Sonia Tziovanni. © WCC/Peter Kenny

Sonia Tziovanni. © WCC/Peter Kenny

For World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee member Sonia Tziovanni, youth employment is an issue of the times at her home in Cyprus and everywhere on the planet.

Representing the Church of Cyprus, she attended the 53rd meeting of the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. It was held in Geneva from 8 to 11 March.

“Youth employment is of huge concern, in Cyprus, in Europe and in the whole world, so we are trying to deal with it,” she said in an interview after the meeting at the Ecumenical Centre.

Her observations are borne out by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

It says that global shares of youth in the world’s total labour force, whether employed or unemployed, are decreasing over time. One reason is that more young people (although still not enough) are participating in education.

However, millions of young people in low-income countries continue to leave school to take up jobs when they are too young.

The ILO says that 31 percent of youth in low-income countries have no educational qualifications at all, compared to 6 percent in lower middle-income countries and 2 percent in upper middle-income countries.

“The problem of employment not only affects the government and the economy of the country, but it impacts the psychology of the people — because if you don’t have a job, you feel unworthy and stressed."

“Unemployment also heightens tension in people’s personal lives, in the family and can become a national health issue,” she notes.

Tziovanni is finishing a master’s degree in law and human rights at Manchester Metropolitan University in England dealing with property issues which are on the negotiating agenda for Cypriots following the invasion of the island by Turkey in 1974.

She says that ongoing discussions between Greek and Turkish Cypriots about their island, divided into a Greek south and a Turkish north, constantly focus on property issues.

“This is a problem for both Greeks and Turks. As regards religion and the place of worship in our churches, we want them back.”

Under an agreement brokered by contact between Christian and Muslim leaders in Cyprus in 2014, Greeks are allowed to make visits sometimes to “the occupied areas”.

“We see many churches have become coffee shops, stables or hotels. This is not only a problem for us Greek Orthodox, it is a problem for all Christians, because Christianity no longer exists on the other [Turkish] side,” observes Tziovanni.

Youth in the ecumenical movement