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I just returned from organizing a Youth Peace Summit in Kenya. Really – this work is an extension of Ecumenical Women in that it is about building coalitions and empowering leaders. The peace summit went from April 13-18 in Nairobi, Kenya and brought together 200 youth from around Kenya as well as Tanzania, Uganda, DRC and Rwanda. Youth were invited from variety of faiths, including Islam. We had the meeting to talk directly about the post-election violence that happened in Kenya largely perpetrated by youth in 2008. Youth came from slums, different religions, former IDPs, one girl even brought her baby. During the meeting the Youth Minister of Kenya talked about the Youth Enterprise Fund, and we also had a peace march through the city center.
Part of my job was to coordinate the youth media team, we had about 24 people and we split into sub teams of video (the flip), photography, newsletter, blogger and public relations. Our PR girl called the media houses every day and we got in the Nation, on Citizen TV and on the radio. We produced a newsletter every day. They honestly blew me away they were so dedicated. They were on computers at all hours of the day even though they were always breaking and the flash drive modems constantly ran out of airtime. In the evaluation we did I expected to hear complaints about the technology, but they were so happy they hardly mentioned it. One said he is studying communications in the university but he learned more in one week doing it than he had in school over all. We take it all for granted – laptops, wireless, it is such a blessing and I wish I could have given these kids laptops as parting gifts because they have so much promise.
The group has already had follow-up meetings in Nairobi, planning their next steps. As part of the program we have a small grants process participants can apply for, so we are sending out the application. Continuing to put youth leaders at the center, the grants will be chosen by a team of youth peer reviewers.
This was such an encouraging experience, young people want chances to lead. Church structures can both encourage and deny youth leadership – in this case, we rocked the house.