Search for Common Ground - Yemen
Increasing youth resilience to conflict and extremism in Yemen
The ongoing conflict in Yemen has devastated the country, causing large scale damage and spurring a humanitarian crisis, with more than 22 million people in desperate need of aid and protection. It has also fractured the social structure, creating new lines of division (e.g. Sunni and Shi’a) while entrenching existing divides (e.g. north and south). However, it is inaccurate to view Yemen as a country of widespread violence: many areas of the country maintain relative stability. The presence of areas relatively free of ground fighting, offer opportunities to promote community resilience to conflict and strengthen communities’ abilities for effective and inclusive governance. Fortifying pockets of relative stability can prevent the spread of violence and provide hope to communities under siege.
In November 2017, Search for Common Ground (Search) began implementation of a Peace Education project in Yemeni Schools. To address the proliferation of violent extremist recruitment among Yemeni youth, Search is targeting both youth and educators in eight secondary schools in Lahj and Aden (four in each governorate). The overall goal of the project is to increase the resilience of Yemeni youth to violent extremism. This is achieved through increasing secondary school teachers’ knowledge on providing conflict sensitive and non- violent education for students, and by increasing individual youth capacity to resolve violence amicably and be positive agents of change.
Yemen’s large youth population, combined with their visible involvement in the current conflict leads many in the community to see young people as a potential source of instability. Altering community perceptions of youth is central to their de-marginalisation and greater meaningful inclusion into the community. Real or perceived disengagement and marginalisation leaves young people vulnerable to recruitment to violent extremist groups and the use of violence more generally as a tool for influence and enacting change. Raising community awareness of youth as positive agents of change, instead of potential threats, is crucial to youth’s greater community participation.
Qassim Al-Ammar is a school teacher who became and mentor and peacemaker in his community. He took part in Search’s ‘Training of Trainers’, an activity in which trusted local leaders refine their mediation, facilitation, and dialogue skills. “I learnt how to facilitate community member agreements around a common understanding of a conflict.” He said. “I learnt how we can build trust between conflict parties, and how we can motivate others to suggest solutions to resolve their conflicts.”
Central to youths’ resiliency to violence and extremism is promoting both institutional and individual capacities to resolve conflict peacefully. Institutions serve to model acceptable behaviour and set norms for social engagement; this is even more pronounced in educational settings where youth are given instruction on becoming productive citizens. By empowering secondary education teachers through their Peace Education project, Search is creating strong role models and increasing the resilience of young people in Yemen.