Latin American Seminar on Youth and Globalization

Apr 28, 2003 02:34 PM EDT

"We urge ourselves and all of you to walk the world with faith and hope" - a hope "based on the conviction that our efforts will not be in vain", thanks to the faith "that leads us to struggle to defend life on this earth." The call is part of the statement drawn up by young people from 14 countries - mostly in Latin America with some from Europe and the United States - participating in a 24-27 April seminar in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Youth and Globalisation. The seminar was organised by the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) and the World Council of Churches (WCC); its slogan was "Faith and Living Hope".

At the seminar, the debate focused on globalisation, foreign debt, international trade and their consequences for young people and the churches. The final statement highlights "exclusion, unemployment, loss of cultural identity, consumerism, unequal distribution of wealth and ecological crisis".

According to the statement, "the trans-nationalisation of the world economy" allows companies to "freely roam the planet seeking the cheapest labour, the least protected environment, the most favourable tax regime or the most generous subsidies". These practices deepen the "impoverishment of the poorest for whom life, rather than being a gift of God, has become a real tragedy".

Faced with this reality, "We must value what we believe in: a kingdom of God with justice that guarantees the human rights of all people. If we unite, we will have more strength to face this very difficult situation," said one participant, Joyce Torres (29) from Sco Paulo, Brazil.

National realities and alternative proposals

Young Brazilians described the impact of globalisation in their country. According to them, there is an "official Brazil" inhabited by the dominant elite. Then there is a "virtual Brazil" created by soap operas and the Internet. Finally, there is the "real Brazil", a "land of exclusion and social conflicts": the Brazil of those "without land, without bread, without anything".

Paraguayan youth described the dramatic effects of globalisation in the land of the Guarani. "Instead of going to school, many children are working, begging in the streets, sleeping on the sidewalks," they said. Having been deprived of their childhood they later, as young people, "continue down the path to drug addiction, alcoholism and prostitution".

"Faced with the social fragmentation imposed by unjust relationships, churches could work with each other and with social movements committed to human life on this earth," said the participants in their final declaration, calling such cooperation "an inescapable ecumenical vocation". A forum on economic alternatives to neo-liberalism and capitalist globalisation could be included in the programme of the next WCC assembly, scheduled January 2006 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the young people suggested.

They also emphasised the need for a "true Christian social doctrine" which would express the Christian principles of a society [...] based on the Gospel." Such a doctrine should not only act as a guide for church communities and their educational institutions, but also for "lay people and youth who raise the voice of the church in their daily lives, in political, social, economic and cultural arenas".

United and organised in adversity

The seminar took place during the last days of a political campaign leading up to 27 April presidential elections in Argentina. The day before the elections, the participants visited one of Buenos Aires' poorest neighbourhoods, where some 50,000 people live in poverty and adversity.

In Bajo Flores, they saw some of the terrible social consequences of globalisation at first hand, but also some examples of resistance. They met the director of a community radio, Eduardo Najera, and visited a production cooperative which also provides training opportunities.

"The experience was extremely interesting. I was really able to learn a great deal," said Elizabeth Jiminez (24), a medical student from the Dominican Republic. Having seen similar projects in her own country, shed noted that "here, people are more united and more organised. So they can work better and with more results".

Norwegian Freddy Knutsen, responsible for the WCC Youth Programme, emphasised the importance of this type of event: "It helps young people see the challenges of our times and perceive the true impact of globalisation on people". What was essential, he said, was to "discover how young Latin Americans can deal with this situation and propose alternatives".

The youth event took place immediately before another, continental, consultation on "Globalizing the Fullness of Life" convened by CLAI and the WCC in Buenos Aires, 28 April - 1 May.