By Marc-Romyr Antoine
Our youth are not just the future, they are the present. By providing them with the tools they need to make a difference, we will see our communities and countries flourish.
‘When we involve young people, we involve people who have fresh ideas. People who are eager to work and keen to stand up for what is right.’
In 2017, we brought together 117 young people from all over Haiti to talk about reconciliation, peace, justice and faith. We called the conference Kingdom Come. The participants spent time talking and learning about what the Bible says about poverty, injustice and how Christians should respond. The themes covered included: justice and the gospel; the role of young people in the kingdom; gender equality and equity; creation care; working with gangs; child protection; leadership; peacebuilding and conflict resolution; local church and disasters.
Many of the young people felt very inspired. They said they wanted to see their faith impacting their communities, just like the faith of the early church. One of the delegates said, ‘Growing up, I was taught that the church’s responsibility was limited to the spiritual aspects of life, and that community development and social action were the responsibility of the government. I have learnt that it is my duty to go beyond the four walls of the church to help build our communities.’
The next step was for the young people to meet together in regional groups to study a ten-week course called Live Justly. This course covers six key areas: advocacy, prayer, consumption, generosity, relationships and creation care. Each study includes an in-depth exploration of theology, encouragement to pray and suggested actions. The studies are designed to help young people learn how to live justly at church, at work and in their communities.
Mel, one of the young people, said, ‘The Live Justly Bible studies taught me a lot about how we can change the situation in our communities. I realised that I am an answer to a particular problem, and God has a plan for my life. He also has a plan for my community and my country.’
At the same time as the Haitian youth were completing the course, a group of young people in the UK were also working through it. In 2018, seven British young people came to Haiti to spend time sharing and learning with their Haitian counterparts.
It was a rich time of learning for everyone as the young people spoke about the issues in their communities. They were surprised to learn that many of the issues they identified were the same in the two countries. For example, both groups were concerned about domestic abuse, debt and inequality.
Bringing people together from the UK and Haiti worked very well. Both groups were able to contribute to their overall learning about God, theology, the world and poverty. They also spent time learning about how to respond, including campaigning for change and taking direct action themselves.
Two of the priorities identified during the Live Justly course were creation care and child protection. After further training in these areas, we now have a group of young people who are empowered to become change agents in their communities. They feel able to speak up confidently about issues of poverty and respond to the needs around them.
When we involve young people, we involve people who have fresh ideas. People who are eager to work and keen to stand up for what is right. By giving young people a platform – a voice – we are investing in the present and preparing our countries for the future.
Marc-Romyr Antoine is Tearfund’s Country Director in Haiti.
For more information about Live Justly, please see Resources.
Case study: Yola youth
By Ben Osawe
‘It came as a moment of clarity to me. No matter how young you are, how small, you can turn on a light in a dark room.’
Ruth comes from a community in north‑east Nigeria that has been broken by years of conflict. Young people are often seen as lazy and violent: a problem, not a solution. This creates resentment and complacency among the young, distancing them from the general population even more.
However, Ruth now sees things differently. After completing the Live Justly course, she and the other participants speak of having a changed mindset. They feel empowered, and have realised that they do not need to wait for others to solve their problems.
‘We do not want to live and then die and our story is gone,’ one of them said. ‘We want to make an impact.’
Following the Live Justly course, a group of about 50 young Nigerians formed the Yola Renewal Foundation. The members support each other to carry out activities that make a difference in their communities.
These activities include:
- tree planting
- organising groups to pick up litter
- clearing drainage channels to reduce the risk of floods
- making stools, coffee tables and potato planters from old tyres (which stops them being burnt and releasing toxic fumes).
The members also look for ways to support individuals in need. For example, they are teaching people how to make jewellery, liquid soap, and toys from old bottles. They share their tools until the trainees are able to raise enough money to buy their own.
The young people are being the change they want to see. They have made commitments to be less wasteful, to keep their neighbourhoods clean and to support the livelihoods of street sellers by not bargaining with them.
Ruth’s friend Jimmy says, ‘I used to see justice as something that happens in a court, but now I see it as part of life. Some of us had lost hope, but after the Live Justly training we realised we have all we need to live more justly and make a difference.’
Ben Osawe is Tearfund’s Advocacy Manager in Nigeria.