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COVID-19: Highlighting the Need to Address Stress, Anxiety, and Trauma in the South African Education Landscape

May 31, 2021
By 27087

The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on the learning environment in South Africa includes challenges in adjusting to online teaching and the impact of trauma, 2012 Sylff fellow Liza Hamman says. To address stress and anxiety among learners and educators and help create a positive learning environment, Hamman developed an online mindful training course for South African educators using a Sylff Leadership Initiatives grant.

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The countrywide lockdown imposed by the South African government in March 2020 changed the South African education landscape rapidly and radically. Educators and learners, who were accustomed to teaching and learning in a face-to-face classroom environment, had to adjust to online teaching methods suddenly and without warning. The learning curve was steep for both educators and learners, but those learners who at least had access to online resources were the lucky ones.  Unfortunately, many learners in South Africa do not have access to the resources needed to engage in online learning.

As an educator, I witnessed the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on the learning environment firsthand. In my experience, a handful of students engaged with the online content and continued learning, while most trailed behind because they were unable to afford the devices, or the data, needed for this engagement. On the other hand, educators struggled to cope with this new approach to teaching. In South Africa, even before the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators faced many challenges including classroom size, an increasing administrative workload, language barriers, and increasing incidents of violence in schools. Already overwhelmed educators now had to face even more challenges that they were not prepared for and received very little support in dealing with.

Furthermore, the learners they teach often face social challenges such as lack of adequate income, housing, and healthcare. South Africa is among the most unequal societies in the world, and many students come from communities where unemployment is endemic, gang and domestic violence is commonplace, and drug and alcohol misuse is widespread. These circumstances are frequently an everyday occurrence in unequal societies and result in “chronic trauma” for those living in these communities (Ebersöhn 2019, S2).

It can be safely assumed that as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, poverty and unemployment have increased in South Africa, as well as the associated trauma. Wartenweiler (2017) states that “acknowledging the impact of trauma on learning is of great importance if we want to create a more socially just education system and not disadvantage traumatised learners.”


The Impact of Trauma on the South African Education System

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, McGowan and Kagee (2013, 336) noted that South Africa is “a society characterized by high rates of violence and trauma.” Similarly, John (2016) found that trauma and fear are often a reality in the South African learning environment, which can impede the learning process. Traumatized learners display such symptoms as depression, guilt, shame, lack of confidence, disturbed sleep, inability to concentrate, chronic stress conditions, and panic attacks, among others.  For learners who are traumatized, learning is obstructed by anxiety, fear, and poor concentration (Kerka 2002). As a result of the aforementioned challenges that both educators and learners face, educators are struggling to deliver a level of education that will lay a strong foundation for much-needed economic growth and social change in South Africa.

Due to the consequences of trauma and other challenges faced by educators, stress, anxiety, and burnout are a prominent problem among educators in a South African context. Peltzer et al. (2009) found that stress levels are high among South African educators, with many educators reporting lack of job satisfaction associated with stress-related illnesses such as stomach ulcers, hypertension, mental distress, and alcohol misuse. Peltzer et al. (2009) report that lack of support for educators in South Africa is one of the leading reasons for high stress levels and educators leaving the profession. Furthermore, high stress levels have a negative impact on the quality of education delivered.

In support of the above-mentioned view, Jennings and Greenburg (2009) found that burnout and emotional exhaustion among educators have a negative impact on learner performance. Additionally, the classroom environment created by burned-out educators can have a negative effect on the social and emotional health of students. The student’s learning environment is mainly created by the educator, and it was found that socially and emotionally competent educators create a classroom environment that is more conductive to learning and fosters positive development.


Finding Ways to Address Trauma in the South African Education System

It is clear from the academic literature, as well as my own experience, the experience of my colleagues, and the learners that we teach, that there is a need to address trauma and emotional issues in educational settings. Authors such as Jennings and Greenburg (2009) recommend mindfulness as a way to deal with these challenges.

On a personal level, I have been interested for many years in mindfulness and methods that cultivate mindfulness. I was introduced to mindfulness and the practices that cultivate mindfulness for the first time in 2009. Since then, my interest in mindfulness, and how it can support education and learning, grew out of my own need to find improved ways to deal with my own stress, as well as my students’. My own experience, of introducing mindfulness in my own life and eventually to my learners, mirrored the views expressed in the academic literature—that mindfulness has the potential to address both educators’ and learners’ stress and anxiety.

Many authors assert that teaching people mindfulness will reduce stress, decrease burnout, promote self-esteem and a sense of well-being, enhance awareness of multiple perspectives, and induce the ability to reframe contexts and engage in the present moment. Furthermore, it will promote equanimity and wakefulness and enhance the ability to focus one’s attention (Kabat-Zinn 1994; Newman 2008; Shapiro, Brown, and Astin 2011). It is thus probable that mindfulness training will improve educators’ and learners’ emotional competence, resulting in a positive and innovative learning environment that promotes creative learning and development.


