Youth4Peace

RET Youth Ambassador EZNUR TOPRAK
at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25

RET Youth Ambassador & youth peer-facilitator Eznur Toprak (25) addressing the international communities and stakeholders at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 – YOUTH4Peace session.  
Eznur shared the challenges she faced as a young woman in her community and asserted on the active and central role of youth as peace builders, human rights defenders and humanitarians in promoting positive change, peace, and resilience of communities.

THE SPEECH by EZNUR TOPRAK
“I grew up in a small village of Batman in Turkey with my 4 sisters. According to my relatives and neighbors, if there are no boys at home then it is not a home. My parents were always under this cultural and gender-based pressure. But they never listened to the whispers around them like “Do not send girls to school, it’s waste of time and money or when they go into puberty just marry them.” Despite our economic difficulties, the main support that my parents provided us with, was Education. When I was 15, I attended a youth camp in Germany and my parents allowed me to travel and join the camp alone. This was the most shocking time for my relatives! I am really grateful to them.

On the other hand, we also needed role models as we were growing up as women in such a challenging environment. For me, these role models were my cousins who were women in the same situation as us. One of them became a dentist and the other is now a medical physician. I have been very lucky to have female role models around me; I believe it has helped me to achieve things in life and to become who I am. I think it is essential for children and young people, and especially for girls, to have role models around them.

I then started studying architecture in Mardin, a multicultural border city between Turkey and Syria where Turkish, Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian, and Armenian people live. Since the Syrian conflict started, many refugees and displaced persons came to Mardin. While attending architecture classes, I came into contact with a local association that works with refugee and local children through social circus activities. I joined as a volunteer, I was a stilt-walker and attended circus activities. (Yes, a stilt-walker with hijab (veil)!)

This made me realize that I want to do humanitarian work so I joined RET in Turkey and started working with refugee and local communities as a youth-peer-facilitator in Mardin. Subsequently, I also became one of RET’s youth Ambassadors. It has been the chance of my life. RET is a multi-sectorial International NGO primarily focused on young people and women. Among other things, RET bridges the gaps between different cultures, generations, groups and communities that often do not speak to each other, by promoting peaceful communication, conflict resolution approaches, integration, and social coexistence between refugee and local youth. This is what I have been doing for quite a long time already in my region.

YOUTH! What a great word with an immense meaning. I have always known that youth can promote peace and drive positive social changes in our communities. Because they are the role models of today and the parents and/or leaders of tomorrow! A youth community with members from diverse groups could change perceptions of populations and destroy the barriers against peace. Youth face religious and cultural barriers while growing up, especially women. Youth are exposed to risks like smoking, alcohol, drugs, armed groups, gambling, suicide, early marriage, early pregnancy. So, with the support of RET, we created a youth group in Mardin with participants from Turkey and Syria. We help youth to cope with stressful circumstances, build healthy relationships, learn and develop skills and engage positively within their communities.

One of the most important goals is to include girls and boys to break down the perceptions of gender imbalance and to end gender-based violence and other harmful practices. My first initiative was to build and ensure a safe and peaceful space to bring them together and start addressing prejudices. In our communities, girls and boys cannot be friends easily because of religious and cultural barriers. Day by day respect of diversity became our main objective. Through activities like art classes, social action projects and cultural trips, we try to support them to become aware of their potentials. The potential to become leaders of their communities. To be the voices of those who are not heard. During youth sessions, we discuss the problems youth face in our region and we recommend solutions. We talk about the youth needs and what can youth do to meet their aspirations in the region.

Young people are aware of their own needs. That is why we need to have a dialogue with them about their challenges, and work with them to find solutions. A discussion about youth without the presence of young people’s input means nothing.

Please let me conclude by saying that on behalf of young people, particularly the ones living in crises and fragile contexts, I would like to ask national and international authorities and stakeholders to:

  • Provide youth with a platform to speak about young people’s rights and needs, including youth leadership and ways to solve the issues we face.
  • Recognize and strengthen the capacities and capabilities of young people to enable us to be effective in all aspect of our lives and fulfil our potential.
  • Give responsibility to young people and demonstrate that you have confidence in them/us.
  • Ensure active engagement of young people in decision making processes and humanitarian action, as stated by the Compact for Young People in Humanitarian Settings along with its 5 key Actions.”

EZNUR TOPRAK

With the RET Youth Ambassadorship program and our active engagement (service & response) in the Compact on Young People in Humanitarian Action’s and to the core 5 key actions to advance the rights and aspirations of youth in emergencies. We at RET are committed to support and promote young people’s engagement in humanitarian and peacebuilding efforts in all the projects, in more than 31 countries.

Eznur is an active and committed young practitioner collaborating with RET in Turkey since early 2014. Eznur has played an important role in the implementation of responses to communities affected by the Syrian crisis, particularly working with other peers, children and their mothers in the protection and social cohesion areas. 
As part of RET Youth Ambassadors Group, Eznur has been actively involved in planning and looking at localized solutions for the prevention of early and forced marriage. In addition, she is very actively engaged in bringing together boys and girls, young female and male to overcome gender, age and cultural/social norms barriers so as to work together for common goals. @EznurToprak