In anticipation of the International Youth Week celebrations this weekend, I had a heated debate with a friend on this year’s theme; “Creating safe spaces for the youth.”
We argued over whether the safe space was more of a physical environment or an ideological one where the youth can feel confident, safe and free from discrimination, criticism and harassment.
My take is it should be both. Any young person should have a safe environment physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually to live in, develop and be a better citizen of the world.
But how can this be possible? Should it be given? This made me reflect on my childhood and how ‘safe’ it was. I had madrassa teachers who thought religious education should be instilled in the most physically painful way and self-proclaimed football coaches who would beat us up for missing practice sessions.
I also had a stoutly religious guardian uncle who expressed his love through regular caning because he thought I was caught up in modernity.
Still I had to look different, since I was a Somali who didn’t look like my indigenous tribesmen. The emotional torture of defending your ‘Somali hood’ was more overwhelming than occasionally denying your tribe and getting a racial slur thrown at you.
However, I managed to play football and felt like Cristiano Ronaldo in the dusty fields of Eastleigh Section One, battled with some amazing rap artists and felt like I had a connection with Tupac, got into a dance crew and dreamt of being on TV, but still put time into school.
I felt normal because I chose normal, I felt special because in my mind I was special. I never for once felt like a victim or less fortunate. Partly because I didn’t know better, but mostly because I had a safe space, a safe space that I created for myself in my mind.
Now, I am all grown and see things differently, and I a mentor youth, and the challenges are the same but the avenues have changed. There are digital spaces now and a more enlightened community that means well.
While this is good and the community has the responsibility to create a good environment for the youth, they should also try to make safe spots in their mind and hearts.
That way, we will have youth in our generation accomplishing amazing feats. Let’s work from within and without.
Osman Abdinasir, Youth mentor in Nairobi