How young leaders are fighting violent extremism

The Kofi Annan Foundation gathered 10 young people from around the globe to be at the forefront of combatting extremism.

by Portia Ladrido

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Kofi Annan at the One Young World Conference. © Stefan Shafer at Wikipedia Commons

London smells like rain. The sun is making its way through the tangled branches in St. James’ Park; the street buzzing of crowds of people in linen coats and patent boots. Two women in tailored dresses and a man in a three-piece suit sit on a bench, earnestly discussing better ways to say a word.

Terrorism.

How are people supposed to respond to a word so heavy?

It is a word that has forced parents to send their five-year-olds to Kindertransports; a word that has given us the image of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian boy washed up on the shores of Turkey; a word that has divided countries, religions, and races; a word that to some may be a refuge, but others an attack.

How do we discuss a word that has given so much weight to loss and tragedy?

“In 2008, my family started building libraries. The concept was that in the library, we’re going to put Christian and Muslim students together and they’re going to have educational resources that they don’t usually have in schools in that area in the Philippines,” says Arizza Nocum, one of the 10 young leaders handpicked by the Kofi Annan foundation’s Extremely Together program.

Arizza comes from a slightly atypical background, having been raised by a Muslim mother and a Christian father. She says she always had to deal with the issue of what she called ‘being between the cross and the crescent moon’.

The area in the south of Philippines where they put up the library has always been a venue of conflict because of these “opposing” religions, but through these libraries, they have been able to show that both religions can truly and peacefully coexist.

The promotion of peace and the ways to overcome threats to peace are the drivers of the Kofi Annan Foundation. In 2016, the organisation launched Extremely Together, a program that rounded up 10 young people with diverse backgrounds to pool ideas, brainstorm processes, and create toolkits that could enable them to counter and prevent violent extremism.

“Young people are the targets of these terrorist organisations so conversely, you really need to have a coalition of young people working against the narrative of violent extremists,” Arizza explains as her eyes gleam with ambition.

According to her, the 10 young leaders from different countries are to become the pioneering group of a youth movement that would tell young people that:

First, this problem is everyone’s problem. Terrorism is something that can affect any of us. Therefore, the solution must come from all of us.

Second, you have the capacity to be part of this movement. Even though you’re from a country that doesn’t experience war or conflict, there is something you can do to help address what’s happening in the world.

And third, here are 10 young leaders with experience in the field who can give you advice and who can encourage you to be part of the field of countering violent extremism.

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© Kofi Annan Foundation

The group consists of young leaders who have experienced violent extremism in one way or another – from the director of the Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre in Somalia, who has worked with former extremists, to a survivor of the Anders Breivik terrorist attack, who uses art to tackle extreme right wing rhetorics.

These leaders have been working for almost a year now to bring their personal experiences into the toolkit that they aim to communicate to the rest of the world.

“The Extremely Together toolkit is a body of research that compiles best practices on how young people can counter violent extremism in their communities and eventually, we’re hoping to develop that toolkit into an app and a series of videos that we can show young people. So, that’s why we’ve been holding videotaping sessions like this one,” says Arizza.

She walks over to the bench where the man in a three-piece suit has set up a tripod and a camera. She puts the lapel on her blazer, tucks her hair behind her ears, and slowly practises her lines.

“Are you using that word? Terrorism?” asks the other young leader in the tailored dress.

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