Emma and Ngala were still at school when conflict broke out in Central African Republic (CAR). Their school was in one of Bangui’s eight districts which was hit particularly hard by the violence:
"The school was looted and inhabited by Séléka rebels. Sometimes they arrived in the middle of our classes. We had to flee because there were attacks and weapons inside the school."
In March 2013 the predominantly Muslim Séléka rebel coalition seized power from former President Bozizé. In response, predominantly Christian militias, the so called anti-Balaka emerged. Clashes between the Séléka and the anti-Balaka plunged CAR into a cycle of revenge killings.
Emma and Ngala decided to join with other students from their school to respond to the violence. They decided that the best way to improve their situation was to talk to the armed groups and their communities about peace. With the help of Conciliation Resources they were able to turn their student association into a youth peace committee with students from across the 4th arrondissement:
"We knew that it was very important for youth to be involved. Not only are youth more receptive to messages of peace but we are also best placed to reach out to youth involved in armed groups."
Emma and Ngala were able to gain access to Camp Beal, a former French military camp that had been occupied by ex-Séléka since the beginning of the crisis. In the camp, they found women, youth and children who had accompanied the ex-Séléka fighters. The youth peace committee established good relations with the ex-Séléka General which allowed them to talk to the young people in the camp about returning to school or university - they helped those that agreed to re-enroll.
While many provinces in CAR have experienced a new upsurge in violence, Emma and Ngala see that things are improving in the 4th Arrondissement. Ngala says:
"It is hard to measure the impact of our work with certainty but if you see that people are moving freely around the district, this is maybe partly thanks to our work. Today, there is permanent contact and dialogue with the armed groups. Ex-Séléka don’t move around the streets with their arms anymore. Maybe this is also thanks to the change in mentality we initiated through our activities."
Photo and story: Conciliation Resources