Once Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan says that, “In this new era, people’s actions constantly-if often unwittingly-affect the lives of others living far away. Globalization offers great opportunities, but at present its benefits are very unevenly distributed while its costs are born by all.
He emphasizes six shared values, which are of particular relevance to the new century: freedom, equity and solidarity, tolerance, non-violence, respect for nature and shared responsibility. The modern world is becoming smaller, highly integrated and technologically more advanced. It is also becoming highly fragmented, less peaceful and unsafe for both present and future generations. Spectacular advances in science and technology over the last five decades have revolutionized the entire world. Investments in research and development have resulted in innovations and inventions in both product and factor markets.
The benefits of these advancements however, have yet to reach the poor living in many countries across the world. Poverty is on the increase and we are sitting on millions of human landmines. The world today is passing through an environment full of tensions, violence, declining values, injustice, reduced tolerance and respect for human rights. The gun culture has already taken a dominant position in most of the developing countries, threatening the future of the youth who deserve a peaceful and better quality of life.
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There is a greater need to create a culture of Youth Leadership in society through an active participation of youth in civic activities. Adult leaders, parliamentarians and policymakers at community, municipality, state, national and international levels should agree that they are responsible for ensuring that the 21st century is characterized as a century of Youth Leadership. The world today is indeed in search of a new culture and a common system of values and new behavioral patterns for individuals, groups and nations, because, without them, the major problems of international and internal peace cannot be solved.
The replacement of the existing culture of violence by a culture of peace can only be achieved in a longer perspective. In a period of transition and accelerated change marked by the expression of intolerance, manifestation of racial and ethnic hatred, violence towards those regarded as “others” and the growing disparities between the rich and the poor. Action strategies must aim at ensuring fundamental freedom, peace, human rights, and democracy and at promoting sustainable and equitable economic and social development all of which have an essential part to play in building a culture of peace.
What do we expect from the youth with the creation of the culture of peace? The youth with their new ideas, new energy and neutral background, can contribute to peace development. They are ready to participate in community work. Youth should be treated as partners-partnership by youth in all social activities, of governance, community activities-should start in an active manner with the entry of the child into the golden age phase of 15 to 25 years. Youth should realize that they should not wait for the inheritance of the world; they must realize they have already inherited the world while entering into the golden age.
Development of youth as productive citizens and peace workers could be a starting point for developing the peace culture. In the world today, one person in five is between the ages of 15 to 25, which is an accepted UN definition of the age that defines youth. There are altogether more than one billion youth, constituting a formidable force. About 85 percent live in developing countries with 60 percent in Asia, or about 800 million youth in the Asian region. Moreover, two thirds of these youth are growing in countries, which have extremely low per capita incomes (PCIs), below the PCI of $700 per annum.
The needs and aspirations of young people are still mostly unmet. The youth employment and livelihood problem is particularly acute and growing in the developing countries while the bulk of corporate resources are controlled by developed countries. Moreover, action on youth employment and livelihood remain poorly defined. Poverty breeds an environment, which encourages social deviations like drug-addiction, excessive smoking, alcoholism, and tendencies towards suicide. Most problems among youth in developing countries are nurtured by their perception of an uncertain and unstable future.
However, one thing is clear among all youth: that they want to make something of them, and to sustain the value of family solidarity. Today’s youth are often skeptical about adult leaders and they may express the desire to participate in society through volunteer work but not in politics. Alienated youth, particularly when they form a large proportion of the population, will turn their energy to drugs, crime, violence and even revolution. Unengaged youth represent a wasted economic resource. Youth of today is in search of its identity.
They are less inclined towards conflicts and wars unless external forces compel them to do so. International studies clearly indicate that today’s youth are concerned about issues relating to family, education and employment. The youth express their need for a sense of independence, competence and participation in the mainstreams of society. They should be perceived as key agents for social change, including peace development, economic development and technological innovation. The paradox is that even as they represent societies’ greatest hope, they are a group who risk an uncertain and unstable future.
How to involve these young men and women in building and designing their future, and the future of coming generations, is the key issue confronting the progress of our societies. The world today stands at a crossroad. However, the path of peace ahead remains clear for the world if we pursue three goals: firstly, a common vision of our future society anchored on peace; secondly, the core of shared values that animate our desires and preferences, grounds for peace which is acceptable to all religions, peoples, nations, families and communities, and hirdly, the power for united venture that brings people-empowered action for the attainment of a peace vision guided by the values we cherish. The peace factor must be used to resolve prime issues such as: (i) the persistent poverty of people, especially those in rural areas, (ii) the social injustice that continues to prevail in our societies and then often divisive and counter-productive ways of governance. The index to development, therefore, must be human in dimension, content and lifestyle anchored on peace.
In the case of the National Peace Development Policy for Youth, we must deviate from tradition and formulate policy with active participation of the youth. In this case, policy definition and strategy have to be applied flexibly by involving and energizing the youth right from the very start. It should not begin with elders and senior policy-makers and leaders, but take grassroots hold with the youth from day one. The youth must be empowered to find their own niche and roles in the totality of national development, and be the major force for peace development.
