Erin Hunt, Mines Action Canada
Mines Action Canada has long supported youth campaigners’ involvement with the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Since 2017, its Mine Action Fellows program has worked to ensure that youth have the skills and training needed to effectively influence decision making around these two treaties at the international and national level. Until 2020, the Mine Action Fellows Program focused entirely on young women, but the addition of young men was just one of the changes to the program this year.
A Mine Action Fellows Forum had been planned to run alongside the Second Review Conference of the Convention on Cluster Munitions in November. The Forum would have brought over 25 youth from around the world to Lausanne, Switzerland, for training, capacity building, and participation in the diplomatic meeting as members of civil society. COVID-19 travel restrictions and public health orders forced the Mine Action Fellows Forum online. The Review Conference was divided, with half happening on the scheduled dates but online and the second half currently scheduled for February or when public health allows gatherings of more than 50 people in Geneva.
The Virtual Mine Action Fellows Forum, which took place from November 22 to 27, offered a variety of online resources and self-paced learning. Fellows also engaged in online meetings with government representatives, attended the virtual plenary and side events, participated in campaigner meetings, and hosted their own side event.
Trainings focused on leadership by personality traits, mental health and well-being, teambuilding, and making change as campaigners. Additional sessions on specialized topics in mine action and the Lausanne Action Plan added to the Fellows’ subject matter expertise.
The session on mental health and well-being was a remarkable development for the mine action community. Although psychosocial support is a key component of victim assistance, there has been little to no discussion within the sector of mental health and well-being among campaigners and staff implementing the treaty. To start this discussion, Mines Action Canada worked with Platfform, a leading mental health charity in Wales, to link their youth advocates with the Mine Action Fellows. Platfform carried out a 90-minute workshop in which the Mine Action Fellows delved into mental health issues and strategies that addressed the specific questions and concerns the participants had raised in an earlier survey.
The youth side event was another development for MAC’s programing because it was entirely virtual. The Ending Cluster Munitions in our Lifetime event brought together Mine Action Fellows from Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, and Western Sahara to share their work over the past year to support the Convention on Cluster Munitions. A combination of pre-recorded videos and live presentations allowed youth to overcome the digital divide and bring perspectives rarely heard by those in power right into the offices (and living rooms) of Review Conference delegates. The speakers highlighted how they adapted risk education and advocacy messages to the COVID-19 pandemic and were able to reach communities and decision makers despite the pandemic.
Feedback during and after the event indicates that viewers found the side event to be one of the most energizing and inspiring parts of the Review Conference. More than one delegate said that the youth participation is what they will remember about this Review Conference.
Neither the Review Conference nor the Mine Action Fellows Forum happened in their planned format, but the Virtual Mine Action Fellows Forum showed that including youth in diplomatic meetings, even online, shifts the energy of the meeting and brings new life into rigid diplomatic structures. The Mine Action Fellows brought grassroots knowledge and honest commentary to the diplomats in meetings and at the side event. These perspectives are a key to effective humanitarian disarmament. Next year, Mines Action Canada hopes the public health situation allows us to have youth campaigners at multiple in-person meetings.