the chain of inherited violence. Investing in youth means investing in the present and in a better future.

How does your contribution to peacebuilding differ as a young person?

Vera: My contribution differs because I understand the needs, perspectives, and language of youth and I refuse the prejudice of the older generations, based on the context of their time. As youth we came of age in an era when all information is accessible. We can connect with people all around the world and share experiences without barriers.

Rezha: Young people have a great potential as agents of change. Amid intense social inequality, we can be excellent “connectors”. We are present in the midst of the conflict at the grassroot level and can contribute there. We can also have influence over the government and decision makers, by mobilizing on direct and grassroots advocacy. Young people also bring energy, creativity, and innovation to peacebuilding.

What roadblocks have you faced as you tried to carry out your work?

Vera: At the beginning of our work, we did not have the skills to write professional funding proposals, even though the team had great ideas and a strong pool of young professionals to implement them. We managed to find different ways to fundraise for our activities and implement them with the help of volunteers. Over time we have built the team’s capacities in proposal writing, but the lack of resources meant we couldn’t do many of the initiatives we planned. For example, we wanted to provide young people with access to a safe and dedicated sports ground as a first-of-its-kind place to meet, learn new skills, and express their ideas in creative ways that can reach any audience.

“As youth we came of age in an era when all information is accessible. We can connect with people all around the world and share experiences without barriers.” — Vera

Rezha: The roadblocks that I faced when I tried to get resources are limited funding opportunities, lack of trust in young people, and security issues. Young people are still considered too inexperienced to take part in peacebuilding efforts. Even if we are involved, we often aren’t considered as real partners or leaders. As such, young people lose opportunities to learn and make big changes around them that could break the cycles of violence. In addition, young people are very vulnerable to persecution and other security risks; there is often a lack of concern for young peacebuilders’ security. Facing risks and insecurity, youth can be too afraid to take on a role in building peace.

Can you share a time when you have felt like a real and equal partner with an international NGO or donor?

Vera: As funding recipients under the UN Alliance of Civilizations’ (UNAOC) Youth Solidarity Fund, the donor was very flexible with us. UNAOC’s team in partnership with Search for Common Ground followed up with our team and mentored us to help us change and enhance our project based on the challenges we were facing, as well as improve our management and financial skills. The team was always ready to share recommendations and help us find a way to solve any challenges we had. UNAOC also invited me to be part of the selection committee for the following edition of the Youth Solidarity Fund, which was a very enriching experience where I truly felt like an equal partner to UNAOC. Another positive experience is being part of the United Network of Young (UNOY) Peacebuilders, where, as members, we are always part of building the strategy and our voices are always heard.

“When everything feels heavy, try to learn, work together, and unite with other young peacebuilders.” — Rezha

Rezha: In 2020, we had the opportunity to join the Asian #Youth4Peace program 2020 organized by UNOY Peacebuilders. We have never been part of an international program before and had limited knowledge and language skills, so we were worried that it would be complicated for us. But all that worry was for nothing. The program gave us space and time to learn, discuss, and collaborate with fellow participants. When our program secured a funding grant, it was really thanks to the feedback and support from the mentors and the collaborative young colleagues in our mentor group. We felt like a real and equal partner with an international NGO and donor, which we had not in other similar programs. I hope that many other young peacebuilders at grassroots level will have the opportunity to experience such partnership and develop their huge potential.

Do you have any advice you would like to give to other younger people who want to enter this field?

Vera: Young people have what is needed to create a different society where everyone is accepted. We also have the support from international entities who listen to us. Today we have the chance to make our voices heard around the world and build partnerships and networks to end violence and hate from the roots. Anyone who is willing to fight hate and violence can be a peacebuilder. We just need to stand together, learn from each other’s experiences, and collaborate to share resources, knowledge, and skills.

Rezha: To build a positive peace is the most difficult but meaningful work we young people can do. When everything feels heavy, try to learn, work together, and unite with other young peacebuilders — then you will know that we are stronger than we realize.

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