Flipping the Narrative | Kit Wheeldon

Christopher/Kit Wheeldon • 20 October 2016

Never underestimate the power of an outside perspective. Though this phrase is well understood it is not always appreciated among a wide variety of groups. Rarer still is the understanding that sometimes the best people to analyze a situation do not only not come from within but also come from a separate mindset entirely. Over the next few months, the UN Development Programme will be utilizing such a method. They will be doing it in order to examine peacebuilding and citizen security programs involving youth in the Arab States, the Balkans and the Caribbean regions.

Engaged by UNDP as researchers, we are tasked with analyzing peacebuilding programs and formulating recommendations to harness the unique, positive energy youth can inject into peace and development processes. Though our assignment from UNDP is quite standard, the demographic and makeup of our group is not: for we are ourselves youth. We are a group of eighteen students, each with diverse interests, currently assigned to various missions and agencies throughout the UN. Our placements are very widespread but they include UNDP, UNICEF, UNHCR and the missions of several countries to the UN.

Many of us are still at college or university, or have just recently graduated so for all of us, this is the largest and most ambitious assignment we have ever undertaken. That excites many of us but all excitement aside, there is no question we face a complex task. The first crucial challenge for our group was to understand UNDP as a client - a relationship few of us had any kind of experience with. During our limited time in New York, we need to meet the needs of UNDP and discern the largest issues facing its programs.

Crucially, though, our comparative advantage will allow us to show that youth cannot be pigeonholed as victims or perpetrators, but should be recognized as opportunities and providers of solutions in conflict areas.

This was thrown into relief in the documentary ‘The White Helmets’, which several of us watched at the UN Headquarters only a few weeks ago. The documentary is named for a relief organization formed of Aleppo locals, who risk their lives trying to save as many people from Syrian and Russian airstrikes as possible.

Watching the documentary, it was clear that many of the rescuers risking their lives to save others were no more than a few years older than us. Additionally, though the documentary filled us with gloom and despair, we also felt a wide sense of hope and optimism knowing that a small group of determined young individuals could save tens of thousands of lives despite the dangers and difficulties that lay before them.

‘The White Helmets’ show that youth in conflict areas can provide more good than most could have ever imagined. Moreover, the White Helmets are but a single group. The voids in many conflict areas that need inspirational groups like them are boundless. As our group investigates the region and UNDP programs more deeply, we aim to highlight more opportunities for youth engagement, while changing the narrative on youth involvement in conflict zones.