Lauren Mills is a returned ICS volunteer who has since become involved with Youth Stop AIDs. This post is the transcript of a speech prepared ahead of a Walk for Peace in London earlier this month, organised by The Elders.
When I hear the word peace, one of the things that first comes to my mind is a poem called sum, by Nayyirah Waheed, that goes like this:
there is peaceful
there is wild
I am both at the same time
I think the reason that his poem is something that jumps into my mind when I hear the word peace is because I recently learned for myself that ‘peaceful’ and ‘wild’ aren’t mutually exclusive states of being. I only just learned that peaceful things are allowed to be wild too, and that in the wildest circumstances we can all challenge ourselves to create peace. To try and help you understand where I’m coming from with this I’ll share my experience of volunteering for Restless Development.
Restless Development believes in the power of young people, and sees youth as being fundamental in creating change and solving the world’s challenges. This is evident in the way that we refer to young people as the leaders of today. Not tomorrow, today. We as young people have power and passion, and innovative ideas that can and should be used now rather than later. A lot of the work that Restless carries out is aimed at helping to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Countries have adopted these goals so that by 2030 we can end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. There’s a reason that goal number 16 is ‘peace, justice and strong institutions’. It’s because peaceful societies that are free from violence, hatred, and fear are important so that people can just go about their everyday lives feeling safe.
That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.
There’s also a reason that a huge part of Restless Development’s work is centered on making sure young people have a voice. We work to ensure that young people all over the world can access the right tools to speak up for the things they believe are right and just, to tell their stories with honesty and integrity and pride, and to shout about things that feel unfair. Restless Development strives to create a peaceful world, and it does it loudly.
I recently spent three months volunteering for Restless Development in Zambia as part of the International Citizen Service (ICS) program. It was on this particular placement that I had my ‘peaceful doesn’t mean quiet’ epiphany.
My team and I worked particularly hard to come up with ways that we could help our community overcome its obvious and serious gender inequality issues, and towards the end of our placement we managed to organise Mwachisompola’s first ever March for Gender Equality.
It was during this march, while my insides burst with pride as my feminist dreams came true, and I ran alongside the excited young people with a skip in my step, that I realized being loud was a really good way to create peace.
The young people that came to march that day came with songs and chants and poems, and they brought drums so that we could march to a beat and draw public attention, and they proudly ran and skipped and marched through their village waving handmade placards adorned with phrases such as ‘Young People Can’, and ‘We Are Restless’ and ‘We Want Equality’.
That day, almost 300 young people marched through their community demanding their voices be heard. They were loud. They made sure their parents and their teachers and their peers heard their voice. And I truly believe that the noise they created that day will help their community become more peaceful.
Those young women and men will feel more empowered to fight for equality and to stand up for justice, and the community members who saw them marching might be inspired to create change too. It served as a pivotal moment for me and I hope that by sharing this story I’ve been able to remind you that peace can sound noisy, and peace can look messy, and it can feel electric.
There is peaceful, there is wild, I am both at the same time.