Too Clichéd to say
“An Experience of a Life Time”?
By Mishelle Raza
So here goes a short story …. It starts like this:
Last year, August to be precise, my friend and I were scanning through her pictures on facebook … wonders technology is!
While going through her albums, I saw that one album was titled “World Youth Congress – Scotland!” In that album were assortments of pictures showing her contribution to one of the world’s largest youth congregations. Interestingly, I didn’t bother to ask her much more.
A few days later, sitting idle at home, my devil’s workshop of a mind instigated me to Google it … and what did I find?? This event takes place once in three years … Scotland 2005 … Québec City 2008!!! And registrations had just commenced! The objectives of the Regeneration, the 4th World Youth Congress were to develop skills and support to enable them, more effectively, to contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. To honor the achievements of the most ambitious, most effective and most successful young practitioners of youth-led development and draw the attention of the world’s development professionals to the need to provide increased support to them, to enable more youth to become agents of change, and to enable intercultural exchanges between local and international young people.
Being an active youth trainer, I filled out the young educators registration form. This application was followed by a request to send documents showing proof of my involvement in youth activities. I sent those documents over instantly, and when I didn’t hear from the organizers by mid September, I felt that maybe I wasn’t selected. The next day, I received an e-mail stating that my application had been accepted and was in phase two of the selection process. I thanked God that I thought wrong, and continued to wait. Another 3 weeks went by and I didn’t hear from them, I started feeling the same way … well, again the next day my doubts were proved wrong … I was informed that I was selected as the only youth activist from Pakistan. I was also required to conduct 2 workshops for 30 participants in my area of expertise … women’s rights and communication skills.
Hmmm, very interesting!
Oh my, was I excited … and the coming events were even more rib tickling… if that is what you want to call it.
Following this selection, the organizers informed me that another 16 participants had been selected from Pakistan, one being a youth activist, Muhammad Salman, from Karachi. We all got in touch with one another and devised plans on how to obtain sponsors to cover the cost for the event and how to apply for the Canadian visa.
Our initial mails were very fervent, filled with excitement to meet each other and represent our country as a delegation of 17. We would probably have been the largest youth delegation to represent Pakistan in the west … however that remained only a dream.
After the initial excitement died down, 8 out 17 participants applied for the visa … all 8 were rejected on the basis that according to them we had little grounds to prove that we would return to Pakistan upon the culmination of the WYC. They suspected that we would stay back in Canada! This was a direct insult to our character. We had only wanted to represent our country at an international youth forum; we had no business in Canada after that.
The next series of events are quite interesting …. Why I call this an experience of a lifetime, and not in the clichéd sense, you will now come to know.
So let’s get this straight one more time – 8 were refused a right to represent their country, and more so, insulted by the western world, who insisted that we do not value our homeland. A handful of disoriented civilians in our country spoil the chance for those who really want to go out and make a difference, to tell the world what we are really made of.
Only 2 of the 17 decided to go ahead and fight this out … we wrote to the Youth Ministry of Pakistan and were routed to the Foreign Ministry … during the day we would make local calls, all night we would make international calls to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in Canada, the Pakistani Embassy in Ottawa, and countless others.
We also brought this issue out in the local press, highlighting that this is pure prejudice against the youth of what the west calls “a developing country”. This became such a big issue that journalists from Canada called us for interviews on what we felt was the reason for this prejudice. We only highlighted that we had struggled to obtain sponsors to cover the cost of this event and that we were working for them in return, and in the end, the Canadian High Commission wanted to spoil it for us.
Nonetheless, eventually we made the issue big enough for the CHC to recognize that we, Salman and I, were hell bent on attending this event. After creating all this hype, we applied once more … and kept our fingers crossed.
From the start, this event had been a last moment surprise … and so we got our visas 3 days before we were due to travel to Québec City … instantly we arranged for whatever airline we could get hold of in peak season … and off we were!!!!
2 out of 17 selected youth from Pakistan, one youth educator and one youth activist, Mishelle Raza and Muhammad Salman, were off to represent our homeland at a forum where 600 youth from all over the world would convene. Simply put, our persistence of 3 and a half months, paid off.
The day I got my stamped passport back, I heard an audio of Yeh Hum Naheen. This is an initiative taken by a local Pakistani who has suffered at the hands of foreign prejudice. The video depicts a title: Yeh Hum Naheen i.e. we are not the ones you (the world) blame us to be. I felt relevance … and I felt that music is the best way to reach out to an audience in a span of 5 minutes. I contacted the CEO of Yeh Hum Naheen and told him the problem we faced in obtaining the visa. I told him that I would love to show the world Yeh Hum Naheen, and would like to take an AV with English translations to run at the event. He agreed and arranged for me to have the AV before I took off.
