This article originally appeared on the African Independent.
Children in the Lake Chad region are bearing the brunt of the violence by Nigerian terror group Boko Haram which, in addition to killing, maiming and abducting minors, is notorious for forcibly recruiting them into its ranks.
It has emerged an estimated 2,000 children last year alone were recruited into joining the Islamic militant sect to unleash terrorism in Nigeria and its neighbouring countries.
According to statistics by the UN Children’s Fund, the Islamic militant sect has drafted about 2,000 children over the past year. The extremists, who have pledged allegiance to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis), are reportedly increasingly turning to children to boost their ranks after having sustained major losses in the last year in battles against the militaries in the region.
It has been reported that militants have been teaching children in their teens how to rape their hostages. While boys have mostly been enlisted, there is a trend by the group to forcibly kidnap or recruit girls to carry out suicide attacks. The radicalisation of children by Boko Haram is another dimension this violent campaign to establish an Islamist state in the region has taken.
Among the areas worst hit by these are the northern regions of Cameroon, where thousands of refugees from Nigeria reside, and Boko Haram has carried out some attacks. Boko Haram has killed at least 1,400 civilians, 120 soldiers and abducted an estimated 1,000 people in Cameroon. More than 190,000 are internally displaced.
It is against such trends a young Cameroonian woman has taken it upon herself to empower young girls and give them the tools to prevent violent extremism.
“Making youths aware of the alternatives they have is the first step towards a solution. From my experience, it is easier for young people to listen to other young people they can identify with,” said Nina Forgwe, 27, who was born in the capital Yaoundé.
“Just as young people play active roles in violent extremism, they are key to preventing and countering extremism.”
Determined to halt the vicious cycle, Forgwe is the proponent of Rebuilding Peace through Actions with Inclusive Reach (Repair), through which she has presented at local and international forums.
“This has been particularly successful and inspiring because I was able to provide more than 50 young people from 10 regions of Cameroon with tools on how to prevent violent extremism,” she said.
“I trained them on how to foster the peace culture, which has had a great impact, as they have in turn trained other young people in their various regions, especially in the north of Cameroon where the effects of the Boko Haram terrorism are being felt.”
A Commonwealth Youth for Peace ambassador, Forgwe pointed out that young people’s attention could be attracted on social media, a breakthrough she utilises as Africa director for the Organisation for World Peace (OWP), a youth-led NGO also represented in Asia, Australia, Europe and North America.
Over 3,000 youngsters follow OWP on social media, hence Forgwe uses these outlets to write articles and makes the most of the youth’s adoption of technology to attract youngsters to engage and promote education in peace building and consolidation.
“This has been successful because young people in my region are restructuring their thoughts away from destructive tendencies towards peaceful non-combative strategies.”
Overall, Forgwe said she is passionate about peace and stability in her country, region and the world.
“I am engaged in the promotion of peace education and I work towards achieving positive action in preventing violent extremism. I engage in these activities because I strongly believe dialogue and mediation are more effective ways of resolving conflicts; using violence to end violence is not always the solution.”
At the moment, she is working on a project called Teagan Alternatives, an empowerment project that targets youth radicalisation online and offline.
“It counters violent extremism with counter narratives, fosters women’s empowerment and girls education.”
She said her commitment to peace and working with young girls was rooted in her experiences growing up as the youngest in a family of four sisters, headed by an archivist father and a teacher mother, hence education and empowerment had always been, and still are, priorities in the family.
“From as young as 5 years old, I strongly believed I represented promise and not peril, no matter what those around me thought or said, and this has informed my life until today,” she said.
“Growing up in the 1990s, in an era when a lot of people believed having a son was better than having daughters, meant my parents had to work extra hard to make us the women we are today,” added the empowerment advocate.
“My dad is a feminist and has always strongly believed that we can do anything we put our minds to. My sisters and I grew up with this mindset and I am grateful for the strong foundation my parents set.”
After high school, Forgwe conceded she was unsure what she wanted to study at university. Eventually, she settled for law.
“I decided to get a law degree even though I was not 100% sure I wanted to practise law or work in the legal domain. One thing I was sure of, however, was that a law degree was a good base to do anything I wanted to do in the world,” she said.
“The law informs our everyday lives and I knew if I wanted to make a change in my community and country in whatever capacity I could, the law and I had to be friends.”
She graduated in 2011 and interned with a law firm for about six months. While was working there, she fell in love with development work, eventually studying for a Master’s in governance and regional integration, graduating last year.
“Being a development worker is about selflessness and sacrifice,” she pointed out. “I have worked for years on projects and empowerment campaigns without any form of payment or remuneration,” Forgwe added. “This is a side of being a development worker many people do not see.”
Forgwe acknowledged the difficulties in her line of work. “Sometimes it is difficult to offer help to or empower young people who do not believe they need it. Many men in communities do not want to listen to a woman talk to them. It is also usually challenging to get government to come on board when working on projects.”
However, the vision she has held from a young age to create a better world kept her going.
“Having access to education and being educated is a human right. Having good health, living in a conflict-free environment are conditions we all want to be in. What is important is leaving a community better than it was when you met it, whether in terms of education; women and youth empowerment; peace and security, or health,” she said. - CAJ News