In celebration of 375th anniversary of the Peace of Westphalia, the City of Osnabrück and GDL members Elsa Marie D’Silva, Nurana Mammadova, Theresa Carrington, Ghada Zribi and Fabrice Muchiga, hosted the Youth Empowerment Lab 2023 in Osnabrück from 29 October to the 3 November 2023 to amplify the voices of young people and offer them a platform for constructive dialogue. The Youth Empowerment Lab equips young emerging peace makers with innovative tools and methodologies to drive change within their communities and beyond and fosters global collaboration among young minds dedicated to cultivating peace.
The experience of Osnabrück’s Youth Empowerment Lab has challenged me to grow and deeply enriched my life. Even before the Youth Lab started, the journey itself presented me with unexpected challenges, as my 10-hour trip amusingly extended to 24 hours. Together with my companion from Ghana, I arrived at Schiphol airport early in the morning. We waited at our gate, chatting away about our expectations for the Lab. At about 30 minutes to take-off, we proceeded to the check-in agents. They alerted us that the gate had changed! We took to the heels, but to no avail: We arrived two minutes after the gate had closed. Not only did we miss our connecting flight, but also dealt with uncooperative airport staff: The transfer agent refused to replace our tickets and neither wanted to give out our luggage so we could catch a train instead. Then, a small miracle happened: another transfer agent resumed his shift, and upon hearing our story, he negotiated with the airline to give us free tickets to Düsseldorf. Although exasperating, the situation felt rather comical in retrospect and served as an unanticipated prelude to the transformative week ahead.
As we arrived late at night at our accommodation, the Bergmann Boarding House, a wave of relief washed over me. The Osnabrück team surprised me with a food bag that waited for me outside my room, a gesture that instantly uplifted my spirits. I knew at that moment that the week was going to become one full of pleasant memories.
Katharina Pötter, Mayor of Osnabrück
During the opening ceremony, Katharina Pötter, the mayor of Osnabrück, warmly welcomed our group, thirty youth participants from around the globe, emphasising the aim to empower the younger generation and celebrate the Peace of Westphalia. She explained the essence of the Lab: to equip young peace advocates with effective tools to push for a peaceful world. She shared a poignant childhood tale of the mayor inviting children of the town to a horse riding activity to build unity and sustain peace in Osnabruck. With this story, Mrs. Pötter emphasised the power of simple acts in fostering peace. This resonated deeply with me, because it can seem impossible to be able to change anything about the world and it is easy to feel discouraged. Her story inspired me to believe in myself and in the little projects I work on. No matter how small our efforts may seem, our collective action matters, she urged us. Afterwards, the participants were invited to share their peace symbol and the stories behind them, which reinforced our collective dedication to working together toward global peace.
The SmartCity Werkstatt became a hub for collaboration, our sanctuary, where we spent most of our time together in Osnabrück. We had the opportunity to interact with Osnabrück’s Youth Parliament, who showcased a budding cohort of future leaders passionately invested in their city’s development. These parliamentarians joined us for a self-reflection session where we discussed how we contributed to the SDGs and our purpose in life.
Throughout the week, sessions delved into conflict drivers, identification methods, and tools for building and sustaining peace. The uproarious game of “win as much as you can” initially left me perplexed, sparking spirited debates within my team. Every round of the game, each of the four groups had to come to a decision about picking either the option with the highest yield of points, or the moral option, so that in the end everyone would win as much as possible. The game was a lesson in negotiating effectively and compromising for the greater good, laying the groundwork for a deeper understanding of peace-building dynamics.
Exploring the role of technology in promoting peace was enlightening. Despite my familiarity with AI and chatbots like Chat GPT, the practical session, led by Dr. Tim C. Kietzmann, revealed innovative ways AI programmes could support peace-building efforts. Witnessing AI generate stories and images about our lab experiences underscored its potential as an efficient aid, rather than a job-threatening entity. I learnt how to leverage AI to support my work and not fear losing my job to AI. This was quite reassuring in the wake of controversy regarding AI and the future of work.
Our visit to the Theatre at Bühne11 emerged as the week’s highlight for me. Engaging in theatrical plays and acts not only entertained but also unveiled the transformative power of art and its potential in resolving conflicts—a realisation that for me initially sparked scepticism but culminated in profound enjoyment. I learnt how art can be instrumental in building and promoting peace in every part of the world –no matter the language barrier that may exist, art will transcend.
Linking up with like-minded souls in my project team brought forth a potent revelation—our shared passion for democratic participation. Our brainstorming sessions yielded a four-step approach, aimed at leveraging democracy as a catalyst for peace: Map, Mobilise, Act, Educate. We recognised the pivotal role of functioning democracies in achieving peace globally. We developed this four-step model aimed at fostering democratic participation at the community level—an approach that I believe can shape a more peaceful future. Other groups also presented their solutions and witnessing these diverse ideas fostered a collective reservoir of potential peace solutions.
The week concluded with an emotional crescendo—a vibrant closing party celebrating the culmination of the 7-month Peace of Westphalia celebrations. Dancing joyously in a choreography to “Jerusalema” by Master KG solidified the bonds formed in Osnabrück. Former President of EU Parliament Hans-Gert Pöttering sent us off with a powerful message, urging us to extend our experiences beyond Osnabrück’s city limits, becoming catalysts for global change.
Reflecting on this transformative journey, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for everyone who had a part in facilitating this enriching and educational experience. The possibility of peace after a seemingly endless struggle, represented by the peace treaty that ended the Thirty Years’ War, empowers me to advocate for and drive peace across the world.