In a time when governments around the world are restricting civil society activism, 32 determined Afghan youth leaders traveled to Bosnia Herzegovina to discuss the role of youth engagement in post-conflict, Muslim countries. The youth – 16 women and 16 men from 25 provinces in Afghanistan – captured headlines across Bosnia as they met with leading media outlets, grassroots activists and key officials to exchange their ideas and experiences.
Their visit was as part of a 10-day international exposure visit organized through Counterpart’s Emerging Civil Society Leaders Program (ECSLP). In Afghanistan, where nearly 70 percent of the population is under 25 years old, younger generations are faced with both a challenge and an opportunity to build positive, social reform. Saraya Ashory, a female youth activist from Kundoz Province, told reporters: “We [youth] must fight to have a shared vision. It is important that young people unite and invest in their future.”
In Bosnia, the youth leaders traveled across Sarajevo, Mostar and Srebrenica to learn about local civil society practices. In addition to meeting fellow youth activists, the Afghan youth leaders were introduced to members of Parliament, municipal councilors and representatives from international organizations such as the European Union, the U.S. Embassy and United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
“It was very helpful to meet with important governmental and nongovernmental organizations and exchange our views,” said Mohammed Mustafa Raheal, a 20-year-old engineering student from Parwan Province. “I gained many ideas from their experiences because after their civil war in the 1990s, the Bosnian people experienced a period of transition much like what we are living through now in Afghanistan. Because they’ve overcome these challenges, their input is valuable to us and may help us determine how to ensure a better future for women and youth.”
According to another youth leader, Mohammad Osman Yaqubi from Ghor Province, “The visit showed me how a fellow Muslim country – one that has also experienced a long war like in Afghanistan – has been able to recover and prosper. In Bosnia, people of different backgrounds all have freedom and get along, living together. It made me realize that war is hard for everyone all over the world, but there is hope.”
One youth leader, Ramiz Bakhtiar, plans to share what he learned about the Bosnian peace agreement with the Afghanistan-Pakistan Peace Dialogue Commission to help inform their approach to the Afghanistan-Taliban peace negotiations. He intends to pass on these and other lessons learned to youth in his home community in Urozgan Province.
“The experience of this program has taught me how to stand up again, though I’ve fallen down many times before,” said Ramiz. “Now I’m organizing a community-based version of the ECSL program to benefit local emerging leaders, those who can inspire others and make change in their small communities. I hope to provide training on public speaking, leadership and political activism to help our young, capable leaders increase their positive impact.”
Many people don’t understand the role of civil society in a community and how it can serve as a bridge between people and government,” said Kahkashan Koofi, a female law student from Badakhshan Province. “It’s crucial for youth and women to understand the civil engagement process, and after this tour I’ll be developing a project to teach the youth in my province about their civic rights.”
In the program’s final phase, youth leaders will be invited to apply for micro-grant funding from Counterpart to support locally developed projects supporting civic engagement in their communities. To read media coverage of the tour or watch interviews from the press conference, click here or here. To read more about Counterpart’s work in Afghanistan, click here.