The United Nations says 1.8 billion people in the world are below age 30. Most live in developing countries, with hundreds of millions in areas of conflict.
Actor Forest Whitaker, a U.N. goodwill ambassador, says young people too often are viewed in a negative light. He says they are seen as a problem rather than the solution to unresolved conflicts.
Speaking to VOA on Friday on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting, Whitaker said his foundation, the Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative, trains young people to become mediators in four systems of conflict resolution and education. He said young women and men also are trained in information and communication technologies, life skills and entrepreneurial skills.
Efforts in South Sudan
Whitaker said many are applying their skills within their own communities as part of a peace and reconciliation program his foundation is running in South Sudan.
“They are in the middle of mediating conflicts that have to deal with cattle issues,” he said. “They are in the middle of mediating conflicts that have to do with revenge killings, that have to do with territorial rights. … They go out into the communities as well, sometimes, and interpret in their native language or native tongue the peace agreements to the communities.”
Whitaker said young people apply their expertise on many fronts. He said they often are called upon by the countries themselves to act as mediators.
He said many of the people his foundation works with in South Sudan are decommissioned child soldiers. Similar programs exist in post-conflict situations for young people who were recruited as child soldiers by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, he said.
The foundation has projects in Mexico and the United States and soon will begin working with young people on peace and reconciliation issues in South Africa.