In the run-up to the AID conference in College Park, the youth conference on Friday gave kids a chance to learn games and songs related to people’s unity, share experiences related to conflict and injustice, meet the speakers and learn about their work, and talk about ways to work for peace an justice from their own perspective and using their various talents.
After warming up with some “Play for Peace” games and dancing to “Gaon Chhodab Nahin” we sat down to grapple with the problem of how to promote the “Say No to Plastic Bag” which can permanently eliminate our use of plastic bags in everyday grocery shopping. A lively conversation ensued and involved into a comical debate with Aman and Khiyali each listing offbeat ways to use plastic bags and cloth bags respectively.
Some more little ones arrived and we repeated the Play for Peace games to help them feel comfortable in the group.
After lunch, Tulika brought out a large piece of wood for the children to decorate with a mirror and some found objects, mainly bottle caps. Eventually the children auctioned off the mirror to raise funds for AID at the conference.
By afternoon more children arrived and we sat down to talk about what peace and justice meant. We started out by talking about what we needed in life and why. Most interesting ideas emerged! The two youngest, Elvira and Anasuya, talked about their home in a forested area and the way the trees helped keep them healthy and happy.
Later we asked the conference speakers to talk about their work and let the children ask them questions. Ashish and Kamayani talked about the struggle for workers rights and gave an example of construction workers who build houses but could not even afford to live in a home of their own. Obalesh followed up and said that the same construction worker who built a house might not be allowed to enter the house once complete, due to caste discrimination.
Asked how they would address such problems as homelessness, children gave a variety of answers ranging from the philanthropic to the political. One young girl decided that the problem needed executive action. In order to see that every person had a home, she said, “I would be the president.”
We also talked about civil disobedience. We asked them if they had ever encountered a rule they thought was unfair. We had an interesting discussion on that but had to cut it short due to lack of time.
Suggestions to improve youth conference
- Announce well in advance to allow parents to plan travel accordingly.
- If kids are interested in performing during main conference, plan enough time to practice in advance.
- Involve local youth (not limited to those attending main conference) to help facilitate – need to know the location well in advance in order to reach out to local youth.
- Change the time to later on Friday and / or conduct in parallel to main conference on Saturday and Sunday
- If keeping the Friday session, charge a fee to enable better planning
- If planning structured activities for youth in parallel with the main conference on Saturday – Monday, fix hours and facilitators for each, just as for the main conference.