Education is a basic human right. But for young people living in countries affected by conflict, attending school is often made difficult or impossible. Ongoing conflict makes it dangerous for children and young people to leave their homes; schools are bombed or infiltrated by armed groups who use them as recruitment grounds, intimidation and torture are used against children and teachers, and displacement disrupts routines. Even when attending school is possible, the quality of education is significantly impaired by overcrowded classrooms, lack of teachers and violence in or on route to school. Uneducated young people with little direction in life are more susceptible to recruitment by extremist groups, either through indoctrination or seeing this as the only option for survival.
Local peacebuilders work on the ground to break this cycle, to mitigate the human cost of conflict and give young people robbed of their right to education a chance to learn and achieve brighter, more peaceful futures. On this commemorative day, we are highlighting some of the ways our local partners help young people access their right to learn, even in the toughest circumstances.
In the deeply conservative areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan, girls’ education above primary school is very rare. For many girls, the only option is to attend madrassas (religious schools), which are often infiltrated by extremist groups and used as recruitment grounds. We support Aware Girls, a network of young volunteers in this area dedicated to saving their peers from a life of violence. They run targeted workshops aimed at training young people in conflict resolution and non-violence.
“Once the madrassa is established the militants start to threaten the mullahs, they tell them to teach their extreme ideology or they will blow up the madrassa. The mullahs start to teach extreme ideologies to children, who grow up to be extremists and militants.”
How does your training help you tackle this?
“We speak for our rights and the rights of other young girls. We challenge the teaching of the mullahs, that way it may take many years but we can change the attitude.”
– Nabilla, project participant
By establishing peace networks, Aware Girls are able to reach young people vulnerable to the narratives of extremist groups, opening their eyes to the alternatives available to them. As Gulalai Ismail, co-founder, put it, “It will take time but we will have more dialogue with them. It’s been a huge success that these madrassas and children have opened up to us. Even if it is dangerous, we should talk.”
International Day of Education is not only about academic education, but also stresses the importance of developing skills and raising individual productivity and employability.
Our local partners in Nigeria and Somalia provide skills training to young people to boost their employability and reduce the incentive of joining armed groups.
In Kismayo, south-eastern Somalia, we work with local partner SADO to train young men and women with limited opportunities and at risk of militia recruitment to become mechanics, electricians and tailors, providing a practical alternative to a life of violence.
For 19-year-old Sahra, who faced being sold into marriage to a leader of Al-Shabaab, discovering SADO was life-changing: “I had hoped for a peaceful future and an education. Instead, I faced being married to a fighter. When I arrived in Kismayo my life changed forever. I enrolled on a course to learn how to tailor and dye fabric. After a few months of training, I graduated and was given a grant to start my own small business with three other girls I had met.”
SADO vocational skills training in Kismayo, Somalia.
Similarly, in Nigeria, the country with the largest number of children out-of-school, $3 Boko Haram can pay to burn down a school or engage in violence can seem like an enticing option for young people with no opportunities. Our local partner, the Peace Initiative Network (PIN), work in the cities of Kano and Jos to provide skills training and peacebuilding and leadership training to young people and women susceptible to armed recruitment.
“I acquired a life-saving skill. After the training, I received the equipment to run my own business. I thought at first it was a joke or a miracle, but it was real. With this, I am now earning money for myself to help my family and support my community. I am no longer idle.” – Lois, project participant
Meanwhile, in the DRC the classroom is recreated through radio stations, where our local partner Centre Résolution Conflits are running life-saving radio clubs, which offer young people the chance to learn a vocational skill and provide local communities with critical information on violence and instability, and how to respond to local conflicts non-violently.
Education is a one-step remedy for a number of key development issues; without it we cannot achieve peace and stability.
Attacks on education are attacks on young people’s futures. This International Day of Education let’s commit to providing learning opportunities for all young people by supporting local peacebuilding.
And to everyone who already supports this vital work, thank you.