Raziq Fahim is identifying youth at-risk for recruitment by extremists in politically turbulent regions of Pakistan and teaching them ways to channel their feelings towards peace and community building.
The New Idea
Raziq is working to empower youth to prevent youth from becoming militant by bringing peace and tolerance to some of the most dangerous regions of Pakistan. After identifying at-risk youths between the ages of 15 and 26, Raziq comprehensively addresses the problems they face. He gives them the option to help build ventures for the benefit of their communities, and provides them with learning opportunities they need to become leaders and mentors for other at-risk youth. Raziq is providing alternative spaces to help youth from isolated communities through innovative strategies. Specifically, he facilitates interaction between the youth population and local schools, colleges and communities. Raziq organizes youth groups in the Pasheen and Khuzdar districts of Balochistan, bringing together 850 young people to take part in capacity building trainings to enhance their knowledge and skills. He has also established youth forums and gives young people the opportunity to meet political leaders, religious scholars, development experts and literary figures in Pakistani culture. Ultimately, Raziq gives youth the opportunity to receive civic education, supports their activism and enables them to deal with contemporary challenges and become agents of peaceful social transformation. He is currently developing a large group of mentors for other youth, from which new mentors are bred. Presently, the fourth generation of mentors trained by Raziq is spreading their new way of life.
Militancy by a handful of people on the northwestern border is tearing apart the fabric of Pakistani society, and the country is working hard to fight it. This problem is more evident in economically-disadvantaged areas, which have become major recruiting centers for militants. In Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province, poverty is widespread and education rates are low, leading to high rates of unemployment, especially among youth. Furthermore, the conservative social setting does not allow youth to make their own decisions, often leading to identity crises among young people. Due to the international media attention on the North West Frontier Province and the burgeoning militancy in that area, the government of Pakistan has been unable to focus on the province of Balochistan. With the literacy rate at 34 percent for both men and women, the fewest educational institutions per capita in the country, and the most limited infrastructure, the region is particularly disadvantaged, leading to marginalization and resentment towards government. As a result, militants and so-called ‘Jihadis’ have become more powerful in Balochistan and have managed to capture mosques and madrassas (religious schools). Through these religious institutions, militants preach hate and invite youth to crusade against ‘injustice.’ The lack of positive identity makes youth highly vulnerable, and easy prey for terrorists and militants. The current government system in Balochistan neither has the capacity to comprehend the situation in its totality, nor is it capable of creating alternative spaces and opportunities that nurture youth development against extremism to create bases for sustainable peace.
After working in human development, from grassroots initiatives to policy level engagements and social research, Raziq appreciates the importance of youth participation in community development and social change. Believing that involving youth is crucial to bring about change, Raziq conceived an innovative approach of combining literacy, learning and livelihoods for out-of-school girls in rural areas of Balochistan. Central to this approach is involving the community in a partnership that led to the creation of 120 schools in rural communities. His work at the provincial and district level has also helped him identify the critical age group of youth to focus his attention on: those between the ages of 15 and 24. In 2008, Raziq launched the College of Youth Activism and Development (CYAD), and started visiting schools, colleges and isolated communities in the Pasheen and Khuzdar districts of Balochistan. His strategy was to talk to the students through youth forums about community participation in the development of their regions. Within his youth forums, Raziq identified the ten most talented young men and women and initiated a youth fellowship program for this select group. The fellowship model focuses on learning and practice, with fellows sharing what they learn with community members as well as the community’s responses with their instructors. The application of this learning and practicing model has helped launch four community development projects including the construction of a girls’ school, construction and upgrade of a basic health unit, the establishment of a women’s education and vocational training center and rehabilitation of water channels or kareze. To date Raziq has successfully identified 850 youths, and organized at least 29 youth forums. This year, he plans to hold two more youth forums. His trainings cover broader thematic areas like social and personal identity, youth problems, development, gender, social structure and economic development. Raziq also provides the youth with opportunities to meet prominent social, political and religious personalities to broaden their horizons and later to take leadership roles. Once the youth have received the training, they are asked to go back in to the communities and develop a community-based initiative. Once this initiative has begun, the students come back and report to the group regarding the strategy, goals and steps. The objective of this exercise is to keep the youth vibrantly connected to their communities. Through his work, Raziq is creating a chain of mentors preparing youth to be leaders themselves. These mentors provide trainings to other young people with the goal of producing another generation of mentors. Due to this chain reaction, Raziq has been able to produce four generations of mentors in Balochistan. Many of the youth who have undergone training at CYAD are now starting their community level ventures and enterprises while providing peer-to-peer support to the younger generations. Raziq is presently working in two districts of Balochistan and plans to expand his work in another two districts of the province. He wants to develop the CYAD as a center point for preparing youths to challenge national problems, poverty, lack of education, youth’s isolation and militancy, and present locally applicable solutions.
Raziq was born and raised in Balochistan, Pakistan. He holds a Masters of Arts degree in Mass Communication and has been working with citizen organizations (COs) in Balochistan for over 12 years. He has worked extensively with the Institute for Development Studies & Practices, one of the most recognized COs of Pakistan, and has also played an instrumental role in designing the development studies syllabus for the organization. Raziq has extensive work experience in community mobilization, human resource development and institutional development, and as a Community Education Promoter, he created 120 primary schools in different areas of the province.As a result of his engagement with extremist groups to identify at-risk youth, Raziq faces threats to his life from those opposed to his unconventional peace-building activities. A powerful illustration of the risks he faces everyday and the impact he has had is evident in the story he tells of a participant from one of the first youth forums, who planned a suicide bombing during the forum. While listening to the forum the youth realized that the participants and the trainers were not anti-Islam or anti-Muslim, but were actually working towards attaining sustainable solutions for the problems their communities face, and this made him change his mind. Realizing how impressionable youth are and the lengths they are willing to go once their emotions have been fueled, Raziq decided to make youth forums a central part of his peace-building mission. Today, that youth is an active member of this peace-building work.Raziq is interested in the comparative study of religions and is always eager to learn the nexus and influence of religion on human behavior and practices. He has had the opportunity to visit the U.S and the U.K. and has deliberated the issue with Christian and Jewish scholars. Raziq is also the recipient of the prestigious British Chevening Scholarship.