It is difficult to change the way people think, but it becomes possible if we learn first to listen and to accept changes ourselves. I saw this phenomenon at work first-hand when, between 20th and 25th May, I went to Italy to attend the Turin Youth Forum 2008 on ‘Water & Cultures in Dialogue’.
The trip to Turin was organized as a follow-up to the ECLA Annual Conference 2008, held earlier in the spring term to examine global water issues. The trip initially seemed to me to be an opportunity to tell people about what we had done at ECLA to develop ways of thinking about the several issues connected with the global water problem. However, the forum turned out to be a place in which I learned, through others’ efforts in this field, to open up our project to engage with the challenges of the current world situation.
During Annual Conference the complexity of the water theme was brought out in the presentations of the various guest speakers, as well as the audience reactions that their presentations provoked. Coming from different areas of expertise, each of the speakers presented a different paradigm of thinking about water as a resource. We heard the voices of a human rights activist, an historian, a scientist, a social entrepreneur and a political theorist. Their visions of water and its place in the human environment served as a basis for further discussion of problems of water scarcity and accessibility, and for developing initial models for their potential solution.
Arriving in Turin with this preparation and knowledge, I worked together with 75 participants from across the world, all of whom were taking part in the Forum. For five days the Forum became the heart of discussion about water issues among youth leaders from both civil sectors and research institutions. Working together and focusing on their own experience, participants addressed the problems of water deficit, climate change and water management.
‘We are working for concrete solutions,’ said one participant, Stefano Montale (Italy), explaining the goals of the Forum. Sharing ideas to reach concrete results proved a challenging task. The debates that were taking place during each session revealed the necessity of creating a multi-dimensional solution that would not be restricted only to one paradigm, but would create a platform open to diversity.
The initial step of creating such a platform was successfully made, with participants unanimously agreeing that the idea of water should be seen as a message of love, peace, and hope among nations. This message was seen as a uniting basis for the declaration for further cooperation and progress, which participants prepared to undertake in future joint actions. With this declaration, participants could work out specific projects for the development and improvement of water management. The final results were presented as recommendations to the City Council of Turin.
‘What is needed is an effort of talking to people, raising awareness, and without such awareness it is impossible to change things,’ concluded a Council official – an appeal with which we could all agree, and which arguably confronts us all, not only in the context of water, but across the spectrum of challenges that face us as members of a global society.
By Cholpon Degenbaeva (’08, Kyrgyzstan)