Under the Family Resilience Project, Arigatou International–Nairobi in partnership with Global Community Resilience Fund (GCERF), the Goldin Institute, Islamic Foundation Kenya, the Nation Media Group and other partners supported teachers and community women leaders to conduct several community forums with school children and youth in the month of February 2020. The forums discussed issues of radicalization and violent extremism as a concern to sustainable peace and development. The events were conducted in Pumwani, Nairobi and Kisauni, Mombasa counties of Kenya. 2,530 youth and children participated in the workshops including 421 teachers, faith leaders, parents and local leaders.
Violent extremism has no borders, religion or ethnicity; nevertheless, it is evident that areas affected by poverty, unequal access to resources and opportunities, and political instability have become the breeding grounds for many of the push factors leading youth and children into violent extremist groups.
Education plays a critical role in shaping the young minds that may be deceived by extremist creeds. Some of the topics covered during the sessions included;
- The context of violent extremism (VE) in Kenya
- Misconception and stereotypes that surround terrorism
- Who to report to when one is at risk or has spotted something wrong
- The role of youth and children in peacebuilding
- The importance of committing to good and listening to elders
- Storytelling as a tool to sharing information
It was evident that children as young as 8 years had some idea about violent extremism; some of the children shared examples of post terror attack incidents they witnessed in their community. Through storytelling, facilitators were able to explain to participants the meaning of violent extremism. Children shared their thoughts on violence with one noting that it’s a manifestation of hate.
Through discussions children shared some of the misconceptions they had including “Takbir” which gives an opening to violence – this is because they relate the word to terror incidents. In a session with teenagers, they mentioned how some of them are pressurized to either take part or be part of a criminal gang. Several teenagers (both boys and girls between 10-16 years) in Mombasa disclosed that they had been approached by their peers, who are in some of the notorious criminal gangs in the county. Some of the boys mentioned that they were promised quick money when they join the gangs; and with money comes fame. For the girls it was more of sexual exploitation.
It was noted that children and youth have online access to varying information with no supervision, making them vulnerable to exploitation. The teenagers testified that when it comes to online use, they have access to pornographic sites, and for those who do not have phones, they were able to acquire such restricted sites through the cyber cafes.
The youth identified some of their friends who were recruited to join al Shabab. They added that what pushed them to crossover was police brutality and extrajudicial killings. They also felt some parts of the counties were discriminated and profiled by the government with such areas receiving very little aid from the state. Poverty and unemployment coupled with drugs and substance abuse was also a catalyst to joining the extremist course, they revealed.
Participants recommended to community stakeholders to build positive relationships with the young adults since there is a gap between them. The youth also advised community leaders to guide and support them through developing and sharing knowledge on P/CVE and in turn, they can share the information with their peers.
The outreach was important in empowering the youth and children and providing them with an opportunity and a safe space to learn, share, interact, coexist and build relations with one another. Interfaith and cultural dialogue is important for the well-being of our future generations. Interfaith interactions act as a tool to engage youth of different faiths and cultures to build an understanding, good will and a sense of community service among youth.
The children participated in other engaging activities such as: singing, drama, and painting where they drew and wrote peace and love messages. Participants resolved to do all they can to end violence against children. The women leaders under the Family Resilience Project committed to continue building awareness on violent extremism and building resilient young individuals in the communities.