Writer at Dawn Newspaper, Falak Sufi Scholar 2018, NYU, PAKISTAN

Moneeza Burney is associated with several social projects in Pakistan related to youth empowerment and poverty alleviation through education and creative content development. Working as a script writer, a freelance journalist, and leading youth programs of her own, Moneeza has served as a Director of the Lahore Students Union (LSU), a platform for youth community service and social leadership, which has placed over 1,000 students across a network of 75+ partner NGOs, social projects and civil society initiatives since 2014. In the summer of 2019, she has visited Beirut, Lebanon to share ideas with local NGOs about youth engagement for conflict resolution and empowerment through creative methods. Moneeza continues to write for DAWN newspaper in Pakistan, for whom she has worked as a feature writer since 2013. Moneeza is currently a graduate student at New York University in the Near Eastern Studies program as a Falak Sufi Scholar 2018, and holds a BA (Hons) degree from Sheffield Hallam University, UK, in Business Economics.

Event Title: Inclusive Social Development in Achieving the Global Goals 2030 Date: September 25, 2019


The role of youth in creating inclusive social societies

Respected representatives, I’m honored to address this conference about the role of youth in creating inclusive societies. For the last 6 years I have had the privilege to be a youth program organizer in my home town of Lahore, Pakistan, and have personally managed over 1,000 youth volunteers across a partner network of over 75 NGOs, social projects and civil society organizations. Through the platforms I run, I have been able to closely observe young people of varying ethnicities, religions, genders, and economic classes come together to improve the lives of those less fortunate than them, or collaborate to tackle problems that are meaningful to them at a deeply personal level. I’d like to share one such experience with you today.

In 2013, Dr. Ali Haider, a well-known eye doctor in Lahore, was assassinated for the sole crime of being a Shia Muslim, one of Pakistan’s many religious and sectarian minorities who have been systematically targeted by radical religious militant groups. Murdered alongside him in cold blood was his 11 year old son, Murtaza, who was on his way to school. They are just two of over 70,000 Pakistani civilians killed as a result of violent extremism since 9/11, the forgotten domestic casualties of the world’s war on terror and the rise of global militancy. The platform I work with was created a month later, with the hope of organizing and encouraging the youth to take back their culture, their country, and their religion from those who misuse it to spread evil and hatred across the world. I started a program called the Community Service Initiative to let students learn how to be responsible citizens, realize their obligation to give back to society, and strive to improve the lives of those who can’t help themselves. Over the last 6 years, through this program, I have organized youth volunteer programs for an organization run by the widow of the late Dr Ali Haider, and watched students from all backgrounds, Sunni, Shia, Christian, Punjabi, Pakhtun, Sindhi, Hazara, Male and Female, come together to spread religious tolerance and help the survivors and victims of violent crimes. When a bombing took place in a park on Easter Sunday in 2016, these volunteers came together to organize storytelling and art sessions for children in hospital wards, collect financial assistance for families to bear their medical costs, arrange prosthetic limbs for patients who could never be whole again after the tragedy, or sometimes simply pay the utility bills for families who had never had to survive without their primary breadwinner. When not working on such projects, the volunteers visit churches, temples, mosques of different sects, all to prove that people of varying faiths and beliefs can still peacefully coexist in a society built on equality, freedom, and mutual respect.

In an increasingly polarized world, we often think of the layers of religious, ethnic, and cultural identity as problematic, it is my personal experience that when young people from diverse backgrounds and experiences unite towards a noble purpose, their efforts take on a multiplier effect. Our personal traits and histories play a huge role in defining the world we live in and the challenges we face, and are an undeniable part of our human experience. But when we acknowledge our differences without judgment, we recognize that these only make us stronger, more complete, and more able to tackle complex problems as a cohesive whole rather than from just our limited point of reference. I have seen student volunteers who are embarrassed by their less expensive clothes, or those with an air of superiority over others, or those suffering from trauma due to marginalization, and watched them slowly realize that in the quest to serve humanity and bring good to this world, we are indeed all created equal. I have seen them transform, leave the shell of their former self, command the respect of their peers, and grow into the noble, empathetic human beings we all aspire to be.

We are once again at a generational crossroads, where identity politics has permeated hearts and minds in every corner of the globe, and sent us into our silos, threatening to unravel the peace with the spread of bigotry, religious phobias, radicalization, and hateful narratives of racial supremacy. And yet, in Pakistan I have worked with Muslim volunteers to provide food, clothes and education to Christian orphans and children, victims of systemic marginalization for generations. In Lebanon I have met Christian volunteers who help Syrian Muslim refugee children remember their traditions and keep their culture alive even when the homes they left behind have been burned to ash.

Young people are the perennial reservoir of hope, as an evolving world will always be in need of those who see past the flaws of the present and aspire to a better future. Only when we create inclusive platforms for young people of diverse backgrounds to interact freely, to share their ideas and experiences, to feed each other’s dreams with the fuel of their exuberance and optimism, only then can we hope to overcome the grave mistakes of the past and the demons that walk among us at present. These are indeed times of great suffering, but only the youth can inherit a world where that pain is a memory rather than a gaping wound. Only through them can we heal, and only by healing together can we hope to not repeat the same mistakes again.

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