Reconciliation and peacebuilding rest upon knowing as complete a picture as possible of the nature, causes, and extent of gross violations of human rights that have been committed. Investing in the education of youth is important because it expands their worldview and challenge stereotypes. By successfully doing so, youth can actively participate in shaping lasting peace and contribute to justice and reconciliation in their respective societies. For example, Canada has integrated meaningful reconciliation into classrooms and workshops to help learn about its history of colonization and think creatively about the future. South Africa has also recognized the importance of educational reform in order to address the problem of reconciliation and conflict transformation in youth. The importance of empowering youth to engage and take an active role in non-violence, dialogue, and reconciliation was at the center of this conversation of the potential roles that youth can take in truth and reconciliation at both the local and global level.
Thank you to our featured resource practitioners who led this conversation:
- Rainer Gude, Initiatives of Change International
- Marisa O. Ensor, Georgetown University Program on Justice and Peace
- Virginia Ladisch, International Center for Transitional Justice
- Julia Paulson, University of Bristol
- Tricia Logan, National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation
Youth, Conflict, and Protection
Participants began the conversation by citing examples of local community organizing groups that support the role of youth in anti-violent, peace-building initiatives. Tricia Logan mentioned the Bear Clan Patrol, a volunteer safety group dedicated to providing security to the Aboriginal community in inner-city Winnipeg. The Bear Clan Patrol’s mission statement is directed towards youth because they believe “it is critical to develop the knowledge and skills of young people because it is they who will inherit these conditions. For these reasons, our strategies and attention must be directed towards young people.” Logan also mentions the Meet Me by the Bell Tower Movement, a grassroots initiative started by the AYO! (Aboriginal Youth Opportunities) with the aim of ending crime and violence among youth in the North End of Winnipeg, a primarily Aboriginal community. Similar to the Bear Clan Patrol, MM@BT emphasizes the participation of youth “in an effort to limit the reach of intergenerational violence.”
Rainer Gude introduced two youth-focused groups that are more globally-oriented: the Learning to Be a Peacemaker training program and Extremely Together. The Switzerland-based Learning to Be a Peacemaker initiative is designed for Muslim youth to “explore the theological principles of peacemaking through the examination of Islamic texts and its contexts,” and create a community project that demonstrates their commitment to peacemaking. Extremely Together, a program of the Kofi Annan Foundation selects ten young leaders from around the world to congregate and discuss strategies to “tackle violent extremism.” The leaders produced the world’s first guide, “by young people and for young people, on how to counter violent extremism in your community.”
The Role of Youth in Reconciliation
Ensor raised an important point that youth face the barrier of reshaping their agency within a discourse that often “conflates social categories such as “youth”, “refugee”, combatant”, or even “terrorist”. Due to the socio-economic and political exclusion that youth grapple with in post-conflict contexts, youth are stereotypically stereotyped as participants in anti-social behavior (gang membership, crime, and radicalization). Acknowledging the “fluidity of identity in young people” and their ability to inhabit victimhood and active agency is key to engaging youth in reconciliation processes.
Wherever there lacks a designated space for youth to engage in the reconciliation process, it is often youth who create this space and gain credibility. Tricia Logan reiterates the creation of social capital by youth demonstrated by their effort to draft their own youth-focused Calls to Action in Canada’s 94 Calls to Action to redress the legacy of residential schools.
Conversation participants advised that the social capital of youth must be taken seriously, but also that the concept of “youth” itself should not be treated as a single monolithic group of people. Certain sub-populations within the umbrella of youth must be paid particular attention in regards to the truth and reconciliation process. Marisa Ensor quoted from her study on the gendered roles of youth in transitional justice and reconciliation process in Uganda and South Sudan that “the protection and participation of female children and young women warrant additional attention, as they have often been marginalized.” Furthermore, she comments on the difference in how young children and young adults are perceived in post-conflict societies, the former being victims and the latter being “a potential force for social disruption and upheaval.”
