Around the world,
National Societies take on urban violence by aiming at the
root causes. Violence prevention is hard work. But, occasionally,
it can also be a matter of fun and games.
GROUP OF CHILDREN
are kicking a ball around a dusty field in a suburb of Johannesburg,
South Africa. To the casual observer, it looks like a typical
game of football. In fact, the vigorous match is part of
a South African Red Cross Society strategy to end discrimination
by bringing young people of different backgrounds together
to play. The programme, called Soccer Against Crime, sets
out to prevent the kind of violence against foreigners that
devastated Gauteng province in 2008.
Dozens of National Societies
are creating initiatives like this one, focused on children
and young people. By building up their self-esteem, teaching
new skills and demonstrating peaceful mediation of conflict,
these strategies aim to prevent or reduce urban violence
in a lasting way. The youth programmes take various forms,
from rehabilitating former child soldiers in Sierra Leone
to giving kids in Central America an alternative to joining
“We found that many young people don’t
participate in the life of their community,” says Juan
José Martinez Solis, violence prevention coordinator
for the Spanish Red Cross. “Nobody listens to them
and they don’t feel like part of the neighbourhood.
Gangs give them a sense of belonging. Our work is to help
them become part of their communities, and for communities
to value what young members have to offer.”
the Spanish Red Cross and National Societies in Central America
and the Caribbean finalized a strategy to prevent urban
violence in eight countries in the region. The Spanish Red
Cross has been active in the area since Hurricane Mitch struck
The Violence Prevention Regional Strategy targets
youth leaders who are at risk of joining gangs, or maras,
and involves them in a variety of social projects that differ
from country to country.
In Guatemala, the focus is on the
arts, such as theatre, hip-hop and singing. In Nicaragua,
young people are learning to make small objects like necklaces
and bracelets by hand, and sell them in their communities
for pocket money. In Panama and the Dominican Republic, the
focus is on the environment, encouraging youth to help clean
up national parks and coastlines.
Red Cross has had a programme called RespectED in place since
1984 to prevent violence against children and youth. It includes
a series of educational programmes to stop bullying, harassment,
dating violence and abuse, and has been expanded to urban
settings in Sri Lanka and Guyana.
“Gang violence is
a visible, public culmination of violence that begins in
the private sphere and shapes children’s lives,” wrote
Judi Fairholm, director of the RespectED programme, in an
article she co-authored on the subject. “In order to
understand public manifestations of violence, the violence
that occurs in private spaces like child abuse in homes and
bullying in schools must be examined and recognized as root
causes that fuel a trajectory towards gangs and life on the
The Norwegian Red Cross has run a street mediation
programme for young people in Norway since 2006. Anne Cecilie
Fossum, the National Society’s senior adviser of conflict
management, talks about a 19-year-old immigrant girl who
grew up in a difficult environment.
“She was an aggressive
gang leader in Oslo and good at manipulating her helpers.
Some people from the Red Cross told her, ‘You have
abilities, and we can help you turn them into something positive’.”
she is a role model, teaching conflict management to her
Agents of change
Meanwhile, the IFRC has
been developing a global strategy to reverse the culture
of violence, and urban violence in particular. In 2008, Katrien
Beeckman, IFRC director of principles and values, created
a programme called Youth as Agents of Behavioural Change,
which empowers young people to take the lead in changing
mindsets and behaviour, and in building a culture of equality,
non-violence and social inclusion. Peer education is key.
So far, a network of youth leaders from over 40 National
Societies have learned unconventional ways to teach behavioural
skills such as empathy, active listening, critical thinking,
non-judgement, mediation and peaceful settlement of tensions.
youth with behavioural skills is essential,” Beeckman
says, “if we really want to embody and be a living
example of our Movement’s seven fundamental principles.
Empathy is a case in point for humanity, dropping bias and
non-judgement for impartiality and neutrality.
also appeals to youth is that we don’t start the programme
with an intellectual analysis. We get the young people to
participate in role-playing games or visualization exercises.
They feel emotions related to a topic, in light of their
personal experiences. Then, through debriefings with their
peers, they construct themselves and their understanding.”
based in Paris
The Red Cross Society of Panama gets at violence by engaging teens in art projects,
environmental causes, nature hikes, research projects and music, among
other things. In Santa Ana, Panama, a teen group performs as part of an
event celebrating the rights of children.
©Red Cross Society of Panama
“Nobody listens to young people, and they don’t
feel like part of the neighbour hood. Gangs give them a sense of belonging.”
Juan José Martinez
Solis, Violence prevention coordinator for the Spanish Red Cross
Young volunteers gather
outside Bamako, Mali in December 2008 for a training camp on how to promote
respect, non-discrimination and peace. The event was supported by the Mali
Red Cross and the IFRC.