Green Mahalla: Young Cypriots take stock on environmental challenges on the island
As part of the Young Leaders in Action initiative, a group of six young Cypriots from both communities in Cyprus came up with “Green Mahalla”, a project to tackle environmental degradation and increase communication between both communities, with actions that includes clean-ups in selected areas on the north and south of the island.
Christina Kakoulli, Joya Lahoud, Hanife Serin, Stelios Antoniou, Polymnia Glykeriou and Sofia Polydorou recently launched the project’ social media pages to present “before and after” photos of the clean-ups, shed light on environmental problems and spread awareness in an attempt “to make people rethink their behaviour towards the environment,” Sofia explains.
Sofia describes how the group came up with the idea: “We all agreed that the separation of our island prohibits us from seeing the bigger picture of common environmental problems. We recognised the need to initiate intercommunal environmental activities to prevent conflict and build peaceful relations between our communities.”
For Hanife, the Young Leaders in Action “provided us the opportunity to get to know new friends from all over the island who are willing to contribute to peacebuilding and doing something beneficial. It is very exciting to be with other enthusiastic people keen to create a better and more peaceful Cyprus.”
The Young Leaders in Action focuses on equipping participants with tools and strategies needed to support them to develop their own intercommunal social action projects and with small grants to kick-off the implementation of their ideas.
For Christina, “to meet people from other communities and backgrounds of this little island that I call home was something really special. I've lived here all my life and never had the chance to reach out to others. This gave me the perfect opportunity because we also have common values and interests. It's also uplifting to meet others who also want to empower groups that have received discrimination, tackle inequality and promote environmentalism.”
The programme aims to strengthen women and young people’s input to discussions on peace and security, with a focus on peacebuilding, social action, leadership, negotiation, and mediation processes.
Stelios Antoniou, one of the Green Mahalla members, believes that “the youth is an essential aspect of society that isn’t taken as seriously as it should, and our community should heed their opinions and demands because the youth shape the future.”
Through a series of workshops at the beginning of the programme, the participants had the opportunity to learn about issues related to the inclusion of women and youth on the island and develop their own ideas to act upon what they consider to be relevant topics to address how to increase their participation.
For Polymnia Glykeriou, who is part of the group and joined UNFICYP’s first Youth Champions for Environment and Peace, “the sessions have been inspiring and joyful. The whole programme gives me hope that our communities can coexist in harmony. I am looking forward to starting our project and contributing to our society.”
Joya Lahoud, who was also part of the Youth Champions programme concludes: “If I can describe the programme in one word, I would pick ‘fantastic’. It taught me a lot about how leadership, cooperation, hope, ambition, solidarity and friendships can and are shaping a better island. It inspired me to be hopeful about a better future together regardless our differences and current circumstances and motivated me to work harder to achieve this dream peacefully alongside other inspiring young Cypriots.”
The Young Leaders in Action started in January and is being organized by UNFICYP, in partnership with the British Council and the British High Commissioner in Cyprus. The initiative will run until April.