As violent extremism (VE) intensifies in extremist areas of the Philippines, terrorist groups are increasingly targeting impressionable young individuals and groups in early recruitment efforts. The attraction to terrorist groups can be strong without positive, peaceful influences, particularly in poor areas where easy earnings are attractive. To prevent and reduce the impact that extremists have on young minds and their families, Equal Access International implements the first program in the Philippines to disrupt VE influence and education by incorporating extremism education into school-age curriculum.

First Countrywide Project in the Philippines to Counter Violent Extremism Uses Targeted Educational Curriculum

The Communities and Schools Leading in the Fight against Terrorism (CS-LIFT) Project, a 4-year, $7.8 million USAID-funded project, uses an education-based, behavior change approach to enhance the ability of youth networks, schools, religious leaders and media to reduce the appeal of terrorist recruitment and radicalization efforts. The goal of CS-LIFT, which is concentrated in two critical regions: the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and Region 12, is to empower at-risk and other youth to become strong voices for peace.

As part of this effort, EAI developed a 12-session toolkit for students, young leaders and community members, emboldening them with communications skills to promote peace. Using behavior change methodologies, teachers and youth emerged as influential figures offering alternatives to radicalization. This in turn helped teachers feel more confident teaching VE topics in school, and it increased engagement from parents, community members and religious figures who have been instrumental in steering youth away from terrorist activities.

Another important component of CS-LIFT is the Listening, Discussion, and Action Group (LDAG) sessions, which are participatory media and technology interventions that bring together community members to discuss issues in their community through the use of radio dramas. These sessions provide community members with an outlet to discuss, relate to, and appropriate radio program topics in a way that aligns with challenges they might be having. These safe discussion spaces have been fruitful in engaging parents in the knowledge that the role of parents is crucial to guide their children away from VE influences, and the sessions proved to be a valuable tool in preparing parents for potential challenges in protecting their children from VE.

Representatives from the U.S. Congress and Executive Branch have expressed interest in replicating EAI’s approach, which strongly indicates its effectiveness and promise in addressing VE around the world.

The project is part of EAI’s innovative youth-led Alternative Messaging Hub, OURmindaNOW, which we launched in 2018 as a model to promote peace and halt the spread of VE. These Hubs empower communities by strengthening their ability to engage in peacebuilding initiatives toward improved social cohesion in areas that are especially susceptible to terrorist ideologies and practices. This approach was piloted and scaled by EAI in other countries previously. The program design builds bridges between diverse stakeholders to strengthen the leadership and capacity of emerging peace ambassadors, specifically youth and women, through locally resonant programming.

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