Firstly posted by Remzije Duli, Tuesday 13 December 2011 at http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/joepublic
“British youths are the most unpleasant and violent in the world” was how one Daily Mail headline reported on the spate of looting that hit London’s streets this year, one of many angry editorials that seemed to blame all young people for the crimes committed by a few. One of the paper’s columnists blamed the riots, at least partly, on “the disaster of multiculturalism”.
I wonder how such journalists would have reacted if they had been at the recent launch of a new campaign called(Kosovan Albanian Youth Against Violence)? Would they have thought again if they’d seen dozens of young British people of Kosovan and Albanian backgrounds come together with friends and family to take a public stand against gang culture and violence?
KAYAV was developed by the organisation I work for, the British Albanian Kosovar Council (BAKC), but was given its name, creativity and passion by the young people who have signed up to it. That night they made passionate speeches and put on performances that had the 100-strong audience, including supportive representatives from the Metropolitan police, applauding all the way through. At one point traditional Kosovan dancing was followed by a beautiful performance of a song by London’s own Adele, with the young performers clearly showing their love of both their cultural background and the city most of them were born in – a great example of multiculturalism in action.
KAYAV has been given important support by the Refugee Council, with its proud record of promoting better understanding of different cultures, and was developed as part of the Refugee Empowerment Project, which trains small refugee community organisations and partners them with professional campaign mentors. For this particular project I worked with Jaime Gill, who works for the leading disability charity, United Response, who became a passionate collaborator and appreciator of Kosovan culture.
The evening also overturned lazy stereotypes of young people as being selfish or uninterested in their communities. We were very proud to have Florio Kazazi in the audience – a 20-year-old from Barking who has spent the last four years battling cancer, and is still desperately trying to raise funds for life-saving medical treatment he can only get from the US. In that one night alone the young people managed to raise £800 for his fund.
“It’s unfair how sometimes the press labels the majority of young people as troublemakers,” said Dea, a young woman who has been involved from the beginning of the campaign. “What we did tonight proved we can do great things if you give us the chance.”
We want to achieve more great things, and are developing a KAYAV website, via our Facebook page. There are also plans for future events and activities involving media and sport. Hana, a young person who compered on the night, said: “It would be great if we had to be a permanent KAYAV youth club, where young people from our community and others could get together.”
Of course, those involved in criminal acts, such as the riots, should be held responsible for their actions. But scapegoating all young people will not solve anything or help create a better future. That can only be achieved by showing young people there are alternatives, and that there are ways to channel their energy into positive action. That’s what projects like KAYAV aim to achieve and, with the young people on our side, I know we can do it.
• Remzije Duli is project co-leader for the British Albanian Kosovar Council, which runs the cross-cultural family learning programme Strengthening Families, Strengthening Communities, and undertakes youth work with the children of the families who participate