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EFIL participated in the UN Alliance of Civilisation Youth Event and Global Forum held in Baku, Azerbaijan, on 24-28 April 2016 and was represented by Massimiliano Verri (AFS Italy), member of the European Pool of Representatives. The event was also attended by the President of AFS Intercultural Programs, Vincenzo Morlini, who gave a speech in the breakout session on ‘D-Goals of Preventing Violent Extremism through Education: Educating for Development, Diversity and Dialogue’, and by Melissa Liles, Chief Education officer at AFS International.
Massimilano Verri is an experienced AFS and EFIL volunteer now based in Geneva, Switzerland. Here is his testimony on this enriching experience.
‘There were probably two reasons behind my decision to apply for this event. First, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations ; second, participating in an event in Baku sounded like a great opportunity to discover a city I hadn’t planned to visit in the near future. Two weeks after the event, I must say that being there was interesting on many different levels.
Meeting 150 young people from more than 100 countries at the Youth event and exchanging thoughts in an informal setting about each other’s social engagement, was extremely enriching. In a world where good news is no news and we are only told about how bad things are, it is inspiring and reassuring to hear so many stories about young leaders who are doing a lot to improve our society and the lives of many. Exchanging with other youth was made easy by the effort participants put in the two months preceding the event, in which we engaged online not only to introduce one another, but also to actively work on the ‘narratives of tomorrow’, in line with the UNAOC Global Forum theme, that is ‘Living together in inclusive societies: A challenge and a goal’. Through engaging online with little coordination from the organisers we were able to draft concrete proposals addressing this theme from different angles, be it peace-building, gender equality, education, intercultural dialogue, or the role of the media. This showed, once again, the huge potential of civil society in tackling global issues that are normally left in the hands of governments or large international organisations.
Attending the Global Forum, a high-level conference with nearly 3,000 participants wasn’t something I had experienced before. High-level attendees doesn’t always guarantee ground-breaking discussions, and diplomacy and political correctness aren’t always the strongest points of Ministers and Heads of state. Panels where 5 out of 6 speakers were American and the only non-American was Canadian, didn’t bring diversity and plurality of views to the discussion, and it was somewhat disturbing to hear Ministers and former Ministers still advocate for the kind of western intervention in developing countries so popular until not long ago, and that brought more challenges than solutions in these regions. Finally, it was sad to hear so much one-sided propaganda on the clash between Armenia and Azerbaijan, at an event that was meant to promote inclusive societies.
Discovering Baku through the lenses of local Youth Event participants was truly exciting. Our Azeri hosts were great and did everything to ensure we made the most out of our little time in their country. I left Geneva knowing so little about Baku and with so few expectations. I now have a much clearer picture of this country which is at the crossroads between Europe and Asia. Baku is using oil revenues to build a lively modern city that is cleaner and tidier than Switzerland, where you cross the road through marble-paved subways, and where luxury German cars take the same highways as vintage vehicles from the Soviet era.
All in all, attending the UNAOC Youth Event and Global Forum was a great learning experience. It’s thanks to such learning that I’m still as committed an AFS volunteer as when I came back from my exchange 10 years ago. May AFS keep on shining.’
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