Communities in Somalia are embracing nonviolent approaches to conflict as young people step up to their role as peace-builders.

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is working with local civil society organizations and community leaders to promote youth leadership in peace efforts—an incredibly encouraging and exciting development in a country that has been engulfed by protracted civil war for two decades.

Even today, access to education is limited, since the majority of schools are privately owned and not affordable for most Somalis. Many youth are still vulnerable targets for militia recruitment, piracy activities, and forced migration.  

Making change through poetry and song

On Feb. 28, 2014, 500 people representing the government, women, youth, AFSC, and the community at large came together in the town of Galkacyo to witness and celebrate the end of the Public Achievement (PA) program cycle. Under this program, young people, assisted by older youth coaches, learned how to work with people of different viewpoints, values, and perspectives, and how to interact with public officials and others to get things done.

During the celebration, youth who went through the 12-month program spoke through poems that emphasized the importance of education and decried the displacement due to conflict in Somalia.

They also sang songs expressing strong messages of peace, reconciliation, citizenship, coexistence, and good governance. One of the songs, composed by one of the young achiever groups, focused on how lonely the flag of Somalia was, pointing out the fact that most people are away from home (Somalia) and many others are dying while trying to leave. The song encouraged youth to make home the place they want it to be.

The songs and poems presented were touching and emotional: many in the audience quietly wiped away tears, clearly moved by the maturity and talent of their own youths’ artistic recitals.

Learning to lead in their communities

Young people told the audience, including the governor of Galkacyo, that during the program they learned to be active in their community, becoming confident in the process. Usually in the Somali culture, young people are not encouraged to lead; they are told what to do, and they follow. Sometimes, young people who show initiatives are said to be “fir-fircoonit,” or hyper, which has a negative connotation. This discourages them from active engagement in the community.

Through the program, young people were encouraged to actively participate in brainstorming sessions. They played games that encouraged teamwork. They analyzed the problems around them and identified which ones they could solve themselves. These solutions became the youth initiatives.

The youth presented their initiatives to their parents, business community, and other stakeholders. In the process, they mobilized for funding and wider community participation in their initiatives.

Valuing the role of young people for peace

In Galkacyo, traditional elders, local government officials, and other leaders have come to appreciate the importance of young people working together across gender and ethnic divides on issues of common interest. This can go a long way in ensuring that young people become peace activists and not victims or vectors of violence.

The Public Achievement model invites young people to become active citizens in their society. It enhances skills they need to fully contribute to the improvement and preservation of their communities and society as a whole.

The program sees youth as citizens and agents for social change and believes that youth can be active in nonviolent and innovative initiatives contributing to building peaceful and safe communities in Galkacyo.