Engaging Youth To Combat Violence and Build Peace

Posted by David T. Killion
April 26, 2011
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Forest Whitaker Participate in UNESCO High-Level Forum

As U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO -- the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization -- I often get to meet impressive young people who are doing amazing things to change the world. At a recent UNESCO High-Level Forum in New York, I met 27-year-old Meghann Aurea Villanueva, who has been fighting for change since she was a 10-year-old volunteer helping her parents work with street children in the Philippines. At 17, Meg was already presenting at international conferences on peace-building through volunteer work as a seasoned expert. Today, she serves as Director of the Peace and Human Rights Program at Fondacio Catalunya Volontaria.

Meg spoke at the UNESCO Forum before a group of accomplished leaders and activists from around the world, most of them many years her senior, who came together to brainstorm ways to promote the rapprochement among world cultures in pursuit of peace. She was not at all shy about insisting that her generation be involved in key decisions about the world. "We need leaders to listen to us, and we want to be involved in the process of decision making that involves us," she argued. "We young people are not just the future -- we are also the present." As I listened, I reflected on how valuable the work is that UNESCO does to reach out and engage youth in its efforts to combat violence and promote peace, and how much it tracks with Secretary Clinton's view about the important role youth can play in promoting democratic values around the world.

I was also deeply impressed by another speaker who is committed to breaking the cycle of youth violence: Forest Whitaker, the Oscar-winning actor. Forest may be best known for his illustrious career as an artist, director, and producer, but there is another side to him most of us don't know. Having witnessed the devastating effects of gang violence in Los Angeles while growing up, Forest has dedicated himself to finding ways to build peace. Honored in 2001 with the Humanitas Award for his selfless devotion to children trapped in dire circumstances, he has more recently dedicated his time and celebrity to Hope North, a center in Uganda that shelters escaped child soldiers, orphans and victims of the country's civil war. In 2009, Forest released a documentary called, 'Kassim the Dream,' about a former child solider turned world-championship boxer, which has helped raise awareness about the need to protect this vulnerable population.

Forest's heartfelt plea to us to help these children, and how his life has been shaped by the experience of working with them, touched all of us deeply. He screened a new documentary that shocked us with the horror of what children from these war torn areas have had to endure -- even girls are not spared this form of violence, as we heard in an interview with a former female child solider in the film. Given Forest's great work in this area, we are working with UNESCO to see how we can collaborate to expand this effort.

Culture is so much more than buildings and museums. It is the civilization that surrounds us. It shapes how we act, it helps determine opportunities, and when misused, can be a lethal weapon to crush dreams and destroy hope. This is why culture is important, and why I am more determined than ever to help build a culture of peace, working with the 192 other countries represented at UNESCO and, even more importantly, with the youth that sustain our present and create our future.

Ways You Can Get Involved: We also want to hear how America's youth are facing today's challenges during the 2011 UNESCO Youth Forum. I encourage those between the ages of 18 and 24 to apply to represent the United States this fall as a delegate to the 2011 UNESCO Youth Forum in Paris by telling us what you think is the greatest global challenge facing youths, and how American youth can help to address it. More details can be found here.



April 26, 2011

Joe in Kenya writes:

We welcome the help by Unesco and us state gov to empower the youth.

April 27, 2011

John writes:

The work done by so many people around the world is enormously important – more must be done to destroy the root of these problems – otherwise it is band aid work that will never end – Those that are in a position of power can do more – Meg is right leaders must start listening but more important doing.

The human misery must end around the world – If you’re not part of the solution – you are the problem – around the world believer or not we are family – it’s time to get with the program – it’s time to stand up for justice, dignity and peace – if you’re a business leader, royalty, politician, banker, a member of a faithful path – It’s time for a change – it’s time for unity – it is time to destroy all that divides us, holds us down, cheapens life, corrupts our countries.

I hear a lot about greed these days– give me a break – the endless sea of poverty is epic and a global shame –You can’t take money from those that have none – billions of lost customers –If greed existed then all would have more in the world – and the greedy would be there to try and take it – We don’t have greed – we have fear, ignorance, power hungry zombies that would gnaw off their own arm for a piece of tin, black hole economics and clever fools – I am probably the greediest man alive –I just don’t like the cheap beads on offer .

It’s time for a change that will thrust us forward or else we can usher in the good ole dark ages.

Mr. Obama Stand Strong, when you know; you know

A. F.
United States
May 5, 2011

A. Frank in the U.S.A. writes:

Glad to see that the United States and UNESCO have continued to remain engaged on the issue of youth. I hope the conference built off the one that was held in Bahrain in 2008.


Frank L.
Hawaii, USA
May 13, 2011

Frank L. in Hawaii writes:

A big shoutout for instituting opinionspace! It will be interesting to see what great ideas and progress comes of it!

Would it be do-able and productive to conduct a series of ongoing international conferences, live or televised, to deal with any and all the global hotspots? Here's a brief outline of the idea:

1) To state the objectives and guidelines of conference, a mission statement

a) To promote a quelling of violence and bloodshed

b) To discuss common goals and possible solutions

c) Civil airing of views, no polemics, timed responses

d) Proceedings moderated by a neutral figure chosen from candidates acceptable to both sides (Ban Ky Moon, ?, ? )

2) To designate (3) responsible representatives elected by social networking (involved countries given preference of submissions)who wil be respected leaders from the entire political spectrum (left, middle, right)to appear and discuss matters of concern

3) Set an agenda of topics and questions submitted by representatives and the publics at large.

Each participating team(s) will have opportunities to ask interlocutors questions

a) Issues causing differences

b) Occurences current and historic


4) Breaks for cultural intermissions

a) Musicians
b) Writers
c) Visual artists
d) ??

Aloha, Frank L.

akwaowoh R.
November 1, 2011

Akwaowoh R. in Nigeria writes:

i desire to partake as


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