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Repairing Broken Men: Engaging Youth in Education in Emergencies

by Kylie Barker, 

by Kylie Barker, EDGE Institute

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” –Frederick Douglas

I know the heart behind this maxim was good, but the context in which I heard this the other day broke me a little. Have we ever stopped to think about the broken men?

Education in emergencies more often than not is focused on building safe places, structure, and strong programs for children working through trauma and grief and without any other options due to overloaded government systems and limited educational resources.

What is lacking, however, is effective programming for teenagers in emergencies. We hear a lot about child-friendly spaces, and see activities taking place for those ages six to twelve, but once they hit their teenage years, the number of programs available drop drastically.

This is due in part to the fact that risk assessors are wary of the ramifications of working with teenagers in terms of trauma, stressors, and reactions. And, if we’re honest, from an organizational standpoint, kids are an easier sell.

The six year olds with tear-stained faces and no shoes, the little girl smiling as she receives her English certificate, the hand-drawn pictures during a psycho-social session: all of these effectively, and deservingly, move hearts and wallets.  

Advance the programming, however, to the teenage population where you are facing youth who may or may not want the programming, who may or may not cooperate with the instructions, and who may or may not make noticeable strides in their skills acquisition, and the promotional effect of the programming drops considerably.

We talk often about the need to educate the rising generations of countries experiencing conflict or crisis, knowing full well that the country will not develop much less recover with an educated population, but our actions belie the fact that we only anticipate rebuilding and recovery to take place fifteen to twenty years in the future. We are overlooking the next generation and by our omission we are complicit to crippling the country rather than empowering it.

What is the answer to this problem? We need to begin building quality, effective youth programming that considers and builds the future of the countries we are responding to. We need organizations and institutions to acknowledge the need for youth programming and to back it with financial support. The success of youth programming rides primarily on the backs of donors.  

For EDGE, youth programming is a focus with our EY! Programming. EY! stands for Engaging Youth and the goal for our programming is to equip teenagers to make a difference and give them the resources to dream big dreams and pursue them.

Our programming will incorporate a community and peace-building curriculum as well as academic coaching and vocational skills workshops. The primary objective is not to get teenagers into programming, but to inspire them to create their own programs. We want to see teens taking action in their communities to provide innovative solutions for identified problems.

We also want to motivate them to use their interests for their benefit, whether that means improving photography skills and selling prints or perfecting their sewing skills and opening a tailor shop.

Teens are full of potential, and the fact that they have faced hardship or live in a difficult place should not sideline them from the hope of building a better future for themselves and their community.

As an educational community let’s build strong children, but let’s also be in the business of repairing broken men. 

Kylie Barker is the co-founder and Educational Director of EDGE Institute and currently leading our Education in Emergencies response in Iraq. 

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