Open Mind, Open Society – Why Curiosity Has Never Been More Important

PLAN-Deutschland Foto-Workshop mit jugendlichen Geflüchteten in Hamburg
PLAN-Deutschland Foto-Workshop mit jugendlichen Geflüchteten in Hamburg am 21. Mai 2016. Photo: Morris Mac Matzen für PLAN-Deutschland

Capacity problems, political conflict and a lack of European solidarity: German authorities have been overwhelmed with the arrival of nearly a million refugees last year. But youth and civil society organizations, such as Plan International Germany, have stepped in. A successful integration is the key to stop growing xenophobia and to lay the fundament for a more colorful and resilient society.

“I always thought Germany is the best organized country in the world”, said a young Afghan who fled from the Hindukush to Germany last year. In the last months, that belief has faded. For more than seven months he has been living in one of Hamburg’s “Erstaufnahmeeinrichtungen”, temporary facilities where refugees have to stay until their asylum request has been processed. This spring, the German government extended the duration from three to six months to take away pressure from local authorities, but many cases are still delayed.

Life in these places – often old warehouses or gymnasiums – is rough. Often hundreds of people live in these camps, with little space, limited privacy and a depressing uncertainty about their future. Whereas in 2015 more than 80 percent of Afghans received asylum in Germany, in the first months of 2016 only 70 percent did – and numbers seem to continue declining. In comparison, 99 percent of Syrians are allowed to stay. Afghanistan, unlike Syria, is not considered by the German government as a war zone anymore. As a consequence, only people able to prove that their lives are at risk in their home country are allowed to stay.

The arrival of more than a million refugees in Germany last year confronted German authorities with so far still unsolved capacity problems. Civil society organizations and citizens have stepped in to help improve the humanitarian situation and contribute to what German chancellor Angela Merkel calls Germany’s biggest challenge since the reunification process 27 years ago: the successful integration of the refugees into the German society.

Back to the roots

At the beginning of 2016, the child rights organization Plan International Germany launched their first programs in German refugee camps. Plan International was founded after the Spanish civil war in 1937 to help parentless and displaced children and shortly after the Second World War also stepped in to help orphaned children in the post-war Germany. In 1989, the German branch of the organization was founded in Hamburg. Today Plan operates development projects in more than 51 countries worldwide – all outside of Europe or North America. Now, one could say the organization is turning back to its roots.

Even international refugee experts that used to work in refugee camps in the Middle East or in Latin America are re-allocated to Germany – something they probably would have never imagined to happen. But not only international experts, also thousands of young people in Germany get engaged.

I Spy With My Little Eye

During a workshop in February this year the Youth Advisory Board (YAB) of Plan International Germany decided to contribute to Plan’s work in a refugee camp in Hamburg. In collaboration with a group of young refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria they decided to launch a media project. Throughout the last weeks a group of young refugees walked around Hamburg. Equipped with cameras they took pictures of things that struck their mind or had a special meaning to them. They wrote a short text to describe what the photo meant to them.

The pictures – without the written explanations – were then sent to German members of the YAB who interpreted and commented on them. In Μay, the YAB and the young refugees came together in Hamburg for a workshop and to discuss the photos. The interpretations of the pictures showed impressively how different experiences and expectations influence a person’s perception of the environment.

Surprise, Surprise

A young Afghan was fascinated by chalk cases and chalk boards he found in a lecture hall in the University of Hamburg. He was totally stunned by the fact that in Germany, the home country of modern technology, as he said, universities were still relying on what he called backward technology whereas a poor country such as Afghanistan was using white boards and overhead projectors in its universities. The only logical explanation he could think of was that Germans somehow might have a nostalgic relationship with the past.

His German counterpart didn’t even mention the “ancientness” of the learning materials but instead wrote a more general abstract about the importance of education and the power it provides in a globalized world – not at all thinking about the incredulous astonishment the photographer felt when taking the picture.

