YEMEN:

Sana’a Youth Enthusiastic Over Civics Ed

May 22, 2012

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Attentive youth during the CLP-sponsored civics workshop.

On March 3, 2012, 50 young men and women from Sana’a were welcomed by CLP staff and trainers for a series of workshops instructing them in democratic practices and the significance of tolerance. The series is part of the CLP ‘Generation of Peace Project’ targeting 1,000 youth who will also participate in volleyball and soccer tournaments and a talent show. For now, the workshops are CLP’s response to increasing the understanding of political processes among participants who range from 18 to 25 years of age.

Caught in the maelstrom of demonstrations, violence and uncertainty for their futures, many of these youth have ventured to Change Square to play their part in transforming Yemen in the coming years. Yet, a full understanding of democratic systems and civics has been somewhat elusive. Many youth who found themselves at demonstrations in Change Square did so without having a general understanding of governance. Still, these youth are an extraordinary asset to their country and if adequately guided, they possess the will and energy to engage in Yemen’s current political, social and economic transition.

On the second day of the workshop, 19 year old Ansam, a high school graduate who will begin university this year said, “The workshop is providing us with new information although we studied some of this before; a lot of the concepts weren’t clear such as understanding different political systems. I am thirsty and want to know more and more; and, the way the trainers present the topics is so interesting. I will go to college knowing these things with the help of this workshop.”

Divided into several components, the CLP workshop addresses the fundamentals of a civil state, democracy, elections, human rights and good citizenship, among other subjects. Rather than lecture students, trainers engage participants by challenging their notions and biases and divide them into groups so as to provoke discussion among those who share different opinions of the functions of government and the role of citizens in a civic state.

“We are in a transition. We have hope that things will improve,” said Ansam. “Though I was not with either Change or Tahrir Square, I think if I have to choose, I am more with the Change camp.”

Recognizing that Yemen has many problems that a democratic country doesn’t have, Ansam notes that “many of the same people are still in control, and if they’re still here, there’s no democracy.” Looking on the bright side however, she adds that “the transition is changing the ideas of youth about democracy, ideas on how to build the country and not to destroy it. Democracy is a miracle, I’m not sure even the Americans have reached full democracy.”

Assam, 20, found out about CLP’s workshop through a Facebook posting and decided to apply because he says it focused on youth problems, “we need this workshop to learn how to deal with others, how to accept. And, we’re enjoying and learning at the same time. The exercises help us to learn about each other and about topics that gives us ideas, not in a direct way, but it gives ideas.”

He adds that, “for democracy to come to Yemen it will depend on us [youth]. Lots of things still have to happen, but we will make the change in our lifetime. After all, youth made a change a year ago through protests. Youth are very cool, though some have no information about political systems, yet they have the ability to accept new ideas.”

During a break at the Al Bustan Hotel where the workshops are being held, Ansam articulated some immediate changes she would like to see in Yemen. For instance, she would like to come to America but as a woman in Yemen tradition does not allow her to travel alone and she believes such notions regarding women should be changed. An optimist, as any hopeful 19-year old, she adds, “One of my friends dreams of being president one day. At first we laughed at him, but after the elections there is a small hope that that could be true someday. Why not? If, we’re building ourselves? The elections were the first time I voted and I was so happy that I was changing something, my voice and my vote prove that I love my country even if there were limited choices in respect to candidates. It was a small step.”

In the coming months, CLP will continue its work with youth, further building their capacity to engage and understand the ramifications of engaging, or not engaging, in to build Yemen’s future through active civic participation with tolerance and good will.

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