Middle East Experience: Walking the Path to Peace by Lily Bentley
One of my favourite things about UN Youth Australia is that it gives young people the confidence and skills to turn their wildest dreams into reality. Eighteen months ago, I was in the living room of National President Tim Matthews, making him a cup of tea while he recovered from a full knee reconstruction. The conversation we had went a little something like this:
“You know what we should do? We should go to the Middle East.”
“What, us? I reckon today you should be happy with just making it down the stairs.”
“No, shut up – we should take students. With UN Youth. It’ll be the best.”
After I’d put the milk back in the fridge, Tim and I sat down and planned out the first draft of what is now the UN Youth Middle East Experience: a trip for 12 high school students to the most historically and politically relevant region in the world in terms of modern international relations.
We were excited about the Middle East for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s a region many people would love to go to, but don’t have the confidence to go to solo. We wanted to provide a safe, educational, and truly eye-opening experience for our Ambassadors that they simply can’t get anywhere else. Secondly, we know that the welcoming social environment UN Youth provides for young people is enhanced by the top-tier educational content we create – the Middle East is absolutely full of complex and challenging issues that we want to give students the chance to explore, outside the classroom. Our focus? Peace building.
However, (and probably thankfully) a pie-in-the-sky idea like ours couldn’t just happen because we wanted it to. Over the next 12 months we presented and re-presented our vision to members of the wider organisation, who questioned, challenged, and changed it for the better. Another one of my favourite things about UN Youth is that it forces you to be your best, and to bring only your best work to fruition.
So what did we end up with? Something that, in my opinion, is unmatchable. The UN Youth Australia Middle East Experience: Walking the Path to Peace.
We’ll start off in Australia – you’ll meet your fellow Ambassadors and spend the day in Sydney getting to know one another and the adventure ahead. First stop? Dubai. A bustling, modern, urban metropolis in great contrast to much of the Middle East, this city is the perfect place to begin our tour. Here, we will meet with organisations such as the United Nations Development Program and the World Food Program, to discuss themes such as development in the context of extended conflict, humanitarian responses to emergencies in conflict areas, and the reduction of hunger and capacity building as a mechanism for peace.
Next, we’re heading to Jordan. The capital of Jordan, Amman, is a city in the middle of its transition from traditional to modern, surrounded by historically meaningful sites and with organisations that will provide valuable consultations. Here, we will explore an ancient settlements such as Jerash, visit crusades stronghold Ajloun Castle, and see Mt Nebo, where Moses looked out to see the Promised Land. In Amman we will meet with the Australian Embassy to Jordan to discuss Australia’s role in the Middle East Peace Process, the UN Relief Works Agency, and UN High Commission for Refugees. We also can’t forget our stop in Petra – the entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with buildings literally carved into the rock around the town. This place is arguably the most beautiful city in the Middle East, and is steeped in history.
We end our tour in Jerusalem. One of the most important cities in the world, Jerusalem provides not only an enormous amount of historical sites, but also a great number of professional consultation opportunities. Examples include the Australian Defence Force, to discuss the role of Australian military in the peace process, the UN Truce Supervision Organisation, and the role of the UN and the use of force within the region, as well as World Vision and the International Crisis Group, to discuss the role of NGOs. Here, we will also volunteer at Hand in Hand, a bilingual school that brings together Jewish and Arab children to foster friendship and a sense of community across cultures.