'Establishing a culture of peace starts with us' #iRespectU Guyana Youth Interview on World Peace Day
Every year, the International Day of Peace on 21 September celebrates the power of solidarity and mutual understanding to build peaceful societies.
This has never been more important than today, at a time of unprecedented challenges. With accelerating climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, new forces of division have emerged, spreading hatred and intolerance, exacerbating existing fragility, and increasing the risk of violence. Creating a culture of peace and sustainable development is at the heart of UNESCO's mandate. This guides all UNESCO's actions to build peace through education, freedom of expression, intercultural dialogue, respect for human rights and cultural diversity, and scientific cooperation.
The following interview was conducted as part of UNESCO's #iRespectU campaign for equality, diversity, and inclusion, which aims to amplify the voices of youth across the Caribbean sub-region.
On this International Day of Peace, we spoke with Quacy Grant, President of the Guyana National Youth Council (GNYC).
Tell us about the mission and values of the Guyana National Youth Council (GNYC).
My name is Quacy Grant and as President of the Guyana National Youth Council, GNYC, I have accompanied its beginning. In 2013 it sparked out of consultations of young people from across the country with the support of the Commonwealth Youth Secretariat. I would like to say that we are the grassroots organisation of the Commonwealth Youth Secretariat and we also report to the Caribbean Regional Youth Council.
Our mission is in line with the slogan 'think global, act local'. This means that while we have global issues in mind and network internationally, we tackle the issues on a local scale. Our three pillars to which we align our workare: Youth and Governance, Youth in the Electoral Process, and Youth Advocacy.
How are you contributing to a more peaceful society in Guyana with the Youth Council?
GNYC is currently represented on a UN sub-committee convened by the UN Peace Advisor in Guyana. The aim is to set up a project for civil society to find out how we can curb the problem of racial discrimination and tension in Guyana.
In Guyana, we have a history of conflict between the two major ethnic groups, Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese, that are roughly aligned with the two major political parties in Guyana. Last year, when we had general and regional elections, it took almost five months before we had results. Especially during the election period, the tensions were very high.
One of our flagship projects, for which we were awarded by the Commonwealth Youth Commonwealth Youth Programme in 2016, is to educate our young people about the right to vote, especially those who are voting for the first time.
In doing so, we aim to break the cycle of racial voting in order to promote and establish a culture of peace. We encourage young people to vote based on issues and not the skin color or ethnic background of the representatives of the political parties. In doing so, we create messages for youth to inform them on the matter and build a culture of peace.
We also work with the Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassadors Network and have a local group in Guyana that helps spread the peace messages. At the same time, of course, we learn from what other countries are doing, because this network extends across all Commonwealth countries, so we can get ideas from other countries and see how these ideas and messages can be adapted to the local context.
In Guyana, 70 percent of our land is made up of forests, the hinterland.
Young people are living in these remote forest areas who do not have access to the internet and some forms of traditional media like we do in the rest of the country. In our campaigns, we always try to take a hybrid approach. That is, although we communicate through traditional media and social media, we also have focus groups and face-to-face meetings. Even during COVID-19, we have traveled to the hinterland to share information and raise awareness about the virus and the vaccination campaign. Last year, as part of our campaign, we went to the hinterland region to engage in capacity development efforts on voter education and a culture of peace with youth and women of indigenous descent.
What can young people do to create a culture of peace in Guyana?
Many people in Guyana have doubts about the COVID-19 vaccines, so I have made it my mission to allay their fears about the COVID-19 vaccines. If we don't get COVID-19 under control, we will leave this pandemic with more risks and conflicts than when we started.
Cases of domestic violence and family violence have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although we are in this crisis, people are using it as an opportunity to cause more division. Even though the scientific community and public health specialists are doing their best to contain the spread of the virus and to achieve herd immunity there are protests in our country.
I listen to other young people every day. They are struggling with many problems: they are unemployed, they can't get jobs, and this makes them restless, and some of them are even thinking about turning to a life of crime and violence because they feel that society is not doing enough for them. Additionally, flooding destroyed some areas of the country.
I tell them that they must first make peace with themselves before they find ways to cope with the pressures and challenges of life.
How do you wish to see the world five years from now?
When we have found inner peace, we can also resolve the conflicts we have with each other. Because there will always be conflicts. There are so many people and we are all different, but we have to try to find an amicable solution to live peacefully together. That is my wish for the world in the next five years as we try to get out of this COVID-19 pandemic. We are all in the same boat here. It is difficult for all of us, but we have to think not only of ourselves but also of the community.
We have to put ourselves in each other's shoes, join hands, and move forward. We must not use this pandemic as an opportunity to create discord and divide ourselves even more, but we must use it as an opportunity to become more resilient and stronger as a Guyanese nation, as humanity.
The ideas and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee; they are not necessarily those of UNESCO.