Salim Salamah's Keynote speech at 9th UNESCO Youth Forum
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On the flight here to Paris, coming from my exile in Sweden where I have been a political refugee since 2013, I was thinking... which story I need to tell you? for my own story as a stateless Palestinian from Syria, refugee again in Sweden, I now feel lucky and privileged to stand before you today. Crossing borders, mobility and checkpoints were a constant reality and fear in Syria, now as I have a Swedish travel document, I can be with you to deliver the untold stories about Syria.
So the question now what story? Do I tell you the story of nearly half of Syria's population who has been uprooted for the past 4 years? or the story of children out of school, girls abused and people struggling to survive?
Unfortunately, stories of terror, barrel bombs and massacres have acquired an awful familiarity. But young people of my age have turned these hardships into drive for social change.
like the story of a movement of over 80 Syrian civil society groups who formed Planet Syria Campaign, asking for One, immediate ceasefire and Two, serious peace talks that include young and emerging leaders from all over Syria and especially women. So, let’s not forget the story of Syrian women on the frontline. According to “Peace-building Defines Our Future Now” report: 45 women organizations, 35 activists and 100 women focused groups all have a unified voice : peace is a process that starts only when women are at the negotiation table.
and I also need to tell the story of 15th Garden, a farmers' solidarity network supporting besieged areas in Syria to grow their own food, in houses, on rooftops and in between buildings, including Yarmouk camp, where I was born and raised and where more than 200 people starved to death. One of my childhood friends, Abdullah Al Khateeb, remains under siege in Yarmouk since three years, he used to work for UNRWA and now is a farmer and educator, helping people secure their food, water and making sure that education is provided to kids in the besieged camp.
The stories of Abdullah and other heros are endless but they are untold and even my short speech cannot do them justice. Those are the syrians, who keep life going, who protect their communities, the syrians who are always there to act when international aid cannot make it.
Few weeks ago, Tunisia’s civil society has won the Nobel Peace Prize, a recognition to civil society and to the people, in the region and in the world , as a key actor in peacebuilding today…. a crucial role the Syrian civil society, as we speak, is also playing in promoting peace and coexistence, saving lives, saving the planet and creating alternative systems under conflict.
It is a rare moment for me to stand here today to fulfill what I consider the obligation of a survival of war to tell these stories. UNESCO community, I invite you to stand by the vibrant Syrian civil society, to support young men and women to thrive despite war, these should be your stakeholders, those who cannot be among us today, are the sustainable partners for a better Middle East and a better world.