In the Middle East, Discovering the Aspirations of Youth

by |May 9, 2016

This is the second in a four-part series of film profiles highlighting the work of students in the Masters of Public Administration in Development Practice program housed within the School of International and Public Affairs. This summer, 57 students will leave the Columbia Morningside campus to undertake 12-week summer field placements with partner organizations around the globe.

By Olive Nsababera

I spent the three months of my summer field placement with UNICEF in Amman, Jordan, conducting research on the hopes and aspirations of young people. This included trying to understand what drives young people towards positive forms of participation such as civic engagement instead of resorting to destructive methods of participation.

Olive Nsababera

Olive Nsababera

The focus of the research was Jordan, Syria and Palestine. I was on the ground collecting data in Jordan, and worked with data collection teams in Syria and Palestine. Within Jordan this involved traveling across the country to speak with Syrian youth refugees, as well as Jordanian and Palestinian youth. I was deeply struck by how candid the respondents were. For most of them, no one had previously sought their views, and yet they were clamouring for a chance to be heard.

The experience has enabled me to better grasp the practical relevance and timeliness of such research in the region in ways that are only possible by being immersed in it. For instance, in the midst of the ongoing refugee crisis and instability in the region, it was a uniquely informative opportunity to hear first-hand from a large proportion of young people, despite their finding it difficult to conceive of a future in a region torn apart by conflict. They feel marginalized and excluded from political, economic and social spheres. They view the future as uncertain, ambiguous, largely sealed and predetermined by the political situation. They are afraid of what is coming. Yet, on a basic level, they want peace in their countries, to live in a safe and secure environment, to serve their countries and to be given an opportunity to engage in their respective political processes.

Much research on the region fails to take into account the perspective of young people, which would provide a better alternative. This could result in a one-sided narrative that fails to engage sufficiently with the attitudes, opinions and perceived needs of young people themselves. I hope that by contributing to the existing body of research, future policies and programs can be better tailored and designed to respond to their identified needs.

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