Young Afghans speak out for peace, volunteerism in context of Covid-19 pandemic

14 Jun 2020

Young Afghans speak out for peace, volunteerism in context of Covid-19 pandemic

BADAKHSHAN - Young people in Afghanistan have the power to build a culture of peace while preventing and resolving local disputes, even in the context of the COVID-19 crisis, said participants in a UN-backed radio discussion broadcast in Faizabad, the capital of the north-eastern province of Badakhshan.

“Youth have enormous potential to make change, especially with regard to joining in national efforts moving toward peace negotiations and to help in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Salahuddin Qarizada, a Badakhshan University lecturer and a member of the provincial Peace and Conflict Resolution Network.

“If all young Afghans join together and speak out, the country’s communities will be in a better position to help stop the fighting and to address the coronavirus,” he added.

In Afghanistan, even as traditional norms typically give more weight to the voices of elders, a new generation of young people have been working across the country, some as volunteers and others in business or academia, bringing forward their fresh ideas and energy, and making their voices heard on key issues.

The participants in the Badakhshan radio programme included a lecturer, a journalist, a rights activist and a medical doctor – all of them part of Afghanistan’s emerging generation of youth. During the show, they each expressed their views about the importance of youth being part of decision-making processes and discussed the need for cultivating a spirit of volunteerism.

“I call on all young people to recognize their capabilities and do whatever is possible to help mobilize their communities against the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Shahriwar Khawhani, who encouraged all Afghan youth to embrace volunteerism, in any way they can, to help the country in this time of need.

“During this period, I myself have become a volunteer and have used my medical training to help underserved patients,” she added. “I encourage others to do the same, to do what they can to help in spreading accurate information so that we can see a world free from coronavirus.”

Abdul Samad Shirzad, the head of  Badakhshan’s Directorate of Youth Affairs, said that in the recent years, and in collaboration with young people and civil society organizations, the spirit of volunteerism has flourished in the province, especially in areas related to local peace initiatives aimed at resolving disputes.

“Volunteer efforts have resulted in anti-government elements allowing the reopening of schools in several districts of Badakhshan, and without any limitations on health services delivery,” said Abdul, noting that the establishment of youth volunteer teams in all districts of the province has led to increased public awareness about the COVID-19 crisis and about the importance of humanitarian access to those in need.

While young Afghans in the northeast of the country face significant challenges, including illiteracy and unemployment, there is a growing recognition that any peace efforts in Afghanistan must be inclusive and must therefore involve young people. That concept is reaffirmed by Security Council Resolution 2282 (2016), which recognizes the importance of youth in deterring and resolving conflict.

Afghanistan currently has one of the largest youth populations in the world. According to some estimates, three-quarters of the country’s population is below the age of 30, making young people a vital demographic. Young Afghans are also among the most affected by the protracted conflict, grappling with high levels of illiteracy, unemployment and poverty.

The programme in Badakhshan was recorded and broadcast by one of UNAMA’s partner media outlets, Sada-e-Banowan, and reached an audience estimated at 300,000 residents in and around the provincial capital of Faizabad.

Last year, in a series of  debates arranged by UNAMA’s Kunduz regional office, more than 80 young people consisting of students and lecturers from north-eastern universities came together with rights activists to discuss the role of youth in building peace in their communities and participating fully in Afghanistan’s social, economic and political life.

The Badakhshan programme, a Local Peace Initiative project, was part of a series of shows broadcast across the country, with media partners recording and airing the discussions and debates while also creating new programmes around the issues that are raised, extending the discussion and creating new opportunities for local voices to be heard on issues such as peace, reconciliation, government transparency, human rights and rule of law.

UNAMA supports the Afghan people and government to achieve peace and stability. In accordance with its mandate as a political mission, UNAMA backs conflict prevention and resolution, promoting inclusion and social cohesion, as well as strengthening regional cooperation. The Mission supports effective governance, promoting national ownership and accountable institutions that are built on respect for human rights.

UNAMA provides 'good offices' and other key services, including diplomatic steps that draw on the organization’s independence, impartiality and integrity to prevent disputes from arising, escalating or spreading. The Mission coordinates international support for Afghan development and humanitarian priorities.