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The Commonwealth brings together young Caribbean activists to counter extremism

30 August 2017
“If communities come together and unite regardless of race, religion, political affiliation or sexual orientation there is very little space for violent extremism to penetrate” – Zanda, a young leader from Saint Lucia

The Commonwealth has delivered a masterclass for young leaders in the Caribbean to strengthen grassroots youth-led initiatives to counter propaganda spread by violent extremists.

Twenty-two activists from 10 Caribbean countries were brought together for a four-day workshop organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassadors Network (CYPAN), in Nassau, in The Bahamas.

The aim of the training programme was to support community leaders and peace activists aged under 30 to equip them with new skills and tools to enhance their own campaigns to build community resilience and counter extremist messages.

“It is of critical importance that we engage our young people right across the Commonwealth in order to empower them to be agents of change and to resist the narratives of extremism and hate that seek to undermine our common values,” said Secretary-General Patricia Scotland, who met with the young activists.

The participants deepened their understanding of how extremists seek to recruit young people and how they use digital platforms to reinforce their ideology online. To counter this threat, the participants were educated in best practices in building community resilience both ‘online and offline’, while a trainer from Facebook provided guidance on creating successful social media campaigns.

The workshop between 17 to 20 July 2017, on the margins of the Commonwealth Youth Games, gave the young people an opportunity to connect with other young leaders from the region. Each of the participants was trained in smartphone photography and film-making and interview techniques.

As part of the programme, the youth leaders visited a local vocational college where they ran their own two-hour workshop with at-risk youths aged 16 to 18, putting into practice what they had learned during the week.

One of the participants, Micah from Belize, described the programme as an “eye opening and empowering” experience. “I feel fully equipped to do my part in countering violent extremism. When I return to my country, what I’ll be looking to do is share what I’ve learned with other youth leaders and stakeholders in youth development work so they can lead positive, successful social media campaigns,” he said.

Another of the participants, Terez from Trinidad and Tobago, welcomed the opportunity to connect with other community activists. “Now that I am equipped with these useful tools, I intend to fully utilise them to promote the greater good in my country and the Commonwealth, by extension.”

“If communities come together and unite regardless of race, religion, political affiliation or sexual orientation there is very little space for violent extremism to penetrate,” said Zanda from Saint Lucia. “There is reduced tension, increased understanding and this leads to more respect and tolerance in the long-run which will definitely prevent violent extremism.”

Mark Albon, the Head of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Countering Violent Extremist Unit, said the Caribbean project represents the start of a broader initiative which will support all regions of the Commonwealth, including Africa, Asia, Europe and the Pacific.

“The initiative aims to empower young people to think creatively about their own perspectives on community resilience and extremism, with a view to them delivering their own grassroots campaigns against the propaganda of those who promote violent extremism,” he said.

The Commonwealth Secretariat’s Countering Violent Extremism Unit was established in 2017 to support national strategies to counter violent extremism (CVE). The unit leverages the Secretariat’s decades of experience in supporting member governments – for example in strengthening the rule of law, human rights and youth empowerment – while drawing on the shared values, cultural and regional diversity of the Commonwealth. Find out more: thecommonwealth.org/cve

The Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassadors Network (CYPAN) brings together young people from across the Commonwealth to upscale and optimise grassroots, national, regional and Pan-Commonwealth efforts to promote peace, respect and understanding and prevent violent extremism. It is an initiative that is youth-led and supported by the Commonwealth Secretariat. The network is made up of more than 300 organisations and is active in 27 countries.

Find out more: yourcommonwealth.org/cypan

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