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Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 8.26.15 AMAndre Damian 

Utrecht, Netherlands

Taking responsibility for a better world 

One day, I walked through the UNESCO Garden of Peace in Paris, where I gazed upon an impressive monument, which had the following quote engraved in it:

“Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.”

This was my moment. When these truthful words lit a spark in my heart, I began to wonder what today’s situation on world peace is. Today, the Cold War is over, but new conflicts have risen all over the globe. As a child, when a star crossed the sky, I would wish for world peace. For all of humankind to be happy and safe. Who hasn’t? Yet, today, all I see on the television is news about war and conflict, bloodshed and human misery. It seems as if world peace is a heavenly concept far away from reality.

I reject such pessimism. It is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed. A change of mind is necessary and essential to generate a peace movement. And that change starts in the head and the heart of the young generation. We, the young global citizens of today, are the most influential and interconnected generation the world has ever seen. Even though we might not be UN officials seated in the Security Council, we can make a change and we can be part of a global shift in peace. ‘World peace’ is not a heavenly concept far away from reality. It is a way of living and a way of understanding. Most of all, it is a movement in which youth cannot be missed.

I feel limitless. As young and ambitious global citizens, we look at peace and see opportunities for resolution and transformation. Conflicts rise from differences in views and values: such is why everyday interactions between people in conflict must be transformed from destructive to constructive. In the era of globalization, such interactions are more interconnected than ever. That is why we must approach each other and our differences with respect and why we must use creativity to find common ground that people can aspire to and are willing to work towards. Because in the end, despite our differences, we all bleed the same red. In all of this, young people play a necessary role. Our generation comes together, online and offline, mobilized and united with thousands, if not millions of voices, determined to build peace together – limitlessly.

I can make a change. Realizing peace comes first of all with awareness. At 17 years old, I founded the Youth Embassy of Peace in my hometown. The Embassy is a place where young people can learn about peace to become aware of global affairs, so they can realize they also have a responsibility to stand up and do something. Our workshop on ‘Peace Activism 2.0’ has been nationally awarded with the Lucifer Prize for the Most Innovative Peace Week activity. It taught young people how to use social media for a new way of peace activism. Moreover, we helped to build a school in Syria, so young children in conflict can still enjoy their human right to education.

Secondly, peace comes with action. When aware of what is happening in the world and what one can do about it, the next step is to simply transform thought into action. Our generation is one that speaks up at the sight of injustice. In the era of globalization, we are able to connect with millions of other youth and are able to use our united power to demand to be heard. At 18 years old, I became a Founding member and Policy Coordinator for the Youth Taskforce on Child abuse. Peace in a child’s home is world peace in their eyes. Through this work, I helped to raise the voice of youth in the political agenda of child abuse prevention, a voice which needed to be heard.

Finally, peace comes with time. Peace is a movement in which patience is a virtue. It is an ongoing process that continually should be worked on for it to bear its fruits in the future. As the Dutch Youth Representative of Youth for Human Rights International, I taught human rights to youth, for them to become valuable leaders for tolerance and peace. We are the leaders of tomorrow, but we are also the leaders of today. In order to invest in a more peaceful world, we must cultivate a culture of tolerance for tomorrow, while taking action today.

I am one of many. I realize that many aspiring and inspiring young peace activists stand together with me. Even though we have different roofs under our head, different religious or political beliefs and speak different languages.. We are one. Because all of us once wished for world peace when a star crossed our sky. And in our minds, is where the defenses of tomorrow’s peace are constructed.

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The defenses of peace must be constructed in the minds of the young generation. We can build peace through awareness, action and time. We may be young, but that’s our power – we are strong, influential and interconnected.

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