About the Author: Susanna Connaughton is the Executive Director of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO. She attended UNESCO’s Youth@the Crossroads symposium, which occurred in Manama, Bahrain from June 15-17, 2008.
During the closing session of UNESCO's two-day conference "Youth@the Crossroads," the attendees congenially overruled the strong and astute conference chairman, Dr. Joseph Jabbra, on only one occasion. Dr. Jabbra, in keeping with his task of running the meeting on time, had slipped a note to speaker Dr. Ira Dosovitz, letting him know that he had one minute left at the podium.
"No! Stay," yelled someone from the audience. The crowd followed suit with loud applause.
Dr. Dosovitz, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at George Washington University, was addressing the group on the motivational needs of young people. By the way, Dr. Dosovitz had spent the last 24 hours stranded at London's Heathrow Airport, trying to get to the conference where he was slated to speak during the opening session. The attendees clearly were glad he had continued with his odyssey to Manama.
The development of a child, began Dr. Dosovitz, is a biological, psychological, and social matter. Positive programs that successfully reach children evaluate all three of these areas and take into account exactly where a child is in his or her development -- as infant, toddler, school-age, or adolescent -- before determining how best to address this person's needs. Dr. Dosovitz explained that a young person begins to search for his or her own identity during development and looks for ways to express him or herself and separate from the adults in his or her life. An underdeveloped identity may seek this sense of self through affiliating with a group, particularly a group which presents an over-idealized perspective of self and community.
Organizers of violent radical groups are aware of this need for separation and identity and exploit it. They appeal to and recruit these underdeveloped young people, who then take on the identity of the group. Once a person is part of this group, the person is willing to act in violent, extremist ways that he or she would never act as an individual. Hence, the work that the NGOs gathered in Manama are doing -- providing programs that build and reinforce a young person's sense of self and positive relation with his or her community -- counter the dangerous influence of an exploitive violent group. For the Compendium of Programs that participated in the conference, visit the UNESCO website.
At the end of the Conference, Dr. Jabbra read the "Manama Findings." The findings conclude with a task list for UNESCO, encouraging the international organization "…to disseminate information about best practice initiatives and projects, promote knowledge-sharing at all levels, and induce the development of partnerships…". Following the conclusion of the conference, the United States announced a $50,000 extension to the Access youth program in Bahrain, which will help to build skill sets and confidence by providing language and work training for 50 boys and girls.
I hope that the information shared through these blog installments will help encourage future partnerships as well. There is no excuse for the manipulation of children’s minds and bodies for the purposes of violent extremism. UNESCO's "Youth@the Crossroads: A Future without Violent Radicalization" demonstrated that countries and experts across ideological and developmental spectrums are united in their opposition of the violent exploitation of young people.