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Peacebuilding reality show, Salam Shabab, gives Iraqi youth a voice and promotes inclusion

2012 January 27

Salam Shabab, Iraqi peacebuilding reality show, insigna

By Audra Gustin

In the midst of massive change in the Middle East and North Africa, youth have often been left voiceless, unsure of their roles in the social shifts and revolutions surrounding them. A new television program focusing on real life peacebuilding has given Iraqi youth the opportunity to not only articulate how they want to bring peace to their communities, but also gives them the chance to do so across sectarian lines. “Salam Shabab” features youth from six different provinces who take part in a number of challenges to select who will become youth “Ambassadors of Peace.”

On Wednesday night, the United States Institute of Peace hosted the Next Generation Peacebuilding and Social Change in the Arab World, which included an exclusive screening of the first season’s finale, a producers’ panel, research findings, and a panel of three dynamic activists across the region.

Brett Pierce, the Co-Executive Producer and former Producer for the Sesame Workshop, discussed how Salam Shabab came about as a bottoms’ up approach. Iraqi educators, youth NGO representatives, and media experts were gathered in 2009 to identify what the need was for Iraqi youth. They reported that the youth were neglected, seen as damaged and fearful of political parties. One person went as far as to say they had “a policeman embedded in their own soul.” So Salam Shabab decided its purpose would be to give Iraqi youth a voice, with only a loose curriculum-based structure to unleash it.

The most dynamic part of the evening was the concluding conversation with three activists and cultural leaders including cyberactivist Maryam al Khawaja of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. Al Khawaja spoke eloquently about how the revolution has been about a mind shift. “It’s about fear,” she said. “Once the fear barrier is broken, there’s no going back… We refuse to be slaves…versus citizens with human rights.” She pointed to youth as crucial to this movement as “youth always reach for the impossible.”

Al Khawaja finished by stating how important an inclusive political environment is: “When you exclude anybody anywhere, you radicalize them. When you include them, they’re forced to be part of the process.” SFCG strives to make this a reality in the MENA region by fostering the production of independent media, docu-dramas, as well as cultivating leadership and blogging networks.  Working with government, civil society and media partners, SFCG envisions a world where dealing with conflict non-violently and working for reconciliation is the norm.

Audra Gustin, a student of intercultural communication, is finishing her M.A. in International Communication from American University. She is currently an intern with SFCG’s Communications Department in Washington, DC.

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