Youth look past Brexit to shape their own futures

By Joseph Bednarek | March 19, 2019 | Europe & Eurasia | Youth Empowerment

Uncertainty. If I could choose one word to describe the theme of my trip to the United Kingdom last month, that would be it.

I spent ten days traveling all over London and to Bristol in western England. During many of the conversations I had with youth leaders, GFC partner leaders, and prospective partners, uncertainty kept popping up.

The UK’s exit from the European Union, aka “Brexit,” has dominated the attention of the entire United Kingdom. No one is really sure how Brexit will affect travel, the economy, and government services. Social services were already cut significantly during the so-called “austerity” measures of the previous government. These cuts affected charities and their local support across the country – including all of GFC’s UK partners.

Our partners and their participants are now understandably anxious about whether Brexit means more cuts in services. Many youth are also uncertain about what Brexit may mean in terms of their future education, employment, and quality of life.

Those from marginalized communities such as first-generation immigrants, asylum seekers, Muslim youth, and youth of color feel especially threatened by their portrayals in the media and shifts in popular opinion about immigration and the contribution of immigrants to UK society. Several youth I spoke with are worried about an increase in violence, specifically stabbings. Last year had the highest number of stabbings in nearly a decade, and many involved young, recent immigrants. There is a worry that a breakdown in social services and communities is leading to a rise in gang and other violence.

Despite this uncertainty and fear, many of the youth I spoke with are determined to remain optimistic about their futures, and to play a positive part in any post-Brexit Britain.

At a convening of our UK-based partners and our Youth Leadership Council, a new initiative composed of mostly UK-based young leaders, council members spent some time planning for the small and large changes they intend to make (both in their own organizations and in their role at GFC), and discussed how their experiences up to this point have already taught them valuable lessons about how to affect change at the local and national level.

Joe (far right) leads a conversation with our UK partners and Youth Leadership Council members.

The council members, as well as some other young people I spoke with, are frustrated by the political dysfunction of the older generation and are determined to avoid making the same policy mistakes. They discussed their advantage of being more skilled at social media, and therefore better able to rapidly organize collective action and spread enthusiasm for an idea or campaign, using compelling narratives and media.

And some young people just want to get on with the next stage of their life and make their own contribution to British society.

When I visited Bristol-based Integrate UK, one of GFC’s new partners, I had the privilege of speaking with over 15 young people about their lives, concerns, and aspirations.

Many had participated in Integrate’s programs because they faced family and cultural pressure to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM). Other came to Integrate because they liked the positive and active spirt of the charity.

Integrate UK's eye-catching video addressing FGM caught the attention of actress and human right's activist Emma Watson. Check it out on their YouTube channel.

Integrate’s programs focus on protecting, educating, and inspiring. Among these youth, some were developing video and photography exhibitions. Some were writing music. Some were becoming youth leaders within Integrate.

One young Muslim woman was just about to finish secondary school and was deciding between different medical schools for university. She was optimistic that whatever university she attended, she would make the most of it. Why, we asked? “Because life is just so interesting,” she responded.

Note: Follow this link to watch Integrate UK’s FGM video

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