Keep Your Curiosity Fresh

During the exchange, all participants learned a lot about their counterparts’ backgrounds. The project exemplified important conditions for any intercultural get-together: curiosity, empathy and the ability to openly reflect one’s personal perception of the familiar. They are the foundation of a relationship based on respect and mutual acceptance and key for a successful integration.

By organizing a public exhibition in Hamburg, the YAB aims to share this message, to stimulate the willingness and the curiosity of passersby so that they open their minds to new influences. Mutual learning and the ability to widen one’s horizon will not only facilitate integration, it will also make the German society more colorful, creative and resilient on the long-run. This is the message we should share in times, when right wing populists gain momentum throughout Europe.

 

Jonas Freist-Held (24) studied Political Science in Berlin and Berkeley, is the chair of the YAB of Plan International Germany and represents Europe in the YAB of UN Habitat.

 

 

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El nacimiento de una nueva ciudadanía en México

Written by: Badi Zárate Khalili, Youth Advisory Member – Latin America and the Caribbean

Andrea viene montada en su bicicleta, apresurada con el viento sobre su cara que disfruta cada mañana al salir de casa. Está ansiosa por llegar a su destino y piensa que el estar protegiéndose de los autos que avanzan rápidamente a muy poca distancia de su bicicleta, le está restando tiempo y la hacen sentir amenazada. En ocasiones, Andrea prefiere tomar el transporte público; lo espera un cuarto de hora y viaja en el por otra hora más hasta llegar a unas cuadras de su oficina. Cada recorrido en este transporte es una aventura: el fuerte ruido del motor, las personas que se sujetan con todas sus fuerzas para no caer en el arranque, los señores adultos que duermen con tanta tranquilidad en el barullo y las chicas que con una habilidad única, se maquillan a la perfección. En ambos recorridos, Andrea ve a la gente apresurada por llegar a sus trabajos y escuelas con sus hijos o portafolios tomados de la mano, ve paisajes contrastantes de pobreza y de alta riqueza y se admira por la belleza de aquellas pequeñas zonas que se encuentra con algún arbolado. Aunque su recorrido de hoy parece el mismo al cotidiano, su destino no lo es.

Después de todas las aventuras urbanas diarias que ella conoce a la perfección, se encuentra frente a un edificio pequeño de la época moderna de su ciudad.  Este edificio parece estar acostumbrado al pasar de eventos culturales y al jugar de los ancianos por las tardes, pero no hoy, hoy el edificio le ha dado la bienvenida a una dinámica distinta que desconcierta a la joven.

Al asomarse un poco hacia adentro del salón, se percata que al fondo de la sala central han colgado una pancarta que dice: “¿Cómo la quieres? Bienvenido a la construcción de tu ciudad”. Esto desconcierta a Andrea, quien con una mezcla de sentimientos se pregunta a sí misma: ¿Cómo la quiero? ¿Cómo quiero mi ciudad? Nadie jamás me había preguntado tal cosa.

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Al igual que Andrea, nos sentimos la gran mayoría de los ciudadanos de los centros urbanos de México. Nuestras ciudades han desarrollado un modelo de crecimiento que no favorece la creación de una ciudadanía propositiva y empoderada, ha generado grandes masas urbanas sin un orden planificado y altamente improductivas, donde los que sufren la ciudad, quienes encaran las batallas que les impone este modelo y son la sangre misma que mantiene viva a los espacios, no tienen voz. Este modelo comienza a caer ante iniciativas como la que el Instituto Metropolitano de Planeación del Área Metropolitana de Guadalajara (IMEPLAN) está impulsando para la construcción del Programa de Desarrollo Metropolitano, a la que Andrea ha asistido el día de hoy.

