Through the 29th and 30th of August, the 6th United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Global Forum was celebrated in Bali, Indonesia. The theme for this year’s Forum was “Unity in Diversity: Celebrating Diversity for Common and Shared Values”, gathering heads of state and state representatives, academics, journalists and religious leaders from around the globe for a short but intense summit divided into break-out sessions dealing with such diverse topics as inter-religiosity in education or the treatment of migration stories in the media. Along with the Global Forum, a Youth Event took place during the 28th, where 100 youth from 41 different countries were selected from more than 3000 applicants to work together under the topic “The Role of Youth in Promoting “Unity in Diversity” through Education, Media, and Migration” in order to create youth-led recommendations which would be afterwards delivered to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.
I was one of the 100 lucky youths to actively participate in the Youth Event and attend the 6th UNAoC Global Forum, an experience I would like to share with a few words. The 28th was a very busy day. A briefing awaited us at 6:30 a.m. to go through the schedule of the day so there was little time to suffer the jet lag. Once at the convention center, after a welcoming speech delivered by the UN High Representative for the AoC Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, we split into four break out session with small discussion groups dealing with four main issues: Education, Media, Migration and Entrepreneurship/Employment. Every group consisted of around 25 participants but also of international observers and resource personnel. Amidst the 25 participants there was a facilitator, who mediated the discussion, two note-takers and a time tracker, who was to ensure the very packed schedule we had for the morning was adequately followed. Aside from a participant, I was also an active discussion member, serving as one of the note-takers in my small discussion group, which was in charge of creating recommendations dealing with the issue of migration. I felt happy and relieved to see that even though our roles had been strictly compartmentalized in theory, during the discussion the team of active participants helped each other in an effort to create a welcoming environment for everyone to contribute with their thoughts, to lead the discussion toward what were considered core issues and to phrase them in the shape of recommendations that would satisfy the whole of the group.
If there is something to learn from sitting at a table with 25 people you have just met, from many different countries and obvious different backgrounds, but all with a clear goal to achieve (and a tight schedule to do so) is that it can become frustrating, and at the same time incredibly intense and inspiring. Whatever you consider to be the pressing issues in your country, your culture or the political system you live in, they are probably not of much importance to someone living on the other side of the world, and that is OK. By sitting at such table one hears (probably for the first time) about the issues of the other. We learn to listen, we practice empathy, and struggle to compromise. With an exercise like this one it is also made clear how painfully difficult it must be in a real meeting between state representatives, as every word is questioned over and over and a single sentence feels like a great achievement. By the afternoon, after a quick lunch and even quicker visit to the Taman Ayun temple to clear our minds, the recommendations were ready to be read out loud, tweaked a little bit and declared finished. An inspiring speech by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, including a short but amusing Q&A, closed the day. Many ran to shake his hand or take a selfie, only a few succeeded. After a huge group photograph it was time to go back to the hotel.
A few days after the Youth Event, all of us back in our countries, we receive an email from Francesco Candelari, one of the incredibly professional AoC staff that accompanied us during the whole trip: our recommendations will in fact reach the desk of the Secretary General and will also be given to the Secretary General Envoy on Youth Ahmad Alhendawi. But bear in mind, thousands of recommendations are produced by the international community every year and not all of them can be properly followed up. Expect no miracles, is what he is stating politely. Even so, at the end of the day, it is not that important if our recommendations are actually taken into account. What matters is the chance of getting to know like-minded, brilliant people and, through talking to them, opening small windows into their worldviews, their cultures and hopes for the future. All the conversations I had during the three days of the Forum, however brief, have helped shape me into a better, more open and understanding person. I believe it felt the same to my fellow youth participants, and that is a very good step towards become a future leader, if it is the path of any of us to become one. After all, that is what the UNAoC Youth Event was truly all about.