Believing in young people

I want to tell you the story about Ammar al-Shahbander. He was killed by a car bomb in Bagdad on 2 May 2015. You can read about it here. In 1998, I was funded by the URBAN programme to lead a project called the School Integration Project. Ammar was one of 24 young people that was recruited among the unemployed to take part in the project. During the first three months, these young people were trained to do interviews with school children. We also took a lot of advantage of their own competences regarding language, culture, religion, being a young person etc. After the three months, we spend a few months to all together develop a questionnaire with questions to ask pupils, also using different animations etc. During all these months, the 24 young people also performed different tasks at three schools (with children aged 10-15) which enabled them to be known, to establish trust etc. That became important when the young people during the last months of the project carried out the interviews with the pupils, 1.307 in total, about power, trust, culture, relations, future beliefs and all those important things that grades don’t cover. Before they finished, after 9 months, the young people also went back to the schools and presented results of the interviews.

For me, this was a research project which engendered a fantastic research material. For the young people, they got an education but in forms which also empowered them and took advantage of their own experience and competences. For the schools, they got a lot of support in their development and had a lot of use of the publication I wrote afterwards. It was a kind of a win-win-win solution, although we didn’t call it social innovation as that term yet didn’t exist. I was reminded about this because of Ammar’s tragic death, indeed devastating to hear about. It leads me to draw three conclusions:

• We must believe that all young people, in one way or another, can contribute to the development of society, if they only get the right chance. Ammar is a wonderful example of this.
• Young people must be given opportunities to become democratic and critical thinking members of society so that fewer people become like Bush and Saddam. Ammar is a wonderful example of this as well, fighting as he did for peace and freedom in Iraq.
• It must be made possible for young people to participate in society in ways which enables them to believe in a better life, instead of getting involved in crime or organizations like the Islamic State (IS). Sweden’s biggest daily newspaper, Dagens Nyheter (DN), had an article on 3 May titled “IS becomes a resort for socially excluded young people.” In the article, a comment was made by a principal of a school that has lost three former students to IS: “It is the segregation and social exclusion that are the breeding ground for this problem. For young guys who do not see a way into society, but only a way out, IS becomes an option.” IS claimed the responsibility for the car bomb that killed Ammar.

Swedish national radio made a programme about Ammar, which the Swedish-speaking audience can listen to here: Konflikt

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