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Uniting young peacebuilders – Diary of a project week

November 26th, 2018

Written by Silke Cuypers

It’s been a 100 years since the Great War ended. As part of their 18 in 18 project in August, UNOY member organisation Tumult (Belgium) and several of their partner organisations brought together 61 young peacebuilders – all aged 18 or turning 18 years in 2018 – from 35 different countries to live together for a week in the Peace Village in Mesen, Belgium. The goal was to unite youngsters from countries involved in the First World War conflict in Belgium. Participants from UNOYmember organisations Nigeria Youth 4 Peace Initiative, Oajnu (Argentine) and Center for Intercultural Dialogue (Macedonia) were taking part in this project.

The first official day. After we got to know each other, we explored the topics of peace and war in the different contexts of participants. Then we went to the city of Ypres to rehearse for ‘Peace to The World’, the closing event of the Province of West-Flanders’ commemoration program of World War I. The participants from 18 in 18 were invited to sing the song ‘Give peace a chance’ from John Lennon.

After the rehearsal, we could participate in the Last Post at the Menin Gate. The ceremony was a highly emotional event for all, with its vast numbers of missing soldiers presenting a stark reminder of the true horror of war and its physical but also mental impact.

In groups we did a tour of the region. To get inspired, we visited museums, memorials and cemeteries linked to the local area, which reinforced how worthwhile peace is. Afterwards, it was time for the performance of ‘Give peace a chance’. The group managed to get the whole market square to sing and clap along.

In the morning, we started with philosophical sessions about what peace means to the participants and later we began to build up the peace message that the participants wanted to share at the final ceremony with policy makers. This long day of discussions, brainstorming and debates was closed by a different kind of activity as we cycled to an art installation called ‘Coming Word Remember Me’. Participants had to resist the cold and rain, but it was worth it!

To start the day with, participants held a parliament, in which the wording of the peace message was finalised. After this formal session the participants were split up in groups. They could choose between plastic art, theatre, film, dance, decoration and food (for the reception). The goal was to present their peace message at the closing event through art forms. There was also a reporting team and two participants took up the role of hosting the final event.

The last day. In the morning the participants had time to finalise their performances.

The final event, to which ambassadors, members of different Belgian parliaments and ministers were invited, took place in the afternoon. The floor was first given to the participants to give their message. Afterwards, some officials gave a short speech followed by a reception, to celebrate the hard work of the week. We finished the night with a party.

The morning after was hard time waking up for most of the participants. We had a short evaluation session, after which most participants departed to the airport. The goodbye was bittersweet, the hopes of participating to a 18 in 18 reunion, 19 in 19 were high. Let’s see if we manage… 😉

UNOY Peacebuilders

We are a global network strengthening sustainable youth-driven peacebuilding. We connect 70 youth peace organizations across 45 countries.

Our goal is to create a world where young people have the opportunity and skills to contribute to peace. We work to strengthen youth-led peacebuilding initiatives, facilitate a safe space for dialogue and conflict transformation, develop the organizational capacities of our members and to bring the voices of young people to policy makers on a regional and global level.