Introducing Mindfulness to South African Educators

Mindfulness training for educators is a novel concept in South Africa. The number of qualified mindfulness facilitators is limited, and very few are focused on mindfulness training in the education sector. At present, mindfulness training in South Africa is expensive and not readily available and therefore not accessible to all members of society. In pilot studies educators have reported positive results such as decreased stress and anxiety, increased focus, improved ability to handle conflict, and improved communication with students as a result of mindfulness training (Napoli 2004). Yet the lack of availability and cost of mindfulness training in South Africa will prevent educator participation in such courses.

As an educator and a certified mindfulness facilitator, I realized that there was a need to develop a course that is accessible to all South African educators. I believe that one of the most effective routes to provide mindfulness training to more people will be through the education system. Introducing educators to mindfulness and providing them with mindfulness techniques to pass on to their students will ensure that more members of South African society will have access to mindfulness training.

Responding to this need, and with a Sylff Leadership Initiatives (SLI) award from the Sylff Association, I developed an online mindfulness training course adapted to the needs of South African educators. The course is offered online not only to reduce the cost of facilitation, but also to make it accessible to educators across South Africa. In this way, it can reach educators and learners from underprivileged educational institutions as well as educators who live in rural areas. Additionally, although the concept of this course was developed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the crisis further supported the appropriateness of an online solution.

The duration of the course will be eight weeks, during which educators will learn to manage and reduce their own stress and anxiety. They will also be introduced to simple techniques that they can pass on to their learners. The course is in its infant stages at the time of this writing, and the first pilot course is about to be launched. I will only be able to measure the impact of the training once the first participants have completed the course.



It is my hope that this online mindfulness training course for South African educators will provide them with much-needed support. I believe that if we take care of our teachers, we can improve the quality of education in South Africa, because educators will have the mental capacity to create a positive learning environment that is conducive to learning. The quality of education is vital to enabling students to become economically productive and sustain their own livelihood, supports individual well-being, and contributes to peaceful and democratic societies. Education can provide the foundation for economic growth, social change, and transformation that is much needed in South African society.

Lastly, online mindfulness training for South African educators has the potential to make a contribution toward addressing the social dilemma of chronic trauma, stress, and anxiety in South African society.



Ebersöhn, Liesel. 2019. “Training Educational Psychology Professionals for Work Engagement in a Context of Inequality and Trauma in South Africa.” Supplement, South African Journal of Education 39, no. S2: S1–S25.

Jennings, Patricia A., and Mark T. Greenburg. 2009. “The Prosocial Classroom: Teacher Social and Emotional Competence in Relation to Student and Classroom Outcomes.” Review of Educational Research 79, no. 1: 491–525.

John, Vaughn M. 2016. “Transformative Learning Challenges in a Context of Trauma and Fear: An Educator’s Story.” Australian Journal of Adult Learning 56, no. 2: 268–89.

Kabat-Zinn, Jon. 1994. Catalyzing Movement Towards a More Contemplative/Sacred-Appreciating/Non-Dualistic Society. Pocantico, NY: The Nathan Cummings Foundation & Fetzer Institute.

Kerka, Sandra. 2002. “Trauma and Adult Learning.” ERIC Digest no. 239: 1–8.

McGowan, Taryn C., and Ashraf Kagee. 2013. “Exposure to Traumatic Events and Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress among South African University Students.” South African Journal of Psychology 43, no. 3: 327–39..

Napoli, Maria. 2004. “Mindfulness Training for Teachers: A Pilot Program.” Complementary Health Practice Review 9, no. 1: 31–42.

Newman, Michael. 2008. “The ‘Self’ in Self-Development: A Rationalist Meditates.” Adult Education Quarterly 58, no. 4: 284–98.

Peltzer, Karl, Olive Shisana, Khangelani Zuma, Brian Van Wyk, and Nompumelelo Zungu-Dirwayi. 2009. “Job Stress, Job Satisfaction and Stress-Related Illnesses among South African Educators.” Stress and Health 25, no. 3: 247–57.

Shapiro, Shauna L., Kirk Warren Brown, and John A. Astin. 2011. “Toward the Integration of Meditation into Higher Education: A Review of Research Evidence.” Teachers College Record 113, no. 3: 493–528.

Wartenweiler, Thomas. 2017. “Trauma-Informed Adult Education: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis.” The Online Journal of New Horizons in Education 7, no. 2: 96–106.


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Teaching Literature in Times of Pandemic

March 3, 2021
By 28851

A scholar of Italian literature, 2020 Sylff fellow Nataša Gavrilović compares today’s situation with that of Renaissance-era Italy to contemplate the role of literature—and, more broadly, of the arts and humanities—as well as of teaching it, particularly at times of crisis like the current COVID-19 pandemic.

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During the period of the flourishing of culture and the arts on the Apennine Peninsula—at the same time that the voice of humanism was becoming louder and clearer with each new day, via epistles or treatises, or among the members of informal circles later known as accademie, but always in the form of dialogue—Italy (or what would actually become Italy only three centuries later) was struggling amid continuous warfare.

