A Blog Post by Forest Whitaker on International Youth Day 2022

Since I launched the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative 10 years ago, I have been increasingly amazed by the power, resilience, and potential of young people around the world. This belief has only strengthened in the past decade, after I was initially driven to found this organization by coming face-to-face with former child soldiers. In them, I saw innocent souls who were forced into a world of violence and suffering — which both destroyed their youth, and stripped their fundamental human right to self-assured happiness and prosperity. The trauma that they suffered, both physical and psychological, had transformed them into some of the most vulnerable people I’d ever met. And yet, their intrinsic will to better their lives and the lives of their families and communities astounded me. I saw and learned that these youths have within them an incredible capacity to create change: a capacity to fight for peace, a capacity to make their mark on the world, and a desire to not be forgotten as a mere bookmark in history. This attitude inspires me to this day.

The spirit I discovered within these disenfranchised youths was so powerful, so acute, that I knew I had to find a way of helping them manage it, nurture it, and utilize it for good. This has never been easy. How can you turn young people who have only ever known violence into active peacebuilders of tomorrow? Well, it starts by providing them with a platform to express themselves, to guide and support them through the healing process, and to give them the tools to understand their trauma and yield its power to turn their conflict-affected communities into havens of peace, prosperity, and progress. This also requires encouraging and nurturing intergenerational collaboration.

This year, the United Nations has decided to dedicate International Youth Day to the question of intergenerational solidarity in order to amplify the message that action, cooperation, and harmony among different generations is essential if we, as humanity, are to achieve our ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The UN has rightly outlined endemic disparities and imbalances due to age — which can be found in areas of employment, political participation, health, and justice. Through my work with WPDI, I am convinced that these disparities can be mended through educational initiatives that give young people the tools and understanding they need to bridge the gap with their elders, many of whom have personally suffered from numerous conflicts, as well as social and economic poverty.

WPDI’s number one priority is to forge sustainable development initiatives in regions which have been plagued by conflict, and this means creating arenas for dialogue among different generations and different communities. It also means providing key resources, such as ICT courses and vocational training, which provide an otherwise unattainable opportunity for marginalized youths to dream big and fight for the future livelihoods of their families and communities. It is a powerful idea, but one I developed from seeing what’s within youths themselves — and after a decade of success at WPDI, we know that it works.

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