While counterterrorism efforts in Yemen generally fall within the domain of the Yemeni security forces, Yemeni youths have also joined in the challenge to uproot terrorism in a peaceful and effective manner. Since last December, a group of young Yemenis has been waging a campaign in schools against terrorism through an organization called Youth Creativity. The campaign aims to deepen national allegiance and spread a culture of tolerance and coexistence throughout the country.
Terrorist groups in Yemen have expanded their operations during the past two years. They have done so by taking advantage of political events and the absence of security since the youth revolution on Nov. 11, 2011. The consequences of this have been widespread losses for the country, including the deaths of civilians and of military personnel, as well as the takeover of areas in the governorates of Abyan and Al-Baida in the south of the country.
In response to this situation, Youth Creativity has provided an opportunity for Yemenis, regardless of their grouping or social class, to come together under a banner of peace and unity. Through the organization, Yemeni youths from different regions of the country and from different political affiliations are now working together to protect their society from terrorism and to establish together a more secure national climate.
To do so, these youths have participated in an awareness campaign to enhance the values of peace and coexistence among school children while simultaneously warning children against falling prey to terrorist groups. Aware of the need to protect this vulnerable age group in particular, the youths believe their methods provide a solid way to confront the terrorist doctrine that has taken root in the country.
Schools are fertile ground for creating a generation that is aware of the peaceful principles that are found in Islam, such as respect for all human life, the importance of accepting one another regardless of political or religious beliefs, and the courage to stand up to those who are endangering their homeland. The campaign seeks to teach students about the true meaning of Islam by explaining through religious texts exactly how the religion promotes peace, instead of how terrorist groups want young people to see it – namely as supportive of violence and killing.
The campaign, which has been conducted in cooperation with the Yemeni Education Ministry, encourages and authorizes Youth Creativity members to work in schools, and includes a number of activities. First, Yemeni scholars and religious leaders speak with students during the daily morning assembly about the dangers of terrorist groups. They give examples of the negative effects on both the individual and on Yemen in general.
In addition, the 120 members of the Youth Creativity national team, in other words youths who were given special skills-training on counterterrorism by Yemeni trainers, circulate through schools and give classes for all levels. This team promotes further awareness by distributing pamphlets and screening videos about the dangers and destruction caused by terrorism.
The campaign furthermore chooses educators from each school, usually the physical education teacher, the social counselor and the librarian. It then links these individuals with troubled students in the schools who might be more vulnerable to indoctrination by terrorist groups. The teachers then share messages with these youths that promote a culture of compassion and tolerance.
The talks are designed to provide tools that can help absorb the students’ negative energy and transform it into positive activities. Through this individually focused aspect of Youth Creativity’s awareness campaign, students who are at risk might be better reached and enriched by a culture of tolerance which they can then spread among other students.
This set of activities is intended to cement the ideas of coexistence and tolerance, while simultaneously refuting terrorism and radicalism in the Yemeni school system.
Youth initiatives like Youth Creativity’s campaign showcase positive approaches to solve the nation’s issues. These initiatives further depict the extent of understanding and awareness that many Yemeni youths have reached in terms of how they too can build a country that is free of violence. It is encouraging to see youths so keen to make Yemen peaceful and free of terrorism.
Bassam Ghabar is a journalist from Yemen. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with the Common Ground News Service (www.commongroundnews.org).