I can honestly say that the G21 Conference in Kyoto last year was one of the big experiences in my life and I feel that it was the best thing that I have done on my exchange. It is hard to put into words the mixture of feelings that we felt while at the conference both in lectures and also just with the other delegates.
I went to the conference with one set of ideas and come out with a completely clean slate and an open mind. I, like many other delegates, weren't quite sure exactly what we were feeling or what we were supposed to do but it was something and even now so many months after the conference there is still that feeling inside me. If nothing else the conference energized me and revitalized me giving me hope and a brand new outlook on everything that I felt was set in stone, and with this brand new outlook I was able to see answers that weren't there before, or if they were they were just hidden.
For anyone thinking of attending this conference in the future, the only message I have for you is to be there. This kind of thing is so important for yourself and will give you a better outlook on life. Just be there and you will see for yourself.
- Charles Robinson (Australian Delegate)
Being selected as a delegate to represent Trinidad and Tobago at the recent conference on "Youth at the Millennium"ī held in Kyoto, I was appreciative of the opportunity to share some of the experiences of Caribbean people and youth to strengthen an understanding of the concept of peace. The conference also provided an opportunity to interact with other youth from different cultures on issues of world peace, particularly environmental issues.
Although I feel that conferences of this kind are valuable in bringing together peoples of similar interests, I however feel that some criticism is necessary if the continuity of similar efforts depends on refining the lessons from this conference.
One of the main lessons emerging from the experience for me is that peace is not static, but is a cultural construct which is defined and functioned by its constituency based on aspects of race, gender, class, the politics of knowledge and other power-based variables. Although the panel of invited speakers was visually representative of a range of ethnic constituents, the perspective emerging from the panel was a bit narrow and somewhat unchallenging to panelists, delegates and audience. I feel that most of the panelists advocated the concept of peace within a very traditional paradigm of spiritual selfhood (individual and collective), neglecting contemporary issues such as family life, gender relations, gendered/sexual violence, drug abuse/use, teenage pregnancy, youth activism, racial and minority discrimination, gay and lesbian relations within the wider society, resource access and control within and among race, gender and class groupings, etc. The latter factors are much more immediate and imperative in informing /adressing the issues which the youth of today and tomorrow are challenged with to bring a sense of "peace" to. Although I have no reservations about advocating spiritual peace, I feel that peace must remain a wider experience of social, political and economic identity. We are not only spiritual but also social, political, economic and ecological beings.
Based on the sessions I attended, I felt that only Mr. Paul Leslie addressed some of these issues to any extent. I must say that the rest of the panel , to me, represented a monotone of a very "white" concept of peace. As a youth of the developing world this was painful because it provided a mirror which did not reflect any real possibilities for understanding and dealing with my own concepts of peace. Although I cannot reject the "back to nature" love one anotherķ attitude of panelists such as Adam Wolpert, S. Kumar, and A. Ghandi, how do I tell a fellow youth in the Caribbean, affected by uncontrollable trade and social policies from the Economic North, that s/he should just love his/her brothers and sisters in the world and peace will eventually come.
I remember on the opening night, a delegate asked Johan Galtung about the issue of rape, who unintelligently dismissed the issue stating that it's an over rated issue. How can youth deal with individual and collective peace if their thoughts and experiences are not dealt with in a visibly legitimate and just manner? To me this set the tone for most of the conference where the panelists were the gurus of peace while the delegates were supposed to sit at their feet, awaiting the magical nourishment which they can spread throughout their own world. In true Japanese fashion, the sempai-kohai was very much alive.
Even more appalling was Nandini Iyer's academic speech which not only bore little relevance to the contemporary experience and challenges of peace-making but was so sanctioned by white and Euro-centric values of peace in the quotes from people such as Keates and Bacon, that one wondered if any person of colour ever had a vision or a contribution to make to the concept! Had an alien been in the audience maybe it might have been seen as another neo-colonial experiment to bring "order" to the wayward and lost "others" in the global puzzle.
Another really important criticism is the constitute of delegates which was heavily biased toward the Economic North and white-centric North America and Europe. Representation from Africa and Asian people of colour was lacking despite the pool of students from these locations studying in the Kansai region. In fact, a member of the audience asked me if the few persons of colour in the group of delegates were chosen as tokens to visually offset an ethnically-balanced tone for the conference. The conference definitely suffered from the lack of contribution of experiences from minority groups and the developing world which encompasses those of people of colour and Diasporan cultures.
If the conference organizing group is interested in transforming the approach toward peace-making, it must look at the concept as well as the concept of "environment" as constructs which are as diverse as there are cultures and the mosaic which defines the constituencies of human experiences on the face of the planet. It is only then that peace could become functional for those of us who do not need the neo-colonial white mirror to reflect and "progress."
This reflection is not aimed to insult anyone personally, but set in a sharp tone to say what millions of my brothers and sisters have no opportunity to voice, but experience every moment on the globe.
Some suggestions in organizing similar conferences are:
- The organizing may want to set up a working group with students/researchers from developed and developing countries, minority groups and various ethnic backgrounds, to develop a working perspective on conferencing critical concepts such as peace and environment, particularly when these have global implications. The Kansai region is rich in having a pool of such potential contributors. Maybe you may want to write each university or tertiary/vocational institution to get a list of persons and send out a general letter explaining the scope and need for participation and contribution. You may want the scope to be as wide as possible, since this will allow for rigour.
- In sourcing panelists and delegates, efforts should be made to ensure a diversity of contributors, rather than stress a particular perspective. I must commend the initiative of the pre-conference sessions to have delegates determine what panelists should focus on, but for this to be better equipped, again the delegation must be diverse.
- Panelists with more grassroots lessons and perspectives could be included. Also, the social and community workers etc. must be seen as integral to a functional reflection of peace within our time. It would be great to have a few youths who are making valuable contributions to understanding and dealing with current issues to be part of the panels so the delegation could better identify with some of their own gripes on these issues.
- Amar Wahab
"When asked to try and summarize my experience at The Youth of the Millennium in Kyoto, I found myself at a loss for words. I think it is awfully hard to describe how the event affected all of those in involved. It was a three-day event that introduced us to amazing people young and old.
The event allowed me to meet people from countries that I would ordinarily never meet. The hands I shook,the friends we made, the conversations we had, the thoughts we shared, views on life and the world, and knowledge that was gained, are almost impossible to translate into words on a piece of paper. For me the Youth at the millennium was quite a moving experience and also a very encouraging one. The experience motivated me to seek my personal goals as well as to teach others to do the same. All in all the youth at the millennium was one of the best experiences I have ever had, and one I will not soon forget."
- Andy Natusch (U.S.A)
Instead of a Candle, A match is the thing I want to be!
"I have nothing to share" was the first thing I said in the opening ceremony. Throughout seminar, I learned many things. How to socialize with other delegates was the first thing I learned. Our team is like a small world with all the varieties of people. I do understand how difficult it is to cooperate or work with others, especially people from a different cultural background. But that is the most interesting thing I experienced. By using the variety and differences, we can create greater understanding of each other and finally reach the main aim which is to make the world better place.
Then, as the smallest member of the world community I will start by spreading the spirit of working together to change. Not as a candle, because I am not able to be one, I will start as a match, and light other candles.
- Ari Santoso (Indonesia)
The experience that I was a delegate of Youth at Millennium taught me many things. At first I found the fact the difference of nationality and races means nothing. Even language didn't matter when I could not speak fluent English. Before having Youth at Millennium, we talked about many topics in the world to be solved facing new century. To exchange one's opinion helped us awake about these problems. The speakers who shared the Youth at Millennium for three days, helped us to have concrete visions of solving them. Now I came back to my usual life, where I often lose hope about how to make it better. But whenever I recall the days we were together and whenever remember the voices that worry and try to make a better world, I can get a bright vision again.
I really hope the Youth at Millennium is continued so that more people can get wonderful experiences that are impossible otherwise.
- Lee, Seo Yong (Korea)