Education and the Reconciliation Process
The link between education and reconciliation processes is highlighted by multiple participants due to its ability to create curricular content that promotes peaceful relationships, the delegitimization of violence, and confidence in the government that the state is committed to the well-being of its citizens. Aside from traditional education systems, Gude suggested the utility of reconciliation and sensitization workshops to complement institutional reform. Participant Nancy Pearson expands on the idea of alternative education by citing the “Narrative Theatre” community dialogue approach wherein the creative arts can be used to advance truth and reconciliation efforts. Logan notes that youth should be involved not only as receivers of reformed curricula and alternative educational methods but should also play a role in the development of education programs.
Participants highlighted the nuances in implementing educational reform to complement reconciliation processes, one of which is the different abilities of public and private education systems. Julia Paulson reflects on her experiences working in Colombia and Peru, stating that “some of the most inspiring approaches to talking about conflict and difficult histories happen in private schools…the government often has political motivations not to acknowledge human rights violations [in public school curricula].” Marisa Ensor sheds a critical analysis of the “interconnection between education and violence illustrated by the fact that one of the primary functions of education is to serve as political and social control mechanisms.” This prompted participants to contemplate ways in which activists can “dismantle destructive colonial modes of education inside existing systems of colonial governance.” All participants converged around the idea that the empowerment of youth is predicated on their consultative, co-creative, and co-designing capacity.
Examples & Resources
Bear Clan Patrol: A volunteer safety group dedicated to providing security to the Aboriginal community in inner-city Winnipeg.
The Caux-Initiatives of Change Foundation: Organizes the annual Children as Actors for Transforming Society (CATS) conference where participants discuss ways that children and adults can take action against all forms of violence affecting children.
Community Response Map: A tool to facilitate online tracking, compilation, and visual mapping of communications received by target communities. Creates feedback solutions that connect directly with target populations.
Education and Transitional Justice: Opportunities and Challenges for Peacebuilding: A report that looks at how a transitional justice framework can play a role in identifying educational deficits related to the logic of past conflict and repression and informing the reconstruction of the education sector.
Extremely Together: A program of the Kofi Annan Foundation that selects ten young leaders from around the world to congregate and discuss strategies to “tackle violent extremism.”
Facing History and Ourselves: An organization dedicated to engaging students in an examination of racism, prejudice, and antisemitism in order to promote the development of a more humane citizenry.
Generation Global: A tool that helps teachers design curricula for students aged 12-17 that fosters meaningful dialogue on sensitive issues.
Homeboy Industries: A gang intervention and re-entry program that provides training and support to previously incarcerated men and women.
Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA): Organizes training courses to enable individuals and communities develop effective approaches to social transformation.
International Center for Transitional Justice (Educating and Peace Building): Online resource with commissioned papers and education web series based on a research report that examines the connections between education and transitional justice frameworks.
Learning to Be a Peacemaker: An initiative designed for Muslim youth to study peacemaking examples in Islamic texts and create a community project that demonstrates their commitment to peacemaking.
Meet Me by the Bell Tower Movement: A grassroots initiative started by the AYO! (Aboriginal Youth Opportunities) with the aim of ending crime and violence among youth in the North End of Winnipeg, a primarily Aboriginal community.
Participatory Evaluation with Young People (Facilitators): a facilitator’s workbook that prepares young people to develop knowledge for action and change through program evaluation, community assessment, and policy analysis.
Participatory Evaluation with Young People (Youth): A young person’s workbook to develop knowledge for action and change through program evaluation, community assessment, and policy analysis.
Performing for Peace: An example of a group using theater to foster discussion about the Lebanese Civil War.
SenseMaker is a hands-on method that utilizes narratives to inform sensemaking and create objective data.
United Network of Young Peace Builders: A network of 80 youth organizations in over 50 countries working to increase international advocacy for youth participation in peacebuilding, and strengthening the capacity of youth peacebuilding organizations through training series, long-term partnerships, and publications.
The Value Web: A global network of artists, designers, educators, and researchers who work to use “emergent design” and facilitation to tackle social issues.
War Child: An organization that provides children and young people who have experienced armed conflict with psychosocial support, education, and protection.
War Trauma Foundation: Strengthens mental health care and psychosocial support through capacity building and development and dissemination of expertise through the implementation of programs in post-conflict areas.
YouthPower: Uses a positive youth development approach to implement programs within and across sectors. YouthPower seeks to improve the capacity of youth-led and youth-serving institutions and engage young people, their families, and communities.