Sacred Places and Safe Spaces
My favorite writer-philosopher-activist, Wendell Berry, once put in a poem,
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
That is to say, there are no meaningless spaces. There are places that are as they should be. And there are places that are profoundly not as they were meant to be.
In honor of International Youth Day, let’s rewrite the lines to convey a different kind of meaning.
There are no neutral spaces;
there are only safe spaces
and unsafe spaces.
Children should grow up in contexts where they are loved, cared for, and equipped to flourish. Instead, many dwell where there is danger, abuse, and daily threat.
When Children Thrive, Communities Thrive
At Food for the Hungry (FH), we believe that when children thrive, the community thrives. Children are the most vulnerable to poverty. Hunger and sickness have the power to cause permanent damage to their bodies and minds. FH’s child-focused strategy promotes the potential that all children have. The potential to be change-makers for their families and communities if given the opportunity.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres
said, “The hopes of the world rest on young people. Peace, economic dynamism, social justice, tolerance — all this and more, today and tomorrow, depends on tapping into the power of youth
Yet many of these youth, and the children even younger, live in contexts of conflict, instability, or isolation.
Conflict, Instability, Isolation
Peru. You live in a place where about 80% of youth between the ages of 12 and 17 experience some form of violence. Where 30% of children are victims of violent behavior like whipping, kicking, shaking, pulling hair, or burning. Resource stress and poverty, hefty earning or domestic responsibility set on children, and social acceptance of violence as discipline contribute to the high rate of physical violence in Peru. According to one study, there’s a 1 in 3 chance that you will be physically hurt by a family member.
South Sudan or Northern Uganda. Your family fled from those who turned military weapons against innocent civilians in South Sudan. You learn later that your father was killed in the violence. Now your family struggles to buy food because of the high prices. Your attempts to farm a barren plot of land turn out futile because of the drought. Your mother is the last to eat, as she struggles to feed your five brothers and sisters.
Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. You fled to Bangladesh one night after hearing the sound of gunshots and seeing that the sky was full of black smoke from the fire that was steadily burning their village. You left all of your belongings behind to travel to safety across the border. Now, your family lives in a refugee camp.
Where Space is Not Safe
For so many children, their countries, communities, and homes are not safe places. But we need young people to come together, learn together, and express their dreams, desires, and plans. They need safe places to gather without threat of attack or fear of violence. There is a need for spaces that are inclusive and don’t discriminate against the most vulnerable.
Only then will young people be able to contribute. Participate in their communities. Grow affirmed in their dignity. And begin shaping a brighter world that uses their talents, hopes, and dreams.
FH Creates Safe Spaces
Violence prevention: FH implements training to stop the cycle of family violence. We help change parents’ attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Parents are challenged to leave violence behind and embrace parenting strategies that honor the dignity and value of their children.
Responding to crisis situations: FH goes to the hard places, including refugee camps and parts of the world where people are fleeing violence, persecution, and war.
Giving children a voice: Leadership development, after-school programs, worldview counseling, and empowerment strategies help girls and boys grow up confident in their identity as valuable children of God, leaders in their communities, and good neighbors.
Join FH in Celebrating International Youth Day
These are three opportunities for you to join us. FH helps youth find safe spaces. You can help them grow up to lead their families and communities to flourishing. Youth are the key to our future. This International Youth Day, help cultivate safe spaces for them to grow up.