Amadou lives in the town of Mopti in central Mali, and works for a Peace Direct local partner organisation providing support to young people affected by violence in the country. His story helps us to understand the way young people experience conflict in the region, and the ways to support their successful reintegration into society as active citizens and promoters of peace...
My name is Amadou and I have worked at AJCET [a member organisation of the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding] since 2013. I began this work because I discovered that more and more young people were joining armed groups in Mali, especially in the central area around Mopti, and I felt I had to do something to prevent this or at least to respond to the effects.
For a long time we have worked with young people in the Mopti area to prevent them from joining armed groups. Those who join armed groups face a higher chance of getting arrested and being sent to prison, where they are exposed to harsh conditions, overcrowding, lack of access to healthcare and prolonged periods in pre-trial detention. This can cause depression, radicalization and violence to flourish.
We work with young people in prison, many of whom have been affiliated with armed groups. Our work aims to recognize the ways young people in areas affected by conflict are vulnerable and to raise awareness among these young people of the risks of engaging in criminal or violent activities.
We also work to prepare them for life after prison. The ultimate goal of our work is to successfully reintegrate disaffected young people back into their communities. We teach them to be autonomous, to go to school and find work, to have a positive outlook on their prospects.
I feel this work is important because young people can often feel lost and without guidance, and those in prison often leave without a sense of direction or a source of income. Detained young people are also often marginalized or rejected by society, and risk feeling left without options, resorting to getting involved in criminal or violent activities.
We encourage young people to get involved in our vocational training programs, including apprenticeships with trades such as carpentry and plumbing. We also provide practical support, for example helping them locate their birth certificates, which in turn allows them to attend schools in Mali. These actions aim to empower them and help them integrate fully in Malian society. The saying that we keep in our minds is “we need to help them as Malians, as human beings.”
So far, we have successfully trained and reintegrated over 100 young people between the ages of 15 and 25. Of those over 50 have volunteered to support other young people still in prison, telling them about their experiences and encouraging them to engage actively in the training and reintegration programs we provide. Many of the young people we work with are making a promise not to go back to prison once they’re out, and inspiring other young people to choose a life of peace over a life of crime.
By far the most challenging aspect of this work is working with affected families and communities that have rejected these young people and refuse to accept them back into the community. But this is important to make peace a possibility for young people. We act as a mediator and convener. We spend a considerable amount of time talking to traditional leaders and families to recognize how these young people have changed and let them return home.
The project has proven a successful and cost-effective way of providing social support structures for disaffected youth and reintegrating them back into their homes. These activities are helping to build peace in an area where escalating violent conflict continues to spread. Local activities are more efficient and sustainable because they allow people living in these areas who know the reality on the ground and can have a tangible and visible impact.
The great thing is that this program is cost-effective and can be replicated elsewhere. It should not only be in Mopti. We need to spread it to neighboring countries too. We all face the same problem and the need to support young people. My hopes for peace in the future of Mali are that Mali reclaims cohesion as a country and as a society and that the right conditions exist so that young people can study and contribute to the development of the country.
Source: Peace Direct
Photo: Harandane Dicko