Building peace in the minds of men and women


Youth Forum in China


Hannah Getachew stands up to make a point, 2019.

The Third International Youth Forum on Creativity and Heritage along the Silk Roads was held in Changsha and Nanjing from 31 March to 6 April 2019, focusing on Youth Creativity and Innovation in the Age of Media Arts. This joint initiative of the Chinese National Commission for UNESCO and the Organization brought together some 100 youth delegates from all continents. Among them was Ethiopia’s Hannah Getachew, who discusses the significance of this Forum – and particularly the relationship between young Africans and Chinese.

Interview by Chen Xiaorong

Last spring, you participated in the International Youth Forum on Creativity and Heritage along the Silk Roads (IYF). What made you decide to attend the event for a second time?

After I took part in the 2018 Forum, I was eager to return to the next one. What makes this event unique is that young people from all over the world get a chance to connect. UNESCO and the host cities of Changsha and Nanjing have created the ideal environment for us to build lasting friendships with each other and with the Chinese volunteers.

Let me give you one example of an initiative that symbolizes the spirit of the Forum. A Beijing-based African-American woman, Rhianna Aaron, the founder of OPOPO Magazine,  has a line of T-shirts with the message 黑是美, followed by its English translation, Black is Beautiful. They symbolize the desire for Chinese and African people to connect, based on our shared values.

For me, the Forum is an opportunity to introduce Chinese culture to Africans, and African culture to the Chinese.

How does it feel to exchange ideas with young people from other countries?

It’s a very enriching experience. For example, I had the pleasure of meeting a Shanghai-based South African writer, Kitso Rantao. Sometimes the IYF introduces you to people who live only a few hours away from you, but whom you would never have met otherwise.

The Forum also allows you to meet young people who live on the other side of the world. During one of the sessions, Kristeena Monteith, a Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), introduced us to the multimedia platform series, Talk Up Yout, produced and driven by young people in Jamaica. Among the topics covered was the protection of heritage along the Silk Roads under the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. Talk Up Yout’s success in Jamaica shows that to achieve the sustainable development goals and any shared objective, it is crucial to engage youth in every step of the process.

This year you made a presentation as a co-founder of Black Livity China. Can you tell us more about this media platform?

Black Livity China is a passion project that was born of multiple discussions among African women studying at Peking University last year. It was co-founded by Runako Celina Bernard Stevenson (Jamaican-Grenadian) and myself. When we started the platform, Runako was enrolled in a Chinese-language Masters of International Relations programme at Peking University.  She now works at the British Embassy in Beijing.

We were inspired by the Guyanese scholar Walter Rodney, who reminds us that open communication between black communities across the world is crucial to the pan-African vision. And that we should not allow ourselves to be limited by borders and geographical confines. We decided this was a lesson we could take and apply both in China and on a broader scale, across the world.

Black Livity China was created with the belief that we should take on ourselves and our communities the responsibilities Rodney assigns to Pan-Africans: “to define our own situation… to present that definition to the other parts of the black world… and to help others in a different section of the black world to reflect on their own specific experience”.

Black Livity China is a media platform that aims to showcase matters relating to the lives, well-being and experiences of black people, either inside China or in relation to China and her people, for the benefit of our global community. We have applied the universal appeal of media arts to achieve our goals.

During the 2018 Forum, you wrote a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping and received a very positive reply that was addressed to the young participants. You have said you never dreamed of receiving a reply. What impact has it had on your work and studies?

Truth be told, it’s still sinking in. The message of the letter stemmed from the experiences of youth delegates at the IYF. I am sure that is what resonated most with President Xi, and his reply reflects the respect he has for the IYF, UNESCO, Changsha and Nanjing. I am simply lucky to have been the messenger.

The publicity accompanying the story has given me a chance to advocate more effectively for the win-win cooperation between China and the African continent. Multiple media platforms have covered the topic, and in so doing have allowed me the opportunity to voice my opinions on international relations.

With this article, the UNESCO Courier marks the celebration of International Youth Day on 12 August.

Hannah Getachew

The first Chief Editor at Peking University’s China-Africa Think Tank, Hannah Getachew (Ethiopia) was a General Secretary of the university’s African Students Association. She has a Master’s degree in Translation.