“I feel safer and ready to become a better citizen thanks to the Creative Skills for Peace project which has given me an opportunity to learn skills that will prevent me from engaging in violence.” Those are the words of a young violent offender in the Bamenda Central Prison in the north-west region of Cameroon.
Members of The Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassadors Network (CYPAN) hear testimonials like this all the time, as young people who are part of their network engage with their peers in projects that are building and sustaining peace in Commonwealth countries.
Creating safe spaces for youths in prisons
One of the youth organizations helping to rehabilitate and reintegrate young violent and extremist offenders is Local Youth Corner Cameroon Read More. Through their Creative Skills for Peace project, safe spaces are being created for 300 youths in 8 prisons in Cameroon to become entrepreneurs, job creators and peace builders in and out of prison. With the high rate of youth reoffending and radicalisation across the Commonwealth, this is one of the programmes which CYPAN has been supporting.
The network has been bringing together young people from across the Commonwealth like those in Local Youth Corner Cameroon. At CYPAN the young people are finding a network that supports grassroots and policy-level efforts to promote peace, respect & understanding and prevent violent extremism.
The network is seeing more and more young people coming together to form social groups and networks, not just to express themselves and to take charge of their personal development but also to initiate projects that promote peace in their communities.
Young people in the Commonwealth have demonstrated that they are innovative, energetic, humble, and respectful. They are willing to make sacrifices and demonstrate resilience to build their communities despite the challenges they face in their day to day lives.
In the words of Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland: ” Young people are a greatly cherished Commonwealth asset, and 640 million of the citizens living in our 53 member states are aged between 15 and 29.”
The establishment of the Commonwealth Youth Council; the Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassador Network and other youth-led specialised networks within the Commonwealth system has demonstrated the Commonwealth Secretariat’s commitment through its Youth Division to create safe spaces for youths within the Commonwealth to contribute to economic and social development, good governance and peace.
CYPAN mobilizing peace builders across the Commonwealth
Since 2016 when CYPAN was created, the network has been able to mobilise over 700 young peace builders and youth-led NGOs from 53 Commonwealth countries using a common platform to share positive practices and experiences and to design and implement initiatives to advance the role of youths in building peace.
Through its digital and physical meetings, CYPAN has been able to partner with over 200 member organisations to implement over 300 initiatives to promote peacebuilding and prevent violent extremism. CYPAN’s efforts in creating safe spaces include advocacy, skills and capacity building for youths, research, policy recommendation, building relations between governments and young people for peace.
The work that young people are doing to build peace in their communities is not only valuable but vital when we consider that the majority of young people live in countries and communities affected by violence, conflict, and insecurity.
In 2016, an estimated 408 million youths ages 15-29 resided in settings of armed conflict and violence. This means at least 1 in 4 young people (between the ages of 15 and 29) are affected by armed conflict and violence in some way. Youths have become victims not only of armed conflict but also of the social-economic hardships – making them vulnerable to radicalisation and recruitment into violent acts.
Within the Commonwealth, the rise of terrorist groups, and the escalation of election violence, gang violence, and gender-based violence, have created a far from safe space for young people to grow and contribute to sustainable development.
In the face of the enormous challenges posed by violence and insecurity, youths across the Commonwealth through the Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassadors Network (CYPAN) have united their voices and actions across the 53 member countries to advocate and ensure that Commonwealth youth have a safe and supportive space. These efforts which grew out of tiny endeavours of young peace builders from across the Commonwealth have been energized by the adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution on Youth Peace and Security (UNSCR 2250).
Advocating for safe spaces for young people
After the unanimous adoption of the UNSCR 2250 on Youth Peace and Security by the UN Security Council, which recognized the important role young people play in maintaining and promoting international peace and security, CYPAN undertook a campaign to popularize the resolution across the Commonwealth. The network also advocated for the resolution to be recognized by Commonwealth Heads. At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London in April 2018, the Heads unanimously recognised the resolution and pledged their support for youth efforts in conflict prevention, and peacebuilding processes. Read more
Similarly, CYPAN has been pushing for the involvement of young Commonwealth peace ambassadors in more high-level global conversations about youth and peacebuilding. In this regard, on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Youth Forum 2018 in London, a member of our network met with the UN Special Envoy on Youth. This meeting was facilitated by Mr. Saji Prelis, Director of Children and Youth at Search for Common Ground, Co-Chair of the UN Inter-Agency Working Group on Youth and Peace Building. It provided a platform for advocacy and partnership between the office of the Youth Envoy and Commonwealth Youth.
Creating safe spaces through capacity building and training
Building capacity among young people to effectively engage in the peacebuilding process is one of the areas of work which CYPAN has been engaged in with local organisations in the Commonwealth. The network has organised 20 capacity building initiatives for over 1000 young people in 15 Commonwealth Countries in 2018. These capacity building programmes have strengthened youth efforts in building sustainable peace. In December 2017, CYPAN with the support of the Commonwealth Countering Violent Extremism Unit and the Council of Europe organised a capacity building training which empowered 40 young people from 25 Commonwealth countries to combat hate speech Read More
Creating safe spaces for youth by promoting mutual respect for culture and religion
Facilitating understanding between the different cultures and religions to promote peace has also gone a long way in creating safer spaces in the Commonwealth. CYPAN in supporting the Faith in the Commonwealth project, sponsored by the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Khalili foundation, has engaged young people in Kenya, Trinidad and Tobago and Bangladesh on this issue. The three countries respectively have had about 90 young people trained to continue advancing intercultural and interfaith dialogue to promote peace at the grassroots level. Read more
Creating safe spaces for youth through volunteerism and advocacy
In an effort to mobilize youth in peacebuilding and human rights through advocacy, the Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassadors Network-Jamaica (CYPAN Jamaica) has continued to empower young people through capacity building, leadership, and human rights campaigns to improve their advocacy in peacebuilding, social cohesion, conflict resolution, violence – all towards creating a culture of peace.
CYPAN uses volunteerism as a means to empower, encourage and mobilize youths in development. We continue to partner with various private and public organizations, and NGOs to help create spaces for young people to make positive contributions to their communities and countries. Read More
Youth initiatives for peace and security are more sustainable when they build a sense of community, ownership, pride, identity, and dignity among young people. We are committed to using interdisciplinary and multi-stakeholder approaches in advocating for and the building of safe spaces for young people across the Commonwealth to continue serving their communities and countries as ambassadors of peace and not as agents of violence.
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