How can we promote resilience in youth during and after conflict? Lessons from Mindanao
A new publication by the Journal of Youth Development seeks to answer the question of how we can promote resilience in youth during and after conflict. This blog post highlights one case study from that article.
How can development programming help youth deal with the shocks of conflict and prepare them to lead healthy, productive and engaged lives both during and after a crisis? This is a question with which many implementing agencies, donors and governments have long struggled and there are no simple answers.
Youth development in conflict and crisis-affected contexts needs to blend youth-centric programming with the recognition that contextual adversity deeply affects individual, community and societal well-being, in order to support youth to live healthy, productive, and engaged lives during and beyond conflict (YouthPower).
Mindanao Youth for Development (MYDev), a program funded by USAID and implemented by Education Development Center (EDC), is one example of a 6-year program that integrated civic engagement and contextually-driven resilience-building into education activities for over 25,000 youth and 11 cities in Mindanao, Philippines. In this blog, I discuss how MYDev strengthened youth and their communities’ capacity to deal with violence and conflict.
In May 2017, on the island of Mindanao, southern Philippines, conflict broke out in Marawi City between Philippine government security forces and militant groups associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The battle and its aftermath—the “Marawi Siege”—reverberated throughout Mindanao.
Militants quickly took control of Marawi, leading the national government to declare martial law on the entire island of Mindanao. The majority of civilians fled the area in the first week of the conflict, but hundreds, perhaps thousands, remained. Within one month, more than 360,000 people from Marawi and surrounding areas were displaced (Amnesty International, 2017). Families and entire communities witnessed violence and destruction throughout the five-month armed conflict.
Mindanao Youth for Development (MYDev)
Though MYDev began in 2013 as an education and life skills program with a civic engagement focus, EDC pivoted to respond swiftly to the crisis at hand by offering deeper mental health and trauma informed interventions for 7,909 youth.
With this pivot, MYDev became an opportunity to strengthen youth’s skills, their sense of self and confidence to make decisions, while at the same time building community resilience in the face of trauma and conflict. The program helped students increase awareness of their own role within their community, facilitating interaction among peers, and with the community and local government. Encouraging youth to engage in community service activities improved youth perceptions of the community (Education Development Center 2019a). More motivated, civically engaged and capable youth recognized that people in their community needed help and by developing the skills to organize community service activities, were able to provide this help in their communities.
This ability to contribute to something bigger than oneself is a critical resilience-builder, especially because it connects youth not just to their own needs and those of their family, but to those of the larger community.
In addition to civic engagement, the program expanded its life skills curriculum by adding a Foundations of Resilience training designed to provide youth with strategies to understand the connections between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and the wider conflict, thus building coping and interpersonal communication skills. Youth learned how to strengthen their social support system, reduce stigma, and build awareness of their own vulnerabilities to violence and violent extremism.
As youth began to make meaning of what was happening and how to process it, they developed their capacities to adapt when faced with conflict and crises in their homes and more broadly in their communities. The integration of these competencies helped youth expand their positive coping mechanisms and critical thinking skills leading to good mental health practices including self-control over emotions and anger management.
Impact of this Approach
MYDev youth demonstrated significant improvements in their perceptions of their communities and government over a control group –results suggest that 71% of MYDev youth improved their perceptions of their communities and government between baseline and endline, statistically more than 63% of comparison group youth who improved their perceptions (Education Development Center 2019a). These findings have been maintained, even in times of declining employment rates, indicating that MYDev programming created persistent and deep engagement with the community and government during challenging times.
Focus group discussions with youth suggested that MYDev fostered an environment where youth ceased to feel alienated from their communities and instead were able to contribute productively and positively through work and community service. As one youth’s family member noted, “They now have a sense of volunteerism and are initiating the things that they will do” (Education Development Center 2019b).
Further, data collected after the Siege demonstrated that upon completing the program, youth who participated in MYDev training were able to apply skills gained to understand their own individual strengths and weaknesses and demonstrate flexible thinking and actions. For example, one young woman said, “instead of smacking my younger brother, I stop, think and can talk to him.”
Surveys of MYDev youth revealed that 58% demonstrated positive changes in their perception of violence, including violent extremism, which means they moved towards supporting non-violent or peaceful conflict resolution over violent actions. When faced with instances of collective violence, MYDev youth were able to engage in their community more deeply, including initiating activities to help others, sharing their own learnings with others and promoting non-violence, despite increased challenges or risks.
In sum, during and after the Marawi Siege, youth used the skills and connections that they formed through MYDev to cope with the personal and community-level challenges created by months of conflict.
The addition of a resilience lens to Positive Youth Development (PYD) programs, as demonstrated in the MYDev program, is crucial for both programs and participants, for youth and their communities. Since PYD and resilience programs include similar activities (social-emotional skill building and community engagement), these activities can be effectively implemented along the spectrum of humanitarian and development contexts, or from a development setting to an emergency.
About the Author
Nalini Bajaj Chugani is an International Technical Advisor for Youth and Gender Programs at Education Development Center. She provides technical support to equip youth with work readiness, entrepreneurship, and civic engagement skills. Her expertise is in youth workforce development; education and training; local capacity building; resilience strengthening, and gender integration across Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia.
Amnesty International. (2017, November 17). Philippines: ‘Battle of Marawi’ leaves trail of death and destruction. Retrieved from https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/11/philippines-battle-of-marawi-leaves-trail-of-death-and-destruction/
Chugani, N., Faizullah, S., Janke, C., Jeudin, R., Kiernan, J., & Wallace, N. (in press). Resilience-informed positive youth development programs in international development. Journal of Youth Development. (forthcoming: https://doi.org/10.5195/jyd.2021.1020)
Education Development Center, Inc. (2019a). USAID’s Mindanao youth for development (MYDev) program. FY17 impact evaluation report & FY18/19 (extension) performance evaluation report. https://www.edc.org/sites/default/files/uploads/MYDev%20Impact%20Eval_Master_FINAL.pdf
Education Development Center, Inc. (2019b). USAID’s Mindanao youth for development program. Increasing youth’s resilience to violence. https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PA00W5Q1.pdf