USIP Panelists Emphasize Need for Youth Empowerment

Article excerpt

The need for inclusive youth empowerment groups, especially during the reconstruction process, was the crux of the Youth at War, Youth Building Peace, Youth on the Margins book launch and panel discussion held July 13 at the United States Institute of Peace, in Washington, DC.

Author Stephanie Schwartz, leader of the Institute's Youth and Peacebuilding Working Group, emphasized that many youth-targeted groups in existence today are "adult-dominated," usually aimed at children under 18, and often provide short-term solutions.

She pointed to the aftermath of the Bosnian conflict as an example of youth as a catalyst for change. The surge of youth energy in this case resulted in the formation of the Kosovo Youth Network, a youth-dominated organization with the mission of sharing post-war experiences and preventing domestic conflict.

Panelist Siobhan McEvoy-Levy, assistant professor of political science at Butler University, in Indianapolis, IN, analyzed the issue of marginalized youth in the context of Northern Ireland. Many youths are at the forefront of riots without a certainty about "where the physical manifestation of [their] misery is," she said, but continue to riot based on issues of the past. A lack of counseling and the prevalence of dysfunctional families lead to the perpetuation of this phenomenon.

A representative of Lebanese youth, Wissam Samhat, a fellow at the United Nations Population Fund, described his experience in creating an organization for refugees in Lebanon. In 2006, during Israel's assault on his country, Samhat became a refugee of war and was forced to move to Beirut. Wanting to give back and support the approximately 800,000 newly homeless Lebanese refugees, he started a makeshift organization with some friends. Samhat kept the youths motivated by telling them, "What is happening around you is because of you. …