All steps in the exercise should be taken in consultation with the different levels of participating youth from the national down to the state, district, municipal and village levels. Youth constitutes the richest wealth of a country. They develop quality of personal integrity, personal discipline and open mindedness. It is enriched further when they develop an open attitude and universal outlook. As youth is a period of passions, emotions, activity and vigor, they should be trained to combine enthusiasm with patience.
Youth should develop an open attitude and universal outlook. This is the real empowerment of youth. Empowering or enabling is like a process similar to teaching and fishing. For preserving peace, youth must play a decisive role. Youth should be exposed to merit of tolerance and nonviolence. Youth should realize the importance of living together and should be responsible to defend the frontiers of peace and non-violence. This warrants the promotion of a new culture and thus a different mindset.
Hence, a comprehensive rethinking is required in all walks of life with a total commitment to the issues of youth development. Educational experiences should be provided to youth with an objective to enhance their tolerance level and help them understand the merits of tolerance and respect for “otherness”. “Respecting the others” goes much farther than tolerance. Education must promote an aptitude of free inquiry, frank and vigorous discussion and willingness to work in teams.
Education should teach the youth not only to tolerate differences but also to respect differences. In spiritual development, the youth can form a new phalanx of peace missionaries building up volunteers and NGO networks at the grassroots, concentrating on values education and spiritual renewal among children, women and the youth to reverse the process of family values in which traditionally, it is the elders who impose on the youth; this time it will be the young helping shape family values through dedicated youth peace missionaries.
In the area of ethnic development, the youth of different ethnic groups can forge links between cultural minorities and popularize shared values, shared religious values, and shared cultures and traditions handed down from generation to generation. In political development, youth can be trained to form the cadre of youth animators to expose the rural poor to democratic processes and institutions, to consensus building and voting mechanics, to party and government platforms.
In socio-economic development, the youth can join internship/training programs with agricultural, manufacturing, and service industries, sharpen their skills to become the forward-looking manpower needed by their countries to help their economies compete favorably against international competition.
In political/government development, the youth can engage in internships in the parliamentary institutions, join in political awareness-building, reform political parties and remove the ugliness of partisan politics, and at the same time force reforms in the bureaucracy to ensure good governance, accountability, transparency, and citizenry participation. E-government strategy can effectively support such programs.
In military affairs, the youth can become the country’s elite guards dedicated to patriotism, protection of children, women, oppressed and poor, and through collective vigilance and closeness with the people, provide the moral counterpart to the abuses of ambitious generals and military demagogues. Finally, in regional and international development, the youth can become peace ambassadors of their respective countries, promoting exchange programs in education, culture, science and echnology, sports and games, and in tourism promotions, to link all the youth of the region and the world in the pursuit and maintenance of peace and democracy. Youth Leadership activities cannot be confined to schools. They should be exposed to the real socio-political environment. That is missing today. In addition to peace development, these youth forums should, from time to time, include planning and implementation of environmental programs, family planning, information technology, health and sanitation, etc.
Forum participants should focus on the benefits of peace, non-violence to strengthen tolerance through participation in community affairs, anniversaries in which all can participate thereby fostering a culture of peace and tolerance through a system of community education in order to promote respect and mutual understanding. The new millennium offers the world’s people a unique opportunity to reflect on their common destiny, at a moment when they find themselves interconnected as never before. In this New World, groups and individuals interact directly across frontiers more often, without involving the state.
This also has its dangers in terms of crime, narcotics, terrorism, weapons, refugees and migrants; all move back and forth faster and in greater numbers than in the past. But new technologies also create opportunities for mutual understanding and common action. If we are to get the best out of globalization and modern technologies as well as avoid the worst, we must learn to govern better with emphasis on good governance and strengthening of civil society, and how to govern better together. People are looking to their leaders to identify and act on the challenges ahead.
There is no denying the fact that youth are important asset of any nation, making up 800 million of Asia’s population. They should be the primary concern of political leaders, religious leaders, policy makers, planners, administrators and others interested in development including peace development. The youth are creative and innovative. They are in a better position to introduce new dimensions contributing to the current socio-political and economic dialogue, particularly in the area of peace development.
Hence, the national governments should give priority to the UN declarations of National Peace Policies and Action Programs. Nations are underdeveloped for many reasons, but certainly the major reasons are inadequate leadership, and absence of youth participation. We must now look to the youth. The modern electronic media have an essential role to play in the preparation of youth in a spirit of peace, justice, freedom, mutual respect and understanding, in order to promote human rights, equality of rights between all human beings and all nations, and economic and social progress.
Equally, they have an important role to play in making known the views and aspirations of the youth with special focus on good governance, transparency, tolerance and democracy. In the ultimate analysis, my dear fellow participants and youth leaders, I am sure that together we can lay the foundations of our shared future, together we can build bridges of love and tryst; and together we can help translate the dreams and visions espoused at hundreds of such conferences before this one.
With hope, faith and courage, soon we shall be able to tell our elders that yes when given the chance to deliver, we have done and done it in style. At least, we would leave this world as a much better place to live than we had inherited. Times cry for action and action here and now. Mark Twain said this for you, me and all of us: “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you did not do than by the thing you did do. So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover…! ”
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