Report of UNA Scotland AGM 1/10/11

The youth are the future

by Alexandra Wingate (02/10/11)


Yesterday’s UNA-Scotland AGM emphasises the importance of young people, both within organisations like the UNA and across the world. As well as the formal logistics and news communications typical of an AGM, a presentation was given by Eva Hoffmann to reveal a rare and unique insight into the role of civic society Afghanistan.


The year ahead looks optimistic for the UNA-Scotland, with plans to increase its membership and fundraising opportunities. There’s also a hope to expand the range of events available throughout the whole of Scotland, meaning that members outside the Central Belt will find it much easier to become actively involved in what the organisation is doing. Plans are underway for two high-profile events; one a sociable celebrity-attended evening next November, and the other an international conference at Holyrood in June 2012.


Whilst by no means neglecting valued long-term members, a particular focus is being put on recruiting amongst the youth to ensure a long and positive future for the UNA and its work. ‘I’m hoping that our meeting today will engender a sense of regeneration and renewal,’ says Dr Gari Donn, convenor of UNA-Scotland. ‘The importance of the United Nations and its decisions can be undermined not only by despotic and autocratic states, but also by citizen apathy. Our task – the UNA-Scotland and its branches – as civil society organisations, is to ensure that on behalf of the UN we never have apathy in Scotland.’


This is an issue that extends across the world to Afghanistan, as revealed in Eva Hoffman’s insightful talk on her impressions of the country. A PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, Hoffmann has spent much of the last six years helping to set up and teach in the Computer Science department at the University of Kabul. Hoffmann gives a first hand account of how civic society is helping to regenerate what is otherwise portrayed in the media as being a war-torn, hostile country.


Strategically, Afghanistan is where many powerful states have often tried to stake their claim; be that due to poppy fields, natural resources or geographical proximity to other important regions. This is a country with a long history of wars and invasions – none of which have ever ended in a successful colonisation, making its people proudly patriotic and determined to overcome the damaging results of such international force. They are now in the throes of social, economic and governmental reconstruction, making this a vital time in determining the future of Afghanistan.


As with UNA-Scotland, the youth are seen as critical in such regeneration  – and with good reason. Over half of the population are under nineteen years of age, while only 4% are over sixty five. ‘Education, I think, is very important’ explains Hoffmann. ‘If you have educated people who find work I think this country really has a chance. But at the same time, if you don’t give the young generations chances here, they can immediately go and become victims for religious leaders or extremist groups.’


Whilst money is pouring into Afghanistan from various states and organisations keen to start regeneration projects, higher education is still limited with less than 1% of the population able to attend. Inevitably funded by different countries, this mish-mash of learning cultures means that everyone has their own idea of how things should be done. As there is no single educational body to standardise things, there is an inevitable presence of in-fighting as the Afghan people try to find the best and most harmonious solution. Hoffman explains that ‘everything is split against ethnicities or family business – it’s very personal. Then suddenly a foreigner comes and they’re all Afghans, they all stick together.’


Today the country is full of such contradictions, physicalised by the impressively shiny new buildings against the backdrop of war-scarred wrecks. Equally, the same institutions that are offering such liberal forward-thinking higher educational possibilities are the same ones that are headed by largely older and exclusively male bodies. ‘The young generation who want to do something often don’t have the possibility,’ says Hoffman. ‘On the other hand, the older generation are often very afraid that the younger generation will take over and won’t give them space any more. So they are not working very well together, and I think that’s the main problem.’


But as much as we try to teach and help the Afghan people, we equally have a lot to learn from them. ‘Here everything is so individualised,’ Hoffman explains. ‘In Afghanistan they have a more family-based society where nobody is ever alone. Of course, this has its bad points, but there’s not as much community here and I think it’s something we need to have more of.’ As the military winds down its presence, one can only hope that we will begin to see a media shift towards the positive, revealing the ordinary people who are actively rebuilding their lives, their communities and their government.

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