Written by Melvin Sharty from UNOY member Youth Participation in Peace and Development – Sierra Leone.
Among many opportunities that have built my capacity professionally was my inclusion in a research project with the main aim to contribute to an increasing evidence-based approach to policies and programming related to youth, peace and security. The project was coordinated by the International Secretariat of the United Network of Young Peacebuilders with the support of USAID’s YouthPower Learning Grant and in collaboration with our organization – Youth Participation in Peace and Development – Sierra Leone (YPPD-SL) – as well as three other UNOY member organizations based in Libya, Colombia and Afghanistan. YPPD-SL work is geared towards enhancing the capacity of youths to be self-starters in the positive and peaceful coexistence that is needed for the wellbeing of the communities they live in. As a member of YPPD-SL, I was selected through a rigorous process to participate in the study.
“Being a local researcher brings opportunity for testing one’s personal leadership skills as well as helping you to understand mediation, dialogue, opinion and perspectives. It gives you the opportunity to build lasting relationships and professional network with informants.”
I saw my participation in the study as a significant process by conducting a series of conversations with peers (youth), interviews with organizations, agencies and institutions that are youth-led or provide services to youth, and organize Focus Group Discussions with government and security personnel that were not part of the conversations. At first, my initial perception was that I was going to the field to meet respondents and to just have conversations but later, after a series of coaching from UNOY’s Lead Researcher and reflection meeting with peer local researchers, I discover that with the skills I learned, I was able to deal with sensitive issues like assuring respondents of their security while establishing a professional relationship with them. Meeting government officials, I understood the power of seeking consent and dialogue to get them to discuss objectively about young people and their role. For many youth I met, I learned that empathy goes beyond putting yourself in the respondent’s place but also giving the respondent the opportunity to talk honestly and openly. Some of the youth I had conversations with were themselves gang leaders, slum dwellers, Okada riders, women leaders or politically active youth etc. who have survived very difficult situations.
As a local researcher, I was studying my own role in contributing to peace: The first skill I needed was to reflect about my personal challenges and activities and how these activities are contributing to peacebuilding in a smaller context. That way, I was able to understand the larger picture of youth participation at the community, town and national level. Unemployed youth have developed positive coping mechanisms to survive: participating in elections as first time voters, voter registers, domestic observers, leading peace initiatives such as participation in community football leagues, organizing peace musical concerts as well as drama and TV shows, actively involving in politics and many more. Youth are moving from being perpetrators of violence to becoming facilitators of peace by breaking the barriers of unemployment, starting small businesses, running local NGOs and supporting causes online that promote peace and development.
My takeaways from the research study are that youth are willing to be involved in volunteerism service, assisting people in need, without always expecting payment. Youth are taking up new opportunities and challenges, doing things differently instead of participating in acts of violence, crime, exploitation, and the oppression of vulnerable groups. However, not more than often, youth in political violence are hired by politicians to attack and intimidate oppositions using dangerous means especially during rallies and campaigns.
“But there is greater hope that young people in Sierra Leone are positively pushing for change, they want to lead and to get their voices heard. There is no time as relevant as now to support youth led agencies, organizations, associations and structures”.
Curious to read more about the results of the study? Find here the Research Report ‘Beyond Dividing Lines’.
This blog was originally posted on United Network of Young Peacebuilders (UNOY) blog.
This blog is made possible by the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), under the terms of Youth Power Learning, Contract No. AID-OAA-I-15-00034/AID-OAA-TO-00011. The contents of this blog are the sole responsibility of UNOY and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.