Engaging Arab Youth in Sustainable Development: A Reflection by ECYL, Mohammed Ba-Aoum

Since the late 21st century, the Arab Region has been one of the world’s most unstable regions. Violent wars and both latent and manifest conflicts have raged almost non-stop due to ideological, socioeconomic, ethnic and religious conflict. According to the World, Bank, youth comprise roughly 30 percent of the region’s total population (representing over 108 million), which is the largest number of young people to transition into adulthood in the area’s history. Therefore, engaging Arab youth in peace building and sustainable development program could play a significant role in restoring and maintaining stability in the entire region as well as the world.  On August 2-3 UNESCO held a workshop in Beirut, Lebanon to empower Arab youth and leverage their impact in sustainable development. The workshop entitled “Education for Sustainable Development Leadership Training,” was designed using a UNESCO curriculum developed by Earth Charter International (ECI).ESDgrouppic

Forty-one out of 450 applicants from the Arab world were selected to participate in the ESD Leadership Training in Beirut. The participants, aged 18 to 35, come from 17 different Arab countries and are all active leaders in sustainable development within their communities. They came from diverse backgrounds and work in different fields, including youth NGOs, education, communications, marketing, and business.

I had the honor to be one of the successful applicants who attended the program. Although I attended several youth forums before ESD, I found the ESD unique in engaging the participants with the theory and practice of ESD, based on a participatory and collective learning approach.  The workshop stimulated the participants to find connections and links between their diverse backgrounds and fundamental issues in sustainable development.  The two days training covered topics on sustainability, ESD, systems thinking, conflict transformation, leadership, visioning, communications, facilitation, networking, monitoring, and evaluation. These topics were taught through pre-online homework exercises, short talks, dialogues and practical activities, which made the program informative and entertaining.  Also, the program included a trip to the Taanayel and Shouf regions in Lebanon, where participants visited eco-friendly businesses (Eco-lodge), and water, energy, and agricultural infrastructure projects to get hands-on experience and observe a real model for a sustainable development project.

There was a very positive atmosphere throughout the program where the diversity of backgrounds and interests of the participants were celebrated as a rich source of knowledge, collaboration, love, and friendship, rather than as a source of conflict. The workshop succeeded in empowering the youth and creating a network among them for exchange and collaboration, which will make this event a start for multiple sustainable development initiatives in the Arab world. I was delighted to be part of this event, and I feel thankful to the UNESCO, the Earth Charter International and all those who contributed in making this ideal environment reality.

Written by ECYL: Mohammed Ba-Aoum