Like other residents of Sarajevo, I woke up the morning of May 14 surprised by the snow – this winter is one for the record books! The May snowstorm snarled traffic (more than usual) and damaged many beautiful trees in the city, but it did not stop the dedicated young people and mayors from 27 different cities from gathering in Sarajevo to promote YouthBanks, a youth-led community development and conflict mitigation program sponsored by USAID.
Just two days earlier, on Saturday, May 12, I had the pleasure of opening the 15th annual Civitas Project Citizen Showcase. Nearly 300 young people from schools across Bosnia and Herzegovina, plus their teachers and representatives from government, attended this conference. Each of the students earned the right to attend by identifying problems in their communities and developing solutions to improve their schools and communities.
|Ambassador Moon at the 15th annual Civitas Project Citizen Showcase|
I was amazed by the energy, enthusiasm, and intelligence of these young people. Not only do they have good ideas, but they’re actually moving forward with their projects – they’ve taken their future into their own hands. Without a doubt, I can say that these events confirmed my belief that the young people of BiH are ready to move their country into a prosperous future as a member of the European Union and NATO. Unfortunately, their ambitions and dreams continue to be slowed by political leaders who dwell on the past, leaders who use the cheap tricks of ethnic politics to stay in power.
Let me tell you a bit more about these two events.
I saw some incredibly creative projects being launched by students participating in the Project Citizen Showcase Finals. A group of students from Derventa is moving forward to create a new park. Students from Bijeljina have launched a campaign to curb violence in their school. In Gorazde, young people are asking the city to not allow gambling near their school. The threat posed by street dogs is being addressed by students from Zivinice. Another student group from Trebinje is promoting the benefits of exercise. These are just a fraction of the excellent projects I saw at the Project Citizen Showcase Finals.
The YouthBanks event also focused on homegrown ideas. About 300 young men and women from across ethnic lines are now working together as part of USAID’s “YouthBanks – Peacing the Future Together” project, which will result in more than 600 youth-led projects through 32 YouthBanks by 2015.
I congratulate these young “bankers” for their work. I’m also proud of the 27 mayors who signed partnership agreements to establish YouthBanks in their municipalities. By participating in this project, they not only show that they care about the ideas and opinions of their youth, they are committing to supporting their projects with financial contributions from the local government. For each dollar granted to youth groups, three additional dollars were mobilized from local communities. So far, YouthBanks groups have implemented 237 projects in their respective municipalities. These include refurbishing a kindergarten playground and building a new basketball court.
Both YouthBanks and Project Citizen prove that it is possible to strengthen ties between young people of BiH -- regardless of ethnic background – and to increase youth participation in the development of BiH. I am truly inspired by these young women and men. I just hope that the leaders of BiH will start paying more attention to them.