400 youth leaders from Mindanao trained as peace-builders, win seed funding in EU-funded program
Updated: Jan 23
With government leaders in the Philippines reporting intensified recruitment to violent extremist groups such as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) amid the pandemic, the European Union (EU) in partnership with local non-profit organization KRIS and the Geneva-based Kofi Annan Foundation (KAF) recently concluded a series of training events and provided seed funding for 400 young leaders from Mindanao who are set to become the next generation of peacebuilders.
“The reality is that poverty, inequality, lack of opportunities, and other forces drive people to join violent extremist groups, and those forces have just become worse due to the pandemic. When these groups intensify their recruitment and their influence on their targets who are usually young people, then we must do the same. We must also intensify our recruitment and our influence on young people to become leaders - not of violence, but of peace,” shared Arizza Nocum, Co-Founder and President of KRIS.
Through funding from the EU, KRIS and the Kofi Annan Foundation is implementing Extremely Together (ET) Philippines - Panaghiusa, a program targeting young people aged 15-30 years old and coming from urban areas affected by poverty, conflict, and terrorism. Under ET Philippines, participants undergo a training event on understanding the context of conflict and the reality of violent extremism in the Philippines, then devise proposals for peace and development that could stand to win a Php 30,000.00 seed grant.
In March 2021, training events were held in Zamboanga City, Marawi City, and Tagum City for over 400 participants.
“We were blown away by the positive response from our participants. They are not just youth who learned about conflict in the news or online; they are victims. Some have seen gruesome acts of violence and war first-hand. Some are children of former rebels. Some are members of indigenous groups displaced by conflict. Even with these experiences, these young people chose to use their voices and their ideas to bring hope and to promote peace to themselves, their families, and their communities,” recounted Nocum, herself a native of Mindanao.
Over the course of the training events, 12 groups were selected to each receive a Php 30,000.00 to bring their ideas for peace to life. Proposals included campaigns for peace education and good governance; social enterprises and livelihood opportunities for vulnerable groups such as for displaced persons in Marawi and for former combatants in Tagum; an eco-tourism destination in Zamboanga that has been hit hard by violent extremism; sustainable farming initiatives; and more.
Juanquine Carlo Castro, President of Tagum-based youth organization Youth Service Philippines (YSP), shared that the training strengthened his plans to promote peace in a region that has been affected by violence for decades.
“Being a communication student, I plan to be able to create various social media advocacies focused on educating the youth on what violent extremism is and what they can do as young peacebuilders to make a change in terms of peace and development. Moreover, I hope to talk with different policymakers and suggest various ways to achieve peace in various areas and remove violent extremism in the country,” Castro said.
Meanwhile, Ammar Mama-o Cayongcat, a young leader from Marawi-based social enterprise N’ditarun Tano, explained that his biggest takeaway from the training is the “realization that the concept of peace is not exclusive to a religious sector or to an ethnicity or tribe.”
“Regardless of background and setting aside differences, peace is surely attainable. ... Especially in conflict-driven areas, the role of the youth taking a collective stand in promoting peace through various start-ups would really create an impact,” he added.
Following the training events, trainees have also gone on to form the ET Philippines network which has, since March, mobilized to collect and distribute books to rural communities, raised funds for educational materials and equipment for a far-flung public school in Basilan, and contributed to numerous community pantry and Eid’l Fitr gift-giving operations in Mindanao.
ET Philippines is part of the Kofi Annan Foundation’s global Extremely Together initiative present in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Launched in 2016, the worldwide network of young leaders has produced a toolkit on preventing violent extremism, trained and engaged thousands of youth and advocated for the inclusion of young people in peace and security internationally.
For more information, please contact:
Project Lead, Extremely Together Philippines - Panaghiusa
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