On May 20, a 90 minute helicopter ride from Bangui, Ahmad Alhendawi was welcomed in Kaga Bandoro by the chief officer of MINUSCA and the Prefect of Kaga Bandoro. The Envoy on Youth was accompanied straight to the field to visit the “Youth at Risk” initiative, supported by UNDP and MINUSCA, to help high-risk youth integrate back into the community and significantly reduce the risk of violence.
Richard Bingi Vaya, a young person working at a construction site, said, “I am glad to work for my community, we are ready to be developed in this work but we still need your support so we can continue working here and learning more skills.”
Many young Christians and Muslims who have rejected violence in Kaga Bandoro are now working together to rebuild their community. The Envoy expressed his admiration at seeing them working side by side. He stated “I would like to ask you to work for peace and build your community not to allow things to go back for war, for division and for violence; we need you to be force of good and development, to help rebuild your community, exactly what you are doing now. Your community has suffered for a long time, it is now time to recover and rebuild, we count on you and we will be with you. We are proud of you and keep it the good work and the United Nations will continue to support.”
The Youth at Risk initiative is focused on armed and vulnerable non-armed youths, who are not eligible under the national Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programme, but who could be manipulated by armed groups and still represent a threat to the relative peace and stability that currently being maintained in CAR. The project provides them with employment/economic opportunities and occupied in labor intensive non-skilled work (THMO) to rehabilitate local infrastructure for the benefit of the community.
The initiative has already provided opportunities to 11,000 youths across 5 different locations in CAR, and has specifically helped 1,861 youths (41% women) in Kaga-Bandoro earn income
by rebuilding local infrastructures such as the Municipal Conference hall, 11 km rural tracks/roads that link farm enclaves to immediate local markets, administrative buildings, and a community sports, and recreation center.
Upon his return to Bangui, Ahmad Alhendawi met with the High Council for the Youth Pioneer National (HCJPN) and observed the youth workshops. The HCJPN is one of the key institutions that ensures the development and implementation of Government policies and programmes as well as provides intellectual and professional skills to vulnerable and disarmed youth. The Envoy was a witness to the signature of an agreement on future programmes between UNFPA and the High Council for the Youth Pioneer National.
The UN Youth Envoy joined the Minister of Youth at MINUSCA for a press conference. He briefed the journalists on the discussion he had with the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Youth as well what he have seen on the field. There was a consensus from all these meetings: “This is not a time for small interventions or for fragmented efforts, this is the time to join our forces for good and put all our resources together in a coordinating fashion to supporting young people” he stated.
He invited the media to be partners and spread the positive images of young people in CAR rather than those of sectarian violence. “What I saw this morning in Kaga Bandoro are Muslims youths and Christian youths coming together working for their community, joining the same project and that the spirit of unity not the spirit of division, the spirit of unity that is bringing them together we should feature this work more, we should describe them as an opportunity not a problem.”
The Minister of Youth asked the UN Youth Envoy to help them to organize the Youth National Forum that will bring all the youth from CAR together. Mr. Alhendawi explained that although the forum is very important, young people need services, they need projects immediately. He said that for five long years youth have been marginalized and only used in conflicts. “It is important to listen to them, to work with them, that is equally important, they will feel they are being taken seriously.”
The UN Youth Envoy pointed out that approximately 115 countries have created National Programmes for Youth that have action plans. He considers that is the right way to work with youth. He asked the audience to make sure that the environment created after the elections fully utilizes for the benefit of young people. He insisted on making youth a priority. “From youth, you take it as an entry point to go to all different sectors. We need to build that program that will put more investment in youth.”
He concluded the press conference by expressing that he is leaving the country knowing that young people are waiting to serve, “My message to all, we should not fail this generation of young people because peace, development, stability and recovery are coming all down to one word: youth. We have to work with this generation of young people to achieve all this goals and I think they are ready.”
After the press conference, Ahmad Alhendawi met with the association of young ladies in the 3rd district of Bangui. Ahmad Alhendawi encouraged the young women to continue working for peace: “I am very proud of you all because you have proven that women are a force for peace. I want you to teach your children to work for peace and not carry guns, to carry things for work development, to help your community to make a living peacefully.”
After spending three days in CAR meeting with young people, the UN Youth Envoy confidently stated: “I feel there is hope something better will come and they are expecting a lot from us.”