In north-west Pakistan, almost 5000 people have been killed in suicide attacks over the last ten years, and young people in particular are vulnerable to recruitment by religious extremists. This is where Aware Girls, our partner in Pakistan, has set up the Youth Peace Network, a network of young peace activists. Their mission is to halt the spread of extremism and rescue their peers from recruitment into militant organisations.
Sobia is a volunteer for Youth Peace Network. When two local street boys, 13 year old Ashad and 15 year old Amjad, used to visit her home to collect garbage for recycling, Sobia would talk to them about their interests, their plans and their goals.
They told her they wanted to become militants, and go to Kashmir to fight. They believed that it was fine to kill non-believers, since they were enemies of of their faith and were trying to destroy the religion. The boys learnt this at home, and from other youngsters in the recycling shop where they worked. They wanted Sobia to help them join the militants and go to war.
Sobia decided to start a discussion group with Ashad and Amjad, and began by dealing with their ideas about non-believers. She showed them pictures of people providing relief in disaster zones, and the boys were amazed to see Westerners giving aid to people of different faiths in different parts of the world. She also gave examples of people of different religions living together in peace.
Next Sobia talked about violence and wars, how they are used as political tools, and how they ruin people’s lives. At first the boys couldn’t understand how militancy could be allowed, when it destroys the lives of so many people. Sobia explained how some political organisations achieve their aims by misusing young people’s commitment to religion. Next she discussed different ways to resolve conflict, and helped them learn how to deal with disagreements by talking instead of fighting.
The two boys were grateful that they could now sort out their own arguments without violence. Sobia then helped them see how conflict resolution was important for the whole country. She explained how people could still express their views without violence, such as through peaceful demonstrations, or voting in elections.
After the boys had spent three months in the discussion group, Sobia again asked them about their interests, plans and goals. She discovered that they are no longer dreaming of going to fight in Kashmir, to kill non-believers. Instead, their dream now is only to help build a beautiful and peaceful Pakistan.
Make a gift today and you could help Aware Girls halt the spread of extremism and rescue their peers from recruitment into militant organisations.