From Survivor to Certified Peace Ambassador: the Story of Muhammad Ibrahim

In celebration of International Peace Day 2019, we honor one of our Peace Promotion Fellows in Nigeria.

As a small child, Muhammad, 20, wanted to become a military officer when he grew up. It was the only way he could imagine feeling safe, considering that he had lived his entire life surrounded by constant insecurity in Northern Nigeria.

By the time Muhammad was two years old, both his parents had passed away. Shortly after this devastating ordeal, he was forced to flee his hometown on foot because of rioting and violence. With support from his older sister and uncle, he made his way to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, some 45 miles away, where he had relatives who took him in.

Borno state has been the site of religious clashes between Muslims and Christians since well before the Boko Haram insurgency that began in 2009. In fact, cultural, political, and religious conflict in Nigeria goes back over 60 years, with tensions leading to violent outbreaks on a regular basis.

After his early traumatic experiences, Muhammad grew up in Maiduguri in relative stability, supported by his loving uncle and working hard to ensure possibilities for his future. Grateful to have been raised by his sisters, uncles, and aunts, Muhammad says optimism is the key.

Youth have to be optimistic and know that good things never come easy and know that success never comes to you, you have to go for it.

Learning about Community Peacebuilding and Resilience

In 2018, Muhammad applied for admission to one of EAI’s Tech Camps. His application was selected among 30 others out of over 3000 applicants; his winning essay expressed his understanding of peace and security and described his ideas for contributing to peacebuilding in Borno state.

Tech Camps are five-day youth development workshops that are designed to strengthen young peoples’ capacity, reach, and visibility to create powerful alternative narratives that strengthen pro-social behavior, community resilience, inter-group dialogue, and civic empowerment.

They focus on skill-building while supporting young people as they design innovative projects that combine promote nonviolence in offline and online communities.

Tech Camp graduates not only come away with new skills, but they also gain a sense of self-confidence in their abilities to make a difference.

After he completed the Tech Camp, Muhammad was selected for a Peace Promotion Fellowship, which provided him with a stipend and support from a mentor to implement his proposed project to teach children about empathy and peace.

In order to provide all the Peace Promotion Fellows with adequate support and guidance, EAI Nigeria created six specialized groups and assigned a mentor to each.

Muhammad worked closely with his mentor, Halima Ibrahim, EAI Nigeria’s Technical Officer/Radio Producer and head of the Life Skills and Empowerment Group, to develop an educational program that would teach children about empathy, teamwork, creative thinking, and peaceful problem solving.

After many trials and errors, Muhammad’s ideas and energies came together in the creation of the wildly successful (and fun!) Balloon Game.

 

 

The Balloon Game

Group 1: students hold inflated balloons

Group 2: students hold sharp objects

Group 2 tries to pop Group 1’s balloons, everyone in Group 1 works together to protect all balloons

 

 

 

In January 2019 Muhammad taught his Balloon Game to the first group of primary school students.

The aim of the Balloon Game was to motivate the students in a way that they could easily understand how to protect themselves and their friends. The students in Group 1 quickly learned that teamwork (empathy and cooperation) was the best way to protect their balloons, and then they succeeded they felt both self-reliant and reliable to each other. The students enjoyed the game and understood the reasons behind it. They happily nicknamed Muhammad “Uncle Peace.”

Uncle Peace Goes on Tour

The principal and teachers at the first school were so happy with the impact of Muhammad’s game, they recommended him to additional schools. In April 2019, he was invited to additional primary and secondary schools throughout the community. The Balloon Game has become so popular with children of all ages that they have been organizing them within their communities outside of school. The outcome from this game is that the children were taught the importance of protecting each other, as well as the need to intervene when two parties disagree or fight to solve issues and problems rather than resorting to violence.

Muhammad was also featured in a popular youth show called Duniyar Matasa (Youth World) on Borno Radio and Television in February 2019. There he spoke extensively on what he learned during the Tech Camp in addition to his own Peace Promotion Fellowships. He emphasized the need for youth to shift from problem to vision using the four empowerment steps: increasing self-awareness, crafting vision, transforming limiting beliefs, and focusing on the growing edge.

Muhammad is currently living in Maiduguri with his uncle, where he is completing his degree in marketing. He is committed to bringing about a peaceful and violence-free Nigeria as a certified peace ambassador. He is a role model, mentor, and influencer in his community.

Being an advocate for peace fulfills me though it has been a very hard journey. I believe that within the six months of my fellowship with [EAI] I will make a difference in the minds of youth like me to shun violence and embrace peace.

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