Give 15 young people an alternative to extremism

by Peace Direct
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Give 15 young people an alternative to extremism
Give 15 young people an alternative to extremism
Give 15 young people an alternative to extremism
Give 15 young people an alternative to extremism
Give 15 young people an alternative to extremism
Give 15 young people an alternative to extremism
Give 15 young people an alternative to extremism
Give 15 young people an alternative to extremism
Give 15 young people an alternative to extremism

''I used to be very shy and cold not face people or raise my voice'' says Johi. She's a young woman from northern Pakistan, a place where the Taliban have great influence, and draw many young people into a life of violence. Their conservative views mean many women lead difficult lives. 

''I was married at the age of 15 when I was still at school. After a few years of marriage, my husband lost his eyesight in an accident. The responsibility to take care of my husband and provide for my whole family fell on my shoulders. I was neither literate nor skilled and did not know where to go or what to do''. 

Having been married so young, Johi faced a very difficult future, made even more difficult by violent militant groups in the area, and their views on women. 

''One of my relatives helped me to become a health worker. Meanwhile, militants in my area forbid women to come out of their homes. This was a hard time''. 

But despite the difficulties, and constant threat of violence, Johi persisted. She started attending training sessions with Aware Girls, a local organisation offering training in peace, tolerance, and women's rights.

''Gradually I started speaking in a smaller group and then a larger group [about women's rights]. Now, I have become a trainer myself and train womenin the community on hygiene, nutrition and an income support programme.

A few years back, one of my relatives was radicalised by listening to a local radio channel. She would not allow the younger girls in the family to go to school, or listen to music. When I found out about this I used my training to speak to her, and convince her of the value of allowing girls to go to school, and express themselves.''

Your support creates opportunities for people like Johi to develop their skills and contribute to health, safety, and peace in their communities. With your support, we can provide training to more young women like Johi, and help them practice peace and enable others to embrace peace within their communities. Like Johi, every individual who benefits from this program can have an exponential impact and inspire others to find alternatives to violent extremism.

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Young women receiving training from Aware Girls
Young women receiving training from Aware Girls

Saira is a young woman from Peshawar. As a young, disabled girl, Saira was not born into a position of privilege or power. But this hasn’t stopped her building peace where she lives, and helping stop the spread of violent extremism.

Living in Peshawar, Saira saw first hand the impact of young people fighting, and dying, in the name of violent extremism. She decided to do something about it, and use the experiences of others to try and build a solution.

She started reaching out to families who have become the direct victims of terrorist attacks, such as those who had lost family members in terrorist attacks, or whose children had been recruited by the Taliban. Saira encouraged the families to speak about their experiences, and rather than speak bitterly about their experiences, instead help them to promote alternative narratives.

These focused around helping people chose an alternative to violent extremism, so that no more families have to experience the horror of losing a family member. She also encouraged them to speak out about women’s role in building peace, and its importance.

Two women from the families that Saira has reached out to have now joined her to continue her efforts. Together, they are making a database of families who have been victims of terrorist attacks to work with them on inclusive peacebuilding.

Your support makes it possible for people like Saira to learn about the importance of tolerance, women in peacebuilding, and other key issues. With your support we can provide training to more young people like Saira, and help them build peace in their communities, one person at a time. 

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Photo: TEDxExeter
Photo: TEDxExeter

In April this year, Gulalai Ismail travelled to Exeter, Devon, and took centre stage on a red dot at Exeter’s Northcott Theatre.

For her bravery, innovation, and dedication to peace, Gulalai was invited to give a TED talk as part of TEDxExeter, an annual event celebrating the world’s most inspirational thinkers.

In front of almost 900 people in Exeter University, and joined by thousands of others watching online, Gulalai shared the story of her community, and how she realised she must help tackle violent extremism in Peshawar, Pakistan.

