Cross-posted on behalf of the Search for Common Ground Yemen team, from the Search for Common Ground Blog
Yemen is currently in the midst of one of the most underreported conflicts on Earth. The media are not covering it, but bombs and battles are devastating the country, claiming the lives of thousands and displacing many more.
Beyond the immediate havoc caused by the fighting, the country is also suffering from an entrenched culture of violence, which often impacts children. Violent means to discipline children at home and in schools are widely accepted. Through this exposure, they come to believe that violence is an appropriate and healthy way to deal with conflict, settle disputes, and engage with others. Indeed, according to a UNICEF report, “one in four children agree ‘that teachers and administrators need to hurt children as a disciplinary measure.’”
Though the current crisis poses significant challenges, it also provides an opportunity to counter these social norms and promote nonviolence. One initiative spearheaded by our Yemen office is producing encouraging results in this direction.
Our project “Reducing Violence and Promoting Social Cohesion through Child Friendly Education in Yemen” intervenes on the education system to create a violence-free environment for children and improve social cohesion in Yemen. At the national level, we’re providing capacity-building and conflict sensitivity training to staff of the Ministry of Education (MoE). Locally, we’re engaging people at the grassroots. We involve educators, community leaders, and parents in dialogue sessions, with the aim of encouraging a cultural shift, away from the acceptance of violence in schools.
Despite the ongoing hostilities, our program hasn’t stopped. In fact, as the conflict escalates, the commitment of the initial group of participants has proved essential to our success. “Engaging stakeholders from the outset of any project is key to sustainability,” said Tawfeek Sharabi, our Programs Coordinator who is directly managing the initiative. “Implementing the field activities of the project has been a real challenge for Search Yemen, particularly with the spread of the conflict to many governorates, including the ones we targeted,” he continued. The initial engagement of the Education in Emergency Committee and other sectors of the MoE ensured their buy-in and support, even in increasingly difficult circumstances.
We believe that prevention is the key to effective conflict resolution. That’s why, in consultation with high-level education experts, we created a Yemen-specific conflict sensitivity training manual that can be used in schools across the country. The manual will help education professionals with planning and delivering conflict-sensitive programs. We also developed Child-Friendly Schools training materials and a teacher toolkit on nonviolent conflict resolution, which received very positive feedback during testing. “I personally used to believe that the stick is part of a teacher’s personality,” remarked Abdu Ismail, a Quran teacher. “This training gave us a lot of lessons and messages that made me change my belief . . . I commit to not use the stick in class anymore.”
The trainings are well-timed. The “school environment and community as a whole are overwhelmed with violence,” said Khaled Abdu Naji, an English teacher from Sana’a. “We were in desperate need for this training. For around 20 years in teaching, I have never received such quality and purposeful training.”
On top of these initiatives, we have launched a national campaign in coordination with the MoE to raise awareness on the problem of violence against children. We distributed information kits on violence reduction in schools and produced TV and radio flashes on the issue. We also organized outreach activities in communities across the country. These activities included puppet shows and games that focus on tolerance, respect, and nonviolence. Our hope is that sensitization at the local level will in turn contribute to stopping the violence that’s engulfing the country as a whole. “Enhancing social cohesion at the local level helps a lot in addressing national conflicts,” said Sharabi.
Today, children in the target communities receive an education in an environment that is safer than before. Teachers are better equipped to contribute to the end of violence in schools. Educators possess new skills that are helping them design conflict-sensitive programs. But, as the fighting goes on, there is still a lot to do. Our work to support empowered Yemeni citizens, children, and change makers continues. With the attention and efforts of the local and international community, they will be able to build a future of hope for their country.