So, we embarked upon our journey and there began the second experience of our lifetime, in a span of one year. Québec City, celebrating its 400th Anniversary, was the venue for the World Youth Congress 2008. The first day, participants were divided into clans of 18-20 members each. In our clans we followed a host of learning sessions and activities together.
A little interesting piece of information is that our meal timings were 7am-9am for breakfast, 11am-2pm for lunch and 4pm-7pm for dinner … and the malls in Canada would close at 5pm on weekdays and 9pm on weekends! Talk about having NO life! … But the city would remain open till odd hours, which we thoroughly enjoyed.
The first morning, Salman and I were called on by the Honorable Michaelle Jean, Governor General of Canada, who honored our extraordinary efforts to reach Canada. She gave us plaques engraved with her royal cote and thanked us for being strong representatives of the Asian youth to have made it to the World Youth Congress.
The second day was one of the most interesting days of the congress. 600 youth from all over the world designed banners and slogans for causes they wished to stand up and speak out against. “Fight Racism,” “Say No to Drugs”, “It’s my body, I won’t let you abuse it” and what not … it is so amazing to see the youth come out with such strong emotions. We all designed our banners and took off to celebrate World Youth Day (12th August) with a Youth Walk from University Laval (our residence) to down town Québec City. This was a 60km, 2 and a half hour walk … the participants had the chance to interact with one another and chant slogans to their cause, while the whole city saw this multicultural, peaceful display of a walk for youth’s rights. The walk ended in the heart of Québec City where we were allowed to attend various celebrations for the 400th anniversary.
The next day I conducted a workshop on “Women’s Rights and Religion.” Opening the floor to 35 participants, we discussed various cultural and religious effects on women’s rights in a society. People would be amazed to know that even in the most civilized nations such as Europe and Canada; women still have to fight for their rights as part of their daily routine. Even though women there are bus drivers, laborers and hard core intensive workers, they face gender prejudice and have to stand up to their male counterparts. More so, the women out there seemed a little disoriented when it came to their gender roles and were willing to protest against gender specific social responsibilities. Another topic we can discuss at length.
My other workshop was on communication skills titled “Speak the Language of Leadership” where I provided 15 participants various communication tools to become effective speakers and leaders.
The fourth night of the WYC called for a talent show. I decided it’s the best time to run the YHN video I brought along.
Opening with a short statement: ‘I am here for a serious cause. Salman and I faced great trouble to be a part of this event, and I wish to show everyone something which will bring us all together’. (And the video started in the background).
When the lyrics said “terrorists have no nationality, terrorists have no religion” everyone stood up in applause … the emotions were overwhelming. People from across the globe, speaking a countless number of languages, all chanted together “Yeh Hum Naheen, Yeh Hum Naheen. Hum Naheen, Hum Naheen”. The video ended and everyone joined in for a standing ovation. There were 600 youth present at the talent show, each one who will go back to their homeland and tell their people, families, friends …. Pakistan, Yeh Whoh Naheen!!! – They are not the ones!
On the morning of 17th August, we convened for the Asia Pacific Regional meeting, where delegates from their respective countries discussed several issues/challenges faced by the youth of today. Some of the issues were education, gender equality, economics, trade and so on. The youth has so much awareness on current affairs and it is amazing to see how all of us were willing to unite under the Asia Pacific banner, to resolve these issues. Unlike our current state not only each country but each person has his own agenda in mind.
Delegates were divided in different groups with different themes, they gather ideas and in the end they presented in front of other groups. It was a learning exposure, as we came to know more about the critical issues with different views of different Asian regions. At the end of the meeting all the delegates raised a single question ‘what is the key factor behind all these issues?’ The answer was that the youth should be involved in the policy making of the country. We must be given a change, as we are the future. The policy makers must consult a youth body while designing and implementing future policies.
During the evening of 17th august, all the groups went for Action Projects near the country side of Quebec for 3 days. The aim of this action project was to familiarize delegates with the culture of Quebec and to use their expertise working in the fields and promote growth in the outskirts of Québec City.
After returning from action projects, delegates were ready to prepare themselves for the closing ceremony on 21s August. I was requested to host the closing ceremony which was full of colors and tears in the eyes of delegates. All the delegates made a promise to keep on working for the betterment of their community and be worthy global citizens, and we will meet again in 2010 in Turkey for the 5th World Youth Congress.
Having brought out a wonderful impact with the Yeh Hum Naheen initiative I took at WYC, the United Nations has invited me as a guest speaker on Youth as Peace Builders: Building Bridges, in November 2008. I look forward to meeting 500 youth from across the globe in China, and will also let them know, Yeh Hum Naheen, We Are Not the Ones!!!
Allah, please bless our country, and always keep us united, as we were yesterday, as we are today! Ameen!