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The art of youth development

Haiti, June 1, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Kyle Dietrich/Mercy Corps  </span>
    John, age 16, documents life in a seaside village near Monrovia, Liberia during a Peace in Focus photo workshop. Photo: Kyle Dietrich/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Kyle Dietrich/Mercy Corps  </span>
    With my position with the UN, I helped organize youth groups like this one in northeastern Burundi to use community theater to raise awareness about sexual violence and other issues. Photo: Kyle Dietrich/Mercy Corps

I came to Haiti as someone who believes in seeing challenges — such as a conflict or natural disaster — as opportunities to identify and leverage large-scale social transformation.

Up until the earthquake, I had been running my own non-profit in Boston, which trains youth from post-conflict communities to be peacebuilders and leaders using photography and new media tools. Similar to that program, our Youth Leadership project in Haiti — supported by our MPower initiative — aims to enable young people to engage in a creative process that is both therapeutic and empowering. Through photography and storytelling, youth will learn to understand and nurture their own voice and vision for change, and then develop a unique skill set to share that vision with their community and the world.

This work builds off my several years supporting international development and peacebuilding programs with UN Peacekeeping Operations, USAID and the Peace Corps in Turkmenistan, Burundi, Liberia and Washington, D.C. Throughout my career, I have been eager to see more innovative programs for youth to engage in the revitalization and rebuilding of their communities.

By putting youth in leadership roles you enable them at a young age to begin taking ownership of the issues facing their communities. By integrating the arts, you give them an opportunity to develop creative and non-violent strategies for understanding and addressing those issues. This signals to the community that youth are not merely the future generation of leaders, but the present generation as well.

For Haiti to truly transform, there must be a profound re-imagination of what is possible here. This program supports the idea that that re-imagination can be led by youth. It allows young people to be agents of change rather than mere beneficiaries of programs. It supports the belief that, in order to be successful long-term, development programs must address the emotional and social needs of children and youth, alongside their physical and material needs.