Philippine program steers youths away from extremism
A training initiative in the southern Philippines aims to stop violent extremism before it takes root among young people. The Peacebuilding and Prevention of Violent Extremism initiative, which is supported by local academics and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), targets a long-fertile ground for terrorist recruitment — the Mindanao region.
Mindanao is home to 26 million people or about 20% of the Philippines’ population. For many years it has battled an array of Salafi jihadi, Moro nationalist and communist terrorist groups.
In a joint effort of Youth for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence in Mindanao (YOUCAP), Mindanao State University and the Interfaith Dialogue on Violent Extremism (iDove), the initiative recruits young people with academic, civil society or government backgrounds and an interest in counseling their peers to resist the influence of violent extremism.
YOUCAP is supported by the German Society for International Cooperation, which is an NGO based in Bonn, Germany.
“We see the youth not only as victims of illegal armed group recruitments, but also as important actors in the prevention of violent extremism among their fellow youth,” a spokeswoman for the NGO told FORUM. “This activity uses a peer-to-peer approach among the participants, which helps in creating a culture of peace in these crucial times.”
Twenty-one Filipinos, mostly young professionals and university students of various faiths and backgrounds, gathered weekly for a virtual workshop on peace building and preventing extremism in December 2020 and January 2021, the spokeswoman said. This was followed by mentoring sessions and online exchanges, which extend through May 2021. The training will culminate in a youth camp scheduled for June 2021.
An important part of the training is the creation of a “virtual youth safe space” where young leaders can interact, she added, noting that group gatherings have become more challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The initiative builds on the success of the first iDove Intercontinental Youth Forum in Southeast Asia held in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta in December 2019. YOUCAP members attended the event, along with youth leaders from across the region. The forum was an offshoot of iDove programs in Africa, which helped young people of different faiths design campaigns that mix digital media with in-person events to steer youngsters away from the lure of violent extremism.
Following the Jakarta event, the stakeholders engaged with the Mindanao Center for Resiliency at the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology to adapt and localize the iDove “training of trainers” for young people engaged in preventing violent extremism. (Pictured: A young woman participates in the 2019 Youth Summit in Surigao del Norte, Philippines.)
“In the Philippines, specifically in Mindanao, which is home to a rich diversity of faith, culture and ethnic groups, the search for lasting peace continues in the hopes of putting an end to decades of violence,” the German NGO’s spokeswoman said.
Joseph Hammond is a FORUM contributor who reports from the Indo-Pacific region.
IMAGE CREDIT: JOHN VINCENT C. ESPENIDO/GERMAN SOCIETY FOR INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION