VOICES: Encourage youth to build a culture of peace and service

Cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “The young, free to act on their initiative, can lead their elders in the direction of the unknown… the young must ask the questions that we would never think to ask.”

Today, in the US and Caribbean, there are nearly 20 million students in high school. There are 48 million young people in the United States ages 14-24. Of the 7.8 billion people in the world today, more than 1.2 billion are ages 14-24. These statistics prompted the United Nations in 2015 to adopt Security Council Resolution 2250, calling on all countries to make it a priority to have young people play an important and positive role in the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security. The goal of this resolution is to ensure young people have a greater voice in decision-making about peacebuilding processes.

Rotary International, a global volunteer service network, has challenged its members worldwide to collaborate with schools and clubs serving youth to engage young people in a more meaningful way. From that challenge, Rotary Zones 33 & 34, the founding sponsors of a new initiative called Youth & Peace in Action (YPA), have created an opportunity for students 14-18 to become Certified Peacebuilders.

YPA is the largest youth peacebuilding initiative in the United States and Caribbean. The effort spans nine states in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern US; Washington DC; the Caribbean; and parts of South America. Other Rotary Districts, including Ohio District 6670, comprised of forty-seven communities surrounding Dayton, are participating in this year’s initiative as well. As a result of Rotary’s financial support, there is no cost to student participants.

The YPA pilot during the 2021-22 launch year will provide online peace education modules, youth-led design and implementation of grassroots peace projects and sharing with other online and local community members. Participating high school students join the YPA Online Peace Platform and enroll in the flagship My Peacebuilder Foundations course. This interactive, online course covers foundational knowledge related to peacebuilding (some which is typically only available through programs like the Rotary Peace Fellowship or Master’s Degree programs in conflict resolution) and allows students who complete the twelve-hour, self-paced experience to become Certified NewGen Peacebuilders.

The registration deadline for students interested in earning a Peacebuilder Certification in 2022 is December 31, 2021. In addition to the online YPA curriculum, local students, ages 14-18, are invited to monthly “Conversations on Peace” Zoom sessions between Rotary volunteers and students to discuss the current online module and reflect upon how local issues can be impacted by the case study outcomes in the coursework.

“Rotary International has more than 1.2 million members and exists in part to champion greater peacebuilding influence, impact, and innovation,” said Peter Kyle, Rotary International Director. “Zones 33 & 34, along with support from other Rotarians, is proud to support YPA to raise the profile of young people as peacebuilders,”

“Along with the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) program, this robust learning platform for young people provides tools and common vocabulary for creative problem solving necessary for the next generation of leaders,” said Carol Hughes, Rotary 6670 District Governor.

Students are participating locally to-date from Dayton Regional STEM School, Oakwood and Centerville.

Whether or not a student completes YPA’s online certification program, they may participate Saturday, April 23, 2022, at the Dayton International Peace Museum in the inaugural Youth Peace Advocacy, Leadership & Service Day, with youth at the center of building and sustaining a culture of peace and service locally.

Kelly Marie Lehman co-chairs the Rotary District 6670 Peace Advocacy, Leadership & Service Day committee.

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