Today, the traces of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century art and philosophy are far more visible than the scars left by the innumerable battles that at some point even became a “new normality,” just as the plague and other disasters did. Eugenio Garin, one of the twentieth century’s greatest scholars of European humanism and the Renaissance, sees this particular moment of crisis as one of the crucial factors that informed that period’s most important thought, oeuvres, and philosophy with a universal message, but always formed in one’s own microcosm, in a dialectical relationship between the contextualized temporary and the eternal.[1]

There is no need to expound on the greatness and value that the works and names from this period continue to hold for humankind, beginning from the very concept of freedom and unlimited possibilities innate to each and every individual, through the novel approach to and importance assigned to education, to the myriad discoveries in the fields of science and art.

Time will show whether the crisis we are coping with now will yield this kind of fruit to the generations to come, in the form of new ideas and thought-provoking works and discoveries. Nevertheless, one thing is for sure: the very concept of crisis means rethinking the values we cultivate, the system(s) we have created, and the steps we have taken in order to understand, adjust, and improve, so as to give meaning to our existence and make life on Earth if not better, then at least more bearable. Obviously, the humanities cannot face the pandemic from a medical standpoint, nor can they find a cure or create a vaccine. Are the humanities therefore redundant at this very moment, and, moreover, is teaching literature a false utopia when almost everything appears to be falling apart and when bare survival looms large in everyone’s mind? Is it an escape or a long journey toward the Promised Land?

Niccolò Machiavelli

Staying in the field of my research interests as an Italian literature scholar, I must call on what another Italian thinker wrote. I am referring to Niccolò Machiavelli, who has universally influenced political and historical thought and whose life and works are an evident product of the fifteenth- and sixteenth-wecentury crisis. In Chapter 25 (“What Fortune Can Effect In Human Affairs, And How To Withstand Her”) of his most famous treatise, The Prince (Il Principe), the Florentine author explains that one can and should fight against the unpredictable force of Fortuna, and not only that, but one even stands a chance to win (“Nevertheless, not to extinguish our free will, I hold it to be true that Fortune is the arbiter of one-half of our actions, but that she still leaves us to direct the other half, or perhaps a little less”). A memorable picture follows: Fortuna is compared to a raging river. If we survive its first strike, it is wise and necessary to think about what happened, to think it through thoroughly, engaging all our ability, experience, and knowledge gained by reading ancient authors, and analyzing our reality in order to be prepared when another similar situation arises. Because, as he says, “though its nature be such, it does not follow therefore that men, when the weather becomes fair, shall not make provision, both with defenses and barriers, in such a manner that, rising again, the waters may pass away by canal, and their force be neither so unrestrained nor so dangerous.”[2]

And isn’t that what teaching literature means, or at least should mean—an active and fruitful dialogue, both with people of the past and with our present times, so that one may (re)think critically and maybe even protect oneself and others from tragedies and disasters? Hence, to talk about the past, about philosophy or poetry, is to enrich your own existence, to observe the world from endless points of view. Furthermore, to convey knowledge and experience is to create future thinkers, to show them the way of honor and dignity: the dignity and virtue of curiosity. For, although a world made of words is a fragile world, words are all we have to communicate, express, create, learn, and understand. 

Due to my research activities, I happened to be at the University of Padua when the pandemic began. As I was witnessing the panic spreading along the stunning and peaceful Italian squares, my life-saving thought was the research I was (and still am) conducting; not because it made me forget the circumstances in which I had found myself—on the contrary, it was helping me to go beyond these circumstances and consider them from another, wider perspective. A few months later, in Belgrade, from the role of a doctoral student I returned to the role of a teacher. The need for reading, understanding, and sharing is a constant, and it was still there, helping me look toward the stars while rethinking the Earth. That is also what literature lessons should aspire toward: an endless “good fight” to create a context in which virtue can thrive. Our students’ questions, their curiosity, and the long discussions we have, even—or rather, especially—in these trying times, are both a strong proof of this innate human hunger for dialogue and a vital light of hope.

Literature cannot find a cure for diseases, but offers instead the benefit of the doubt, teaching us to consider everything with a pinch of salt and showing that, through the centuries, it is the doubt that has been the vital force of every kind of progress. Thus, talking about Petrarch’s existential doubts and antithetical thoughts, about Dante’s contempt for the uncommitted (ignavi), that is, those who lived their lives without making conscious moral choices and who therefore deserve neither Heaven nor Hell, or reading Pico della Mirandola’s speech about man’s freedom to be anything one decides to be—all this is not an escape, as it illuminates both the one who teaches and the one who learns (if there is any difference between those two); sometimes it is a shimmering light, as fragile as words, but it surely never goes out.

Words are delicate, fluctuating, ambiguous. To say or write is not enough, it is how something is said or written that makes the whole difference. That is what literature teaches and how literature should be taught. To translate is impossible, yet necessary, