Words: Georgia Horton | Editor: Mohsin Mohi Ud Din
International Youth Day is celebrated by tens of thousands of people across the world each year on 12 August. The theme of this year was Youth Building Peace. The Day not only inspires and galvanizes youth, but also the ecosystem surrounding a young person (education systems, employers, governments) who must be parnters to young changemakers.
Mohsin Mohi Ud Din, Director of Storytelling Innovation at Ashoka’s Youth Venture and Founder of #MeWeSyria, was invited as a panelist by the United Nations to share how Youth Venture’s Storytelling for Innovation tool is activating young people as peace builders and changemakers. Mohsin was joined by a handful of other panelists, incredible and extraordinary young people that are not waiting for the world to reach peace, but giving themselves permission to build peace themselves in various regions of the world:
Mr. Imrana Alhaji Buba has been a victim of violent extremism. His friends and family have also fallen victim to extremism in his home country of Nigeria. These near-death experiences of himself and loved ones re-defined Imrana’s vision of the world and what he was capable of doing in it. Imrana is aware that most victims of extremism are young people, so at 17 years old he started the Youth Coalition Against Terrorism, a volunteer-based organization spread across Nigeria aimed at reducing youth involvement in violent extremism.
When asked what advice he would give to young people who want to engage, Imrana responded with no hesitation: “Start now. You don’t need to wait to be a peace builder. Start from yourself”.
Along the panel sat Taya Carneiro, a trans woman from Brazil and co-founder of Libertarian Union of Trans Woman (ULTRA). When Taya realized that LGBTI youth in Brazil are victims to the largest amount of LGBTI violence around the world, Taya knew she had to do something: “Because of my identity and discrimination of violence around me, I have a 35 year life expectancy when everyone else in society has a 70 year life expectancy”.
While the difference is staggering, it did not scare Taya into leaving or hiding her true self. “When I was a child, the only exit I saw as a queer child was to leave Brazil. But I discovered leadership at a young age, and I realized that I could engage in making a change. Unfortunately, these leadership opportunities are still unreachable for many marginalized youth,” which is why her youth organization aims to empower LGBTI youth.
Another panelist, Yasmine Arrington, is a key example of the power youth can have. Yasmine is an Ashoka Youth Venture alum, and received her first grants from Youth Venture as a teenager for her initiative to provide scholarships to students of incarcerated parents. Yasmine’s dedication to this issue stems from her own family structure, when her father was incarcerated and went in and out of prison for most of her life. On the panel, Yasmine recalls a moment where she attended a group session at a community organization and one of the staff members asked her a simple question: “What pisses you off?” The question really struck her -- Yasmine started to think about what really frustrated her which led to understanding the problem she wanted to tackle: mass incarceration.
A staggering 2+ million youth in the United States have at least one parent that is imprisoned, with no direct support to help these individuals. “I was only 16 at the time, and I thought: what can I do?” Her 'ah-ha' moment was when she was thinking about her education and future, and she realized that there is no scholarship in place for kids of parents that are in prison. This is when her dream started to take shape. Yasmine started ScholarCHIPS, a non-profit that provides scholarships and mentoring for high school students with parent(s) that are incarcerated. Her initiative has grown to award 43 scholars over $100,000 in scholarship funds.
From all over the world, these are just a few examples of true leadership at a young age. Stories and accounts from these individuals stress how important it is for a young person to have experiences to exercise leadership; spaces where they can discover what they’re passionate about; and unite that passion with a problem to execute an innovation.
The experiences told by Imrana, Taya, and Yasmine all involve exercising critical skills that are necessary to survive and thrive in this world - empathy, collaboration, leadership, creative problem solving, and above all, resilience. These celebrated young changemakers were battling systems, and people telling them “no,” “you’re too young,” or “that won’t work” and not only did that not stop them, but it pushed them to try even harder. Imagine what the world would truly look like if more children were pushed to #LeadYoung.
Mohsin presented alongside these extraordinary changemakers, offering advice that really stuck with the audience of 300 young peace-builders at the United Nations: “Dream loud, fail hard, and be resilient as hell”. It is safe to say that each one of these panelists have done exactly that.
WATCH the UN Youth Day event!