Mirror Magazine

We are the world
Esther Williams takes a look at the International Youth Conference organised by the Centre for Poverty Analysis
“Youth are considered by many to be disruptive, troublesome and a problem component of the society. However they do have potential and are not completely helpless,” explained coordinator of the Poverty and Youth Programme of the Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA), Claudia Ibarguen speaking at the launch of the International Youth Conference that was held at the Colombo Plaza between October 25 and 30, 2004.

Organised by CEPA and the University of Colombo, the theme of the conference was ‘The Role of Youth in Sustainable and Peaceful Development.’ About 70 participants from South Asia, South East Asia and Europe attended the meeting, which comprised intergenerational discussions among a cross section of students, academicians, researchers and members from organisations working with youth.

Development is about the future. Yet the people who make decisions about development are often in their forties or older. It is one of the paradoxes of development that young people, the ones who are supposed to benefit most from it, have the least say in the process. This is especially true in Asia, where traditions of social hierarchy and respect for elders strongly influence discussion between young people and their seniors. These traditions impact on development in many different ways, sometimes to its detriment. The conference was organised with this in mind.

“It is an opportunity for people from different backgrounds to share their experiences on how youth can be successfully integrated into all areas of development,” Claudia said. She further spoke of the three main themes that will be explored during the conference: (1) Youth and learning – to see how learning goes beyond the classroom; how schools can adopt new strategies to develop new skills of communication; to experience inter-generational learning. (2) Economic opportunities for youth – In the process of liberal open economy in the region, some youth have been included and many not. This topic would look at how youth can be integrated into employment and economic activities.

(3) Supporting youth participation – Youth can participate more in developmental activities. Can the government facilitate more youth participation? While all the above mentioned topics were dealt with simultaneously, the youth panel will dialogue on how they would pursue the challenges facing them.

Representing the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development in Bonn, Germany, Michaela Passlick (desk officer for the Department of Youth and Children) said that although they were no blue prints for development, young people were an important target group, increasingly being recognised as active participants. She stressed the need to find ways how to make development cooperation work for young adults and how to push youth into priority areas.

The conference was sponsored by the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), an international organisation working in 130 countries towards sustainable development with worldwide operations. It provides viable futuristic solutions for political, economic, ecological and social development in a globalised world and seeks to promote complex reforms and change processes, often working under difficult conditions.

GTZ’s director general (Asia/Latin America), Gunther Dresrusse spoke at the launch. “Young people are the future of our society and economy and they should be considered ‘change agents for development.’ We have to learn from them rather than the other way around,” he said.

Mr. Dresrusse is also of the opinion that development is always for the future generation as it often takes a generation for results to show. He promotes the inclusion of youth in decision-making as he says, “Young people are creative.

They always find new approaches to a problem.” Professor of Sociology, University of Colombo, S.T. Hettige stressed that the event was not academic. “It is an encounter between academics, development practitioners and youth that promises an interesting exchange of opinions,” he said. For university students he said it would be a transition from purely academic nature of learning to practical ways.

The exchange that this conference would provide is expected to facilitate an on-going process of dialogue between groups and further networking between organisations around the world.


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