She told of the day that a woman in her village had come home to find the body of her son on her doorstep. A year prior, he had joined the Taliban. Seeing the utter despair of the woman at the preventable death of her son, Gulalai realised that she must help the other families in her community, including her own, to avoid this fate.

Aged just 16, she founded Aware Girls with her sister Saba to provide training to the young people where she lived, and offer them an alternative to intolerance and violence.

It is only thanks to people like you that Gulalai is able to share her incredible story. Only through your support is Aware Girls able to grow, and continue to give Pakistan’s young people the opportunity to realise their rights, access equal opportunities, and pursue a life of peace.

Thank you for helping Aware Girls to make this possible.

Gulalai’s talk will soon be available to watch on YouTube. In the meantime, check out her profile on the TEDxExeter website.

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Give more young people an alternative extremism
Give more young people an alternative extremism

Since our last report, where we told you Shahzad’s story, more young people have found alternatives to violence and chosen peaceful ways of life. Since then, the leader of the project that changed Shahzad’s life has commented, ‘’a sense of harmony and a sense of mutual respect among young people of different faiths has been developed as a result of the project’’.

Like Shazhad used his passion for poetry to spread messages of peace, Jan used his love of writing to challenge violent ideas. As a teacher, he began to realise the danger of young people being radicalised by the Taliban, and decided to work with Aware Girls to make a difference, and promote peace.

When he noticed that the Taliban had started to take over his community, he used the only thing he really knew how to do to try and stop them, he started writing.. Jan remembers, ‘‘I always liked reading and from early childhood, I would read anything I could get my hands on’’. But soon he realised that this action was not enough to save the young people in this community from the Taliban’s radicalisation. Inspired to take greater action, Jan started to teach his young students about peace and conflict resolution, and urged them to stay away from the Taliban.

In 2013, he came across Aware Girls and attended one of their trainings, giving him greater knowledge on fighting radicalisation and extremism. He encouraged the young people he worked with to attend the trainings as well, to give them an alternative to violence. Jan risked his life trying to deradicalise young people who the Taliban had already been teaching. He was determined to show them a peaceful way of life, but he risked them telling the Taliban about his activities, and he became a target for Taliban attacks.

Despite the danger, Jan continues to teach young people about peace. He was able to teach a young boy who had been brainwashed by the Taliban from a young age. He reflects, ‘’now he is in the 8th grade. He writes very good poetry and looks after my library, which I have opened for youth to expand their horizons on the world, peace and pluralism’’.

With your support, we can more give people alternatives to extremism.


Photographs: Dania Ali/Stars Foundation/AwareGirls

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This is Shahzad’s story.

Shahzad lives near Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Recently, the region has seen increasing violence, especially around the month of Muharram, a sacred month for Shia Muslims. Different ethnic and faith groups continue to battle each other in this area. Young people are at great risk of joining extremist armed groups such as the Taliban.

Shahzad was at risk of Taliban recruitment. Then he was persuaded to attend training with Aware Girls. He began to learn about conflict resolution, and find an alternative to violence.

At first, Shahzad found the training difficult. He was sharing a room with some Hindus, something he had not had to do before. Like some of the other young people on the training course, he was angry about having to interact with people from a different faith.

A few weeks passed and Shahzad kept attending training. At the training, he started becoming friends the young people from different regions and faiths. He stopped feeling angry and realised that they were all just people.

Inspired by his training and new friendships, Shahzad began to spread these lessons and messages in his own community. He started setting up poetry sharing events with people from different faiths and religions. They brought people together and helped them overcome their differences.

Thanks to your support, Aware Girls has been able to train Shahzad, and many others. So far, these young people have reached a further 686 teaching them about acceptance and non-violence. But there are still many others whose lives are at risk of being destroyed by violence. Please help by continuing to give young people an alternative to violent extremism.

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Organization Information

Peace Direct

Location: London - United Kingdom
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @peacedirect
Peace Direct
Oscar Lester
Project Leader:
Oscar Lester
London , UK United Kingdom

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