How Baghdad’s Youth Movement is Re-Uniting A Divided Society
We did it!
“I don’t know how to explain how we feel every year when the carnival ends,” Qayssar says. “After working for this event for four or five months, suddenly it is all over in just one day. We all start crying, hug each other and shout ‘we did it, we did it; we lived in peace on this day!’ We get very emotional. And then we get on: our goal is to become stronger every year.”
Although the City of Peace Carnival is no longer supported exclusively by NGOs and has some large corporate sponsors, such as telecommunication companies and famous restaurants, to ensure entirely organised by volunteers. Volunteers hard work is what makes the festival possible. This is hard for some parents to accept, a struggle Qayssar knows personally: “My family kept asking me: How can you work so much without getting money for it?”
Today Qayssar’s entire family loves the Peace Carnival. Back in 2011 though, when it all started, his parents were vehemently opposed to his participating. They viewed it as a waste of time, and told him he should look for a real job and get married instead. “I had disputes with my mum every time I left the house and every time I returned from a meeting.” It took him a year to convince his parents to come to the carnival and just take a look. They had not expected to be so impressed and astounded. “They hugged me and said, this is incredible, we can hardly believe it! They supported me from then on. They even donate to the carnival every year and my mum sponsored some chairs for our IQPeace Center.” Qayssar’s parents are no longer young – “they have a different mind-set and have had different experiences” – but they were still thrilled by the festival that welcomed all generations, by the huge playground for their grandchildren, and the traditional bands and artists’ booths. “They had never experienced a celebration of peace before in their lives.”
Working for the Peace Carnival has also given many volunteers a leg up in their private lives. The band Project 904, who played at one of the first carnivals, was recruited by daily social media news and is now known nationwide. Working as a volunteer has helped others get jobs with international organisations or large telecommunication corporations.
“Volunteering for the Carnival has become a reference for employers,” Qayssar says. At 25, he is by far the youngest person at his place of work. “But my colleagues accept me because of my experience. You need a good resume and good connections to work for the UN. That is what I built up over the past 4 years.”
The Baghdad City of Peace Carnival wants to connect with peace movements around the globe. Please contact Qayssar if you can help him get in touch with youth or peace groups in your country: firstname.lastname@example.org