Sunday, December 11, 2011

Youth Gather in Doha

 Olivia is in Doha, Qatar to attend the UN Alliance of Civilizations Forum on Development and Cultural Exchange.  On December 10, she moderated the Pre-Forum Discussion for Youth Leaders.

Today, myself and 25 other UN Alliance Of Civilizations moderators (folks who had been moderating the online pre-forum discussion, members of the Youth Committee, and students from Penn State’s World in Conversation program) moderated four hours of discussion in order to come up with 7 concrete messages we want to send to world leaders. These messages will be presented tomorrow at the opening session of the 4th UNAOC Forum in Doha.
I have spent the last three weeks moderating the pre-Forum discussion on how the arts speak to a shared human experience and what kinds of programs work.  Reading so many other young voices form across the world share their stories of singing in a choir, of performing in a show, and of creating a mural together reinforced for me that I am in precisely the right business.  Creativity and collaboration are the most effective way to reach across borders and truly see another being for who he or she is.
Today, the prospect of crafting a youth message that will be heard on a global stage is exciting in and of itself, but to do so with thirteen other youth leaders from all over the world is an opportunity I rarely get.  So often when youth connect, it is through the internet.  We do not sit together in the same room to engage in dialogue around issues of development and cultural diversity: that only occurs in my nerdy fantasies.   
Of course, through Bond Street young people do get to experience collaboration in the same room, but one or two countries at a time.  Today there were leaders from over one hundred countries sitting face-to-face.
Not that dialogue is enough: we must commit to setting goals together that propel us toward sustainable change.   Dialogue is a tool to reach a collaborative construction of methodology, ideology, programming, and more.  Even though this is the UN and there is a lot of talking, just talking is not enough.  Youth work quickly, we organize, and we spring to action.  There is certainly space for reflection and planning so we do not end up flying by the seat of our pants, but the focus must be on moving towards a goal.  I get frustrated when dialogue is the end and not the means because I and the other 400 folks here are not used to talk.  We are used to turning words into action.
I, in particular, am used to working with very few words.  The arts create a space to engage in dialogue nonverbally by sharing cultures and the human experience of living in them.  As one of the only self-identified artists here (and certainly the only one who works at an arts organization), I am consistently finding myself on the verge of yelling, “Just CREATE together!”  My pre-forum discussion proved that working together to create theatre, song, visual art, murals, or any sort of creative project breaks down the barriers that exist.
My goal for the next three days is to make as many people as possible-from Ban-Ki Moon on down- understand this fundamental value.  I know the arts work not just in Afghanistan, in Haiti, in Myanmar, in the Balkans, in Israel, but I have also seen them work firsthand in Nepal and in prisons in the US.  
I am reinforced in my mission every time I tell a delegate what I do and they immediately exclaim, “Wonderful!  That sounds so interesting/effective/useful/creative!”  Everyone has that positive reaction because using art to reach across borders makes some sort of innate sense to us. It’s about more than providing a voice to the voiceless: it is about empowering voices to speak us and be heard in whatever way they want to communicate.  

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