Young Cypriots are shaping the COVID-19 response with UNFICYP
The UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus has been organising youth-led online discussions and helped form a young group as part of a bi-communal initiative on environment and peace.
In 2020, UNFICYP organized a youth project called “Famagusta students together,” an initiative that brings high-school students from both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities together to promote dialogue and to discover what they have in common.
Mustafa Ongun, UNFICYP’s Associate Civil Affairs Officer based in Pyla, is one of the staff responsible for organizing the project. It kicked off earlier this year, but only one meeting was held in person before the onset of the pandemic. The Mission had to quickly shift its approach to ensure the project could continue online.
“When we started, we planned for a group of 20 young people to join the conversations, ten from each community. However, the number is likely to increase in the next meetings,” said Mustafa, who is pleased that more students can now join from other parts of the island.
Earlier in 2020, UNFICYP also selected a group of 24 Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots to become Youth Champions in support of the environment and peace on the island. Since the beginning of the pandemic, this group of young women and men has also been meeting virtually to develop initiatives that will engage both communities to care for the planet.
Polymnia Glykeriou, a 27-year-old Greek Cypriot who lives in Larnaca, has always been passionate about environmental issues. With a master’s degree in Environmental and Chemical Engineering, she is eager to expand her network.
“I usually discuss with my family, share what I learn with friends and now, with this group, we can exchange ideas, and I notice we have a lot more in common than just our passion for the environment,” she said, adding that even though they had to limit physical contact, conditions allowed them to bond in a special and lasting way.
In September 2020, the group met for the first time in person to continue to develop their ideas on how to engage both communities on the island to promote the protection of the environment.
For Yassine Chagh an 18-year-old Moroccan student who came to Cyprus to pursue his university studies in electronic engineering and is taking part in the Famagusta Students Together, the pandemic was an opportunity to connect with people on cultural topics as well.
“[COVID-19] gave me an opportunity to be inspired by my friends and by the people I met online,” he highlighted, adding that new ideas on books and recipes helped him stay motivated and active.