Pakistan’s first International Youth Conference and Festival (IYCF)

Youth – ‘the ambassadors of peace’

Sana Jamal

The saying that “youth lives on hope, and old age on memories” reminds us of the very fact that the young generation is the hope and strength of any nation and if the young ones are cultured & well-educated, they can prove to be an asset for the state. However our prized possession, the youth of the country which comprises around 60 per cent of the total population of Pakistan, has been unfortunate to receive due attention of the government as well as the elders of our family.

IYCF Logo

To address the concerns of the youth – recently Pakistan’s first International Youth Conference & Festival (IYCF) was held in the capital city, Islamabad to empower, inspire & encourage the youth of Pakistan. Around 300 Pakistani and international delegates gathered at the four-day conference with an aim to highlight the role of youth in peace building and to build cultural, regional and religious relationships through dialogues. “Youth conferences are annual events happening around the world. But this is the first time we are bringing it to Pakistan” claimed Abdul Rehman, one of the ten-member team of organizers.

Federal Minister of Information and Broadcast Qamar Zaman Kaira gave the inaugural address of the festival and also participated in the opening panel discussion entitled “Pakistan: Past, Present & Future”.
Kaira termed the youth of the country “the ambassadors of peace” and urged them to play their active role in combating and defeating terrorism in the country. While highlighting the role of youth in countering terrorism, he said that the “government and the security forces cannot eliminate the menace unless the young generation, particularly the students, come forward and play their respective roles.”

The four day conference featured delegates and high-profile speakers from across the world. The conference included various seminars, workshops, and discussion sessions. The conference sessions featured discussion on diverse topics such as disaster management, tackling terrorism through technology, minorities’ rights and literacy promotion.

International speakers at the conference included Scott Gould (Like Minds), Marc Koska (SafePoint Trust), Daniel Teweles (Personal Democracy Forum), Christie Manning Marchese (Participant Media), Joe Marchese (Social Vibe), Stephanie Rudat (Think Consortium), Susannah Vila (Alliance of Youth Movements), Susan Gordon (Facebook Causes), Steve Grove (Head of News & Politics, YouTube) and Jay Boren (Google.org). It was perhaps for the first time that speakers from Google, YouTube and Facebook Causes came to Pakistan, indeed owing to the International Youth Conference & Festival.

The main objective of the conference was to promote peace and harmony among the youth of different countries of the world and provide an opportunity to the young leaders of the world to interact with one another and strengthen goodwill and foster understanding among them.

Deqa Abdullah, a Somalian residing in Islamabad was of the view that the four days of the conference “were very fruitful as all the youngsters attending the conference were made to believe that they can make a positive change in the society by countering terror with technology.”

Najam-us-sehar, a member of YPEER (one of the organizers) from Gilgit was quite impressed by the presentation of Marc Koska. She said the conference “proved to be a tool of power for the youth and helped to promote activism youth of the country.”

Local speakers/moderators included Saeeda Diep, Nigar Nazar (Gogi Studios), Fasi Zaka, Dr Zeeshan Usmani, Amin Hashwani, Todd Shea, Peter Nicholson (former UN investigator) and Badar Khushnood (Google Pakistan). A workshop on Pakistan’s military strategy and outlook was also conducted by DG ISPR, Athar Abbas at the conference.

Dr. Zeeshan Usmani’s lectures on Countering Terror with Technology was one of the favourite sessions among the number of attendants which filled their hearts with hope to work for the betterment of their own selves as well as the people around.
“I found Dr. Zeeshan Usmani’s lectures extremely helpful” said Syeda Saba, Youth Advisor of UNFPA from Peshawar who believed that “the conference has helped to boost up the image of Pakistan which is the need of the time.”

The inspiring event was attended by over a hundred students from 12 different countries including US, UK, Turkey, Somalia, Malaysia, Thailand, Bangladesh and Scotland.
Historina Safitri Hakim, an Indonesian youngster said that she heard about the conference through facebook and then raised funds to make sure her presence at the much-hyped event. “I found the seminar really enlightening and it has motivated me to work for the betterment of my country and my people” she said smilingly.

Damith Maduranga, Sri Lanka said that he decided to attend the conference the moment “Ministry of Youth Sri Lanka informed about us about this huge event.” Sharing his views on the concluding day of the conference he said “the forum highlighted that the media portrayal of Pakistan is not true and Pakistanis are very lively people.”

The youth seminar provided a golden opportunity for Pakistanis to rectify the misconceptions of the international delegates about Pakistani culture and religion. “I believe the youth festival gave us a platform to correct wrong assumptions in people’s mind about one’s country as we got to know about the true Pakistan through this conference which is totally different from the terrifying Pakistan that is shown to us on media” said Adeshola Komolafe, an energetic young lady from Nigeria. She was representing an organization ‘save our future’ at the seminar. “Media should report on firsthand experiences rather on assumptions because people view a country/city through the eyes of media” she added.

Indeed, the youth festival also conveyed this message that media is a powerful tool used to mould the behavior of the people hence it should be used for the right purpose to direct the people towards positive path.
The conference also helped to project positive image of Pakistan at a wide level. As Saleha Haque, volunteer of Khudi (one of the organizers) viewed the conference as “a collaboration of youth which helped to project the youth of Pakistan as vibrant and peaceful people.”

Syed Muhammad Najib, a member of the youth group from Sri Lanka said that he was fortunate enough to attend this great event which provided an opportunity to meet the enthusiastic youngsters from all over the world. Sharing his views on Pakistan, he said “Pakistani people are very friendly and they are just like brother to us as we belong to the same region.”

The youth conference proved to be a platform to promote the affluent Pakistani culture as a group of five youngsters from Kalash valley dressed in their native costumes were also seen at the occasion. Luke Rehmat of Kalash People’s Development network said that “we are representing the unique culture of Kalash valley and we are here to voice our concerns regarding our people and place.”

For Shahrukh Muhammad of Mohmand agency, “the forum was a place to learn about different cultures, meet people and discuss ideas.”

The festival was not only a place to share ideas but also facilitated the Pakistani youth in creating linkage between with the international community. “The response of the people at the festival was simply marvelous!” exclaimed Farhan Janjua, member of Khudi (one of the organizers). “I believe the conference provided the much-needed space to our youth who got an excellent opportunity to share views, discussed ideas, plans and create bonding with the international community.”

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