About the Author: Susanna Connaughton is the Executive Director of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO. She attended UNESCO’s Youth@the Crossroads symposium, which occurred in Manama, Bahrain from June 15-17, 2008.
The foyer of the National Museum of Bahrain sparkled Sunday night for the welcome reception of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization symposium, “Youth@the Crossroads: A Future without Violent Radicalization.” In the presence of His Royal Highness Sheikh Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Kahlifa, Crown Prince of Bahrain, an international crowd of about 200 people were serenaded by oud musicians (the guitar music of Bahrain) and sipped the region's beautifully colored juices – honeydew, cantaloupe, pomegranate, and lemon. Bahrain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, H.E. Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Kalifa and UNESCO’s Deputy Director-General, Marcio Barbosa, delivered opening remarks.
The conference, convened by UNESCO and hosted by the Government of Bahrain, sought to inform international leaders, policymakers, media, educators, NGO practitioners, and young people on how at-risk youth around the world are being exploited by a range of violent, extremists groups. Bringing these practitioners and stakeholders together enabled them to share best practices for deterring the success of these manipulative groups and to build partnerships for future positive alternatives.
The eclectic, dynamic mix of reception guests perfectly reflected the conveners’ goal to encourage new partnerships. NGO practitioners from around the world mingled with the diplomatic corps of Manama, and the Bahraini ministers of Education, Social Development, Foreign Affairs, and Labor. As one walked through the atriumed foyer of this sea-front museum, one saw the high-energy, former Colombian President Andres Pastrana Arango, the conference’s keynote speaker, giving an interview to a television crew in front of the musician’s platform. A few feet away stood four, poised teenage Bahraini girls who participate in Junior Achievement, which prepares students to become choice employees for corporations and encourages entrepreneurship through partnerships with local corporations. If you had strolled further, you’d have found Nanette Minnarr, who oversees the Khulisa “Silence the Violence” program in South Africa or saw Batul Dungarwalla from the Prince’s Trust, a foundation in the United Kingdom that helps develop key skills, confidence and motivation, enabling young people to move into work, education or training.
The "oud" music ended, and UNESCO Assistant Deputy Director General for Strategic Planning Hans D’Orville gave remarks, by welcoming everyone, and introduced Sheikh Khalid. After the Foreign Minister’s gracious welcome, Assistant Deputy Director General D’Orville introduced the conference’s Chairperson, Joseph Jabbra, who is the President of the Lebanese American University. The attendance of U.S. Assistant Secretary for Education, Kerri Briggs, was acknowledged, and the United States was thanked for its support of this conference.
Following his welcome, D’Orville introduced Colombian musician César López, inventor of an instrument named “escopetarra” (a guitar made from a “decommissioned” AK-47 as a peace symbol). Sierra Leone’s Steady Bongo performed next, engaging the audience with his vibrant vocals.
After the performances, guests briefly roamed the National Museum before coaches took everyone back to the hotel and conference center. Though it was late, many of the conference attendees went directly to the small exhibit hall in the conference center to set up for the Partner’s Forum. The Forum was arranged in a trade show/market style, in which NGOs displayed literature, videos, PowerPoints, and shared their best practices with other attendees. During this energetic bazaar atmosphere, one hoped that partnerships would be formed, and successful ideas would be expanded and adapted around the globe. The conference continued through Tuesday afternoon. You can learn more about the conference at www.unesco.org/en/youthcrossroads.