Sharing Injustice and Challenges Leads to Hope and Perhaps Change: The Youth Justice Simulation at the Global Justice Forum | Writing

Walking through a room where adults play the roles of children and young people from around the world, we saw the magic of discovery and surges of understanding. This is what the youth justice simulation was designed to bring to life. On May 31 at the World Justice Forum in The Hague in the Netherlands, my colleagues, Brian Blalock of the Youth Law Center in the United States and Cédric Foussard of Terre des hommes and the Global Initiative on Justice With Children, had the honor to share our experiential learning model with a collection of global human rights leaders. Participants bravely accepted our invitation to engage with the lives and experiences of young people, then navigated through our live simulation where they faced the challenges that the children we encounter in systems around the world. They have seen how different aspects of our justice systems do not work together, how the people who work there are often overstretched and under-resourced in their roles within the system, that they sometimes cannot meet their needs, and that the frustration of not being able to meet even their basic needs leads to palpable feelings of hopelessness.

During the brainstorming session of the simulation, we all went back to our real identities and reflected on what each has just experienced. This is where the metaphor if a constructed reality comes face to face with real life. At the World Justice Forum, he has done so with the passion of the hearts and souls of so many willing to share their own personal and raw experiences. A gentleman from The Gambia describing a lifetime of experiences similar to what he just had in the simulation and how it reminded him of what it took to overcome those circumstances too to become the student and leader he is today today. An NGO leader from Lebanon was shocked by the amount of emotions the simulated experience brought back to his life of loss and parallel experiences in the young person he had ‘played’ in the simulation. He praised the experience for reminding him and others of the change that is still needed for young people. Individuals from all continents courageously shared how experiential learning helped viscerally remember their own privilege and experience. It was not just an exchange of intellectual and professional interaction with the subjects of the simulation. It was a very personal, moving and empathetic sharing of how a short time “in the shoes” of a young person in these circumstances had a profound effect.

At the World Justice Forum, a greater truth was confirmed for those of us who helped build the experiential learning simulation with young people with lived experience many years ago. This reinforced our expectation that the experiences of so many young people are, sadly, universal. It didn’t matter that our original conception of the simulation was in California, Illinois, Florida and Texas, because the experiences of young people who have to fend for themselves in a system that doesn’t serve them are just as true, it seems. , for young people in justice systems in Colombia, India, France and Tanzania. Systems that may consider a way to solve the problems of the youngest children fail to take into account the needs of homeless and street-involved adolescents, adolescents accused of crimes or victims of crimes, and young people who should still receive care. alternative care when their family cannot or does not care for them but for whom foster care and other alternatives too often fail. The issues of adolescents facing discrimination because of their sex, gender identity, race, disability or ethnicity cross all borders. While justice systems in different parts of the world differ in many ways, their universal failure to meet the needs of those children and young people forced to navigate the world without guardians or families seems to be shared by so many cultures, jurisdictions and of geographies.

All of this made the sim’s final discussion – hope – a remarkable surprise for everyone involved. As people shared their thoughts on what happened in the simulation as well as what they reflected in real life, there was interest in bringing those learnings back to their own systems to make things better. There was excitement that these understandings could help realize the rights of young people in systems that have to endure far more than a simulated experience can provide. There was, in fact, a community built during the active, standing session, despite the fact that the experience had made everyone’s children’s and young people’s identities feel so isolated and alone. This community resulted in a room of changemakers sharing ideas as they left the simulation on how they could do things differently and bring the simulation to their own geographies for their colleagues and other stakeholders of change experience things as they did to inspire change.

As has happened so many times when we conducted the experiential learning simulation for young people, we learned at least as much as we shared, and came away with the understanding that even though we all suffer from systems having similar needs for change, change is certainly possible.

About the author