Andrea se sienta en una mesa con una variedad de personas que jamás habría imaginado juntas, mientras escucha las indicaciones de un moderador que habla mientras camina entre las mesas. Este hombre explica que vivimos en una zona metropolitana integrada por nueve municipios que necesitan coordinarse como una sola ciudad, como un solo cuerpo. También explica que el día de hoy, entre todos elaborarán el programa que asegurará que para el año 2042, cuando conmemoren 500 años de la fundación de Guadalajara, la ciudad en la que vivan, será la ciudad que entre todos habrán construido. Y así, comienza una rica conversación de Andrea, con los demás miembros de la mesa, sobre aquello en lo que la ciudad flaquea, sus oportunidades para mejorar y la contribución que cada uno está dispuesto a hacer para lograr la ciudad que sueñan.

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Este espacio de interacción y discusión en los barrios de la ciudad es uno de los tres métodos que construyen el Programa de Desarrollo Metropolitano de Guadalajara. La planeación participativa diseñada por el IMEPLAN, incluye espacios donde los vecinos de las distintas colonias podrán interactuar con sus conciudadanos y juntos hacer propuestas, espacios donde especialistas discuten, priorizan y generan estrategias sobre la agenda metropolitana y finalmente, una plataforma virtual que recibe comentarios de personas que prefieran hacerlo por la vía digital.

Al final de la sesión Andrea se acerca al moderador y con un rostro radiante entrega un formulario donde ha plasmado propuestas para cambios que son necesarios hacer, pero más importante aún, sonríe porque ha comprendido que la ciudad que le ha dado tanto, ahora requiere de ella y que su transformación sólo será posible cuando todos actúen activamente.

Así como Andrea, todos los que habitamos esta metrópoli y el resto de las ciudades en México, estamos listos para olvidar los límites que nos han separado e impedido colaborar anteriormente, ansiosos de ser parte de un proceso donde cada uno encuentra su espacio y decididos a que finalmente, es tiempo de  convertirnos en verdaderos ciudadanos, donde tu voz, mi voz y la de todos nosotros, resonará en los anales de la historia urbana de nuestro país.

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After the quake

Written By: Ying Gao

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In the week of 24 April 2016, Nepal marked an important moment.  It was the first anniversary of the great earthquake.[1]  To turn the page with forward-looking consultations, UN-Habitat hosted two urban youth discussions on the critical questions of “equity and youth development” in Kathmandu.  A wide range of youth groups supported UN-Habitat to put together the two workshops.  The result was an electrifying energy and focused output from youth participants that impressed the attending UN agencies, development partners and Nepal government representatives.  UN-Habitat will publish the results as part of the Global State of Urban Youth Report 2015/16 later this year.

Young people were at the frontlines of relief work in the wake of the quake in 2015.  They applied volunteerism and skills to do many post-disaster tasks, like distributing aid materials, building temporary shelters, and creating open-source maps of the affected areas.  The images and videos of such youth volunteers flooded local and global media reports on Nepal Earthquake.  In other words, the youth proved that they were resilient in post-disaster Nepal.

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A year on, however, the story of Nepal Earthquake is more complex.  The needs have shifted from recovery to reconstruction and development.  Where are the same Nepali youths now?  How do they feel about their own role in the reconstruction process as well as the country’s long-term development?  And what about the state of equity among young women and men in Nepal’s rapidly urbanizing society?  These were the questions asked in the Kathmandu events this week.

The week kicked off with over 50 young Kathmandu citizens debating youth’s role in Nepal Earthquake reconstruction at a special session hosted by UN-Habitat, during the 2nd Asia-Pacific Peace and Development Service Alliance (APPDSA) South Asia meeting, a joint initiative by Global Peace Foundation and UN ESCAP, 23-24 April 2016.  Local youths aged 18-24 expressed frank opinions about the ongoing reconstruction process, and the related employment and social issues.  Among other issues, participants argued that reconstruction needed to provide more jobs and skills development for local youths.  If actively engaged, Kathmandu’s young population had much to offer.  “We the youth are opportunity creators, not [opportunity] seekers,” one youth presenter concluded.

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Next up, over 100 youths selected from diverse backgrounds joined UN-Habitat Global State of Urban Youth Report 2015/16 – Kathmandu focus group discussion workshop on 29 April 2016.  Mr. Padma Joshi, UN-Habitat Nepal Country Programme Manager, opened the floor with welcome speech highlighting that youth represented 40% of Nepal’s people.  Mr. Joshi also pointed out the complex effects of the historic disaster and reconstruction on the country’s increasingly urbanizing youth population, such as knock-on effect of displacement or fresh rural-urban migration in search of work.  Mr. Brabm Kumar K.C., President of Association of Youth Organizations Nepal (AYON), asked the youths to think about bridging the planning and implementation gap.

During the day, groups of youths debated the root causes of what may be preventing Nepal youths’ full, effective and equitable participation in the country’s development in the following five areas: 1) youth and employment, 2) youth and sports and environment, 3) youth and education, 4) youth and politics of reconstruction, 5) youth and gender equity and social inclusion.  Defying occasional power outage of the building, the heated discussions continued well into the afternoon.

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The closing remarks brought attention to the opportunity provided by the SDG’s for the youth.  Representing UN Youth Advisory Panel, Ms. Neiru Karky stated, “We need to own the concept of sustainable development goals,” recommending to look at urbanization as part of innovation where youths can make greater contributions to the society.  Mr. Sudarshan Kunwar, AIESEC Nepal President, expressed an open invitation to participating youths saying “you can align your products, your services in terms of SDG’s” for more impact.

During the week, UN-Habitat also presented the recently published Switched On: Youth at the Heart of Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific to Nepal Ministry of Youth and Sports.

[1] 24 April 2016 was the anniversary date in Nepali calendar.  Internationally, 25 April 2016 is the day.

Being an Intern in Rwanda – Story by Mina Lee

I was excited to come to Rwanda for my internship in ‘sports for development’ field with UN-HABITAT. Although I have lived in Rwanda for two years before, (volunteering with Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA)), I couldn’t wait to be back. Rwanda is a fascinating place with so much beauty, green spaces and amazing people that I knew that my new adventure will be worthwhile. But funny enough, when I came to Kimisagara One Stop Youth Center in Kigali for the first time, I couldn’t conceal my surprise. So much space, gym with roof and even floodlights for night games! I thought I knew Rwanda, but this has proven me wrong! I have never seen such excellent sports facilities anywhere else.

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The center itself is a wonderful oasis of hope for young people in Kigali. More than 1000 of them visit the center every day, enjoying various services provided. It’s run by unpaid volunteers who organize training sessions, workshops, events and activities related to IT, good governance, health and entrepreneurship. Sport is naturally extremely important and the state-of-art facilities offer space to practice football, basketball, handball, inline skating and modern dance. Personally, I was very impressed with the “disability football team”. In Rwanda, there is a huge number of people with disabilities, the sad legacy of 1994 events. The disability team in Kimisagara is just so inspiring! They play on crutches and you wouldn’t believe how fast they can be!

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During my five months stay I have learned a lot about partnerships. The Center was initiated by the UN-HABITAT but is now 100% managed by the Ministry of Youth and ICT. Yet their ongoing collaboration and mutual support makes it work and thrive like no other. The Kimisagara center serves as a model to other youth centers across East Africa. On a different level, Cho and I (both UN-HABITAT interns in Rwanda) formed a partnership to complete tasks given by the Center as well as UN-HABITAT. There were many challenges, many unforeseen changes to plans and many unpredictable communication hiccups but we’ve managed.  It would be very difficult for me to do it on my own but together, we’ve learned to adapt. This, I consider a very useful skill for the future.

I’ve had a lot of plans at the beginning but unfortunately, I haven’t been able to make them all work. I wish I had more time to develop new sports programme to involve wider community, create a project tackling the youth unemployment, which is a huge problem over there and perhaps find ways to bring even more young people into the Center. Maybe next time. For now, I am happy and grateful for the experience. I have learned a lot and had wonderful time in Rwanda, the beautiful country on the rise to prosperity.

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