From Lancashire to Whitehall

The youth group outside Number 10‘We should go and see David Cameron about this!’, was the conclusion of the Lancashire youth group taking part in our project, “Promoting Positive Voices in Diaspora Communities”.

After a year of training as young advocates for peace, the group (pictured right, in front of Number 10) are starting to feel they can make a real change within their communities – diasporas affected by conflict at home and abroad. Going to Westminster on 29th October was only the first step.

Earlier that month, the group had a chance to practice their public speaking and advocacy skills with a visit to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), where they chaired an engaging meeting with officials from the FCO and Department for International Development (DFID) on the future of Pakistan.

At the meeting they had the opportunity to ask informed and challenging questions about the conflict dynamics in Pakistan and the role young diaspora members can play in the UK’s peacebuilding and development processes. The discussion touched on difficult issues such as the relationship between the US and Pakistan while also highlighting the crucial role that young people, who form two-thirds of Pakistan’s population, can play in supporting peace in the country. Before concluding the meeting, the two young co-chairs told the FCO and DFID officials about their plans to visit Pakistan to discuss with young people how to bring about change in the country and within Pakistani communities abroad.

Only two weeks later, the group was back in London, excited to talk to their local MP, Andrew Stephenson, as well as two lords, Lord Ahmed and Lord Alderdice. Feeling confident about their knowledge of conflict dynamics and their developing role as change-makers, they were ready to tell these leaders what they had learned, but also to hear about how these policymakers had got involved in politics and to find out how to make a difference.

Andrew Stephenson welcomed them in Parliament Street and discussed his role, his passion for making the Pendle constituency a better place and what motivated him to leave his job as an insurance broker to work as a politician. The group asked him questions about his work so far and especially about what it takes to become involved in politics. Andrew then took them for a tour, which started in Downing Street, with plenty of opportunities to take photos by Number 10 and in front of the Prime Minister’s car! From Downing Street they went on to Westminster, where Andrew explained what happens within the grandiose building as well as providing anecdotes from Westminster’s rich history – including the fact that nobody except a member of the royal family can die within Parliament.

After Andrew’s tour, the group settled into a committee room in the House of Lords, ready to meet with Lord Ahmed and Lord Alderdice. Both have been involved in conflict resolution in different ways and they began the meeting by telling the group how they had become involved, what sparked their passion and their tips on how to begin a career as effective peace advocates.

Lord Alderdice recounted his experiences as a young man in Northern Ireland. He was about their age when he began to notice that something was wrong in his community; he found it profoundly unfair that as a Protestant his friendship with a Catholic girl was viewed as unacceptable. It is this sense of unfairness and injustice, he said, that should propel you to do something to change the situation. His powerful message was that as a young person you can make a difference and, driven by that sense of injustice, can play a leading role in bringing peace to conflicted communities. Lord Ahmed shared his own personal journey as an advocate for Pakistan and especially his commitment to reconciling conflicts borne out of misunderstandings and perceived incompatibilities between religions.

The trips have left an indelible mark on the youth group. Over the past year they have realised that they can make a real difference to building peace. This was confirmed in the words of the politicians and leading voices in peacebuilding they have met. The group’s ability to stand their own in front of established leaders and debate confidently about conflict issues and the future of Pakistan shows just how far they have come in their journey to be positive voices for peace in their communities.