Peace Child International won a generous grant from the European Commission to host “the Road to Rio” – a series of Youth Prepcoms for the Rio+20 Summit to be held in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rio is one of the loveliest cities in the world – and, in Roberto Vamos, we found a saint of a man to help us run it. Action Projects were arranged by a wonderful Welsh/Brazilian lady who worked with activist groups in the favelas around the city. And we hosted the conference in tented city that we built in a Jungle Peace Camp generally used as a retreat by spiritual and ecological groups. Not ideal – but it was a kilometre away from Rio Centro where the Rio+20 Summit was to be held.
Though the mayor of Rio had announced that his city would host the Congress at the end of the Istanbul one, we never saw a cent of his money into three days after the congress started. Roberto borrowed money to pay the up-front costs and our EU grant paid for the preparations for the Congress. Also – the UN, whom we had intimately involved in every step of the Preparations – working with us to arrange the 32 Prepcoms we managed to organise on every continent – decided 3 months before our Summit to organise their own, much bigger Youth Conference at the same time as our’s as their own youth meeting linked to the Rio+20 Summit. They, of course, had millions available to cover their costs – where we had none! But they only started organising their’s a few months before the actual government summit, so – though they had planned to receive 3,000 delegates – less than a thousand turned up. But the confusion it caused was, like the Mexican WYC in 2010, a significant snub to PCI’s efforts to promote the Rio+20 event to young people around the world.
The Congress itself got off to a bad start as, though the Brazilians told us: “It never rains in June in Rio….” – we were all hauled out of bed in the middle of the first night as a minor hurricane had swept through the camp, blowing down several of the tents. We held a midnight meeting where Roberto tried to re-assure the delegates that they would be safe – even though one of the delegates was bleeding profusely from a head wound caused by a falling tent post. The opening ceremony was somewhat overshadowed by this event, but – some wonderful speeches, workshops and seminars wowed the delegates – and the spirited, Latin American-dominated talent show revived every one’s spirits and, despite the considerable discomforts of sleeping in tents or the basement of the main house, most of the young delegates really enjoyed the congress.
A key celebrity guest was Yannick Dupont, founder and CEO of the Dutch SPARK youth job creation in fragile states organisation. For some reason, he inspired the delegates more than any other speaker, and the concerns about youth unemployment – though they had come up at previous congresses – were front and centre at this one. Though the delegates were encouraged to write up their priority demands to the Rio+20 Summit government delegates and pin to the gates of Rio Centro – Martin Luther-style! – the main outcome of this summit was the decision to focus on Youth Job Creation.
The next summit PCI held was in London on this topic: the 1st International Youth Job Creation Summit – with powerful speeches by the UK government and the European Commission. With that focus decided, it became almost irrelevant to hold another Congress: the UN Member State Governments meeting in 2015 agreed to make Full Employment for all women and men one of their main Sustainable Development Goal targets to be achieved by 2030. So – it became the goal of PCI to help the UN achieve that – almost impossible – goal! Certainly, in Rio, that was the direction of travel that our young delegates urged us to move in.
And the promotion of the Green Economy! Though Rio + 20 turned out to be one of the least successful UN Summits ever (500 youth Delegates tore up their ground passes and walked out!) – the focus on building the Green Economy was reflected in PCI’s contribution of GEEBIZ. The growth of Green Jobs – and the clear opportunity of creating a ton of new jobs in the emerging green economy – was a clear focus of PCI’s youth job creation activity.
But – when the government of Qatar suddenly, and completely unexpectedly pulled out of hosting the 7th World Youth Congress – the Peace Child management breathed a sigh of relief and recognised that it could do much more good by taking action to reduce youth unemployment by supporting them to create – or make more productive – their own self-employment, than we could by just continuing to talk about it at Congresses.
The World Youth Congress series had been an amazing series of global youth meetings but the stresses and nightmares of the last two made us feel that it was an area of activity that could be usefully left to others. Looking around the field – dominated by the Davos Young Leaders forum, and One Young World, it is worrying to see that the bullshitters have won. There was a raw reality – and fun – to the World Youth Congresses as organised by the young people of Peace Child. They were genuinely youth-led events – and the pointed the direction first to youth-led development which is now in the mainstream of all development thinking, and latterly to Youth Job Creation – which is now a major feature of every one’s work.
The Congresses positioned Peace Child at the heart of this movement and, having done that, their job was done. It is a privilege to help lead on fulfilling the desperate need that all young people feel for a job. For something to do when they get up in the morning. For, as Sheku Syl Kamara said at our Canada Congress: “Getting married, having a home, a family – any feeling of dignity… I can have none of these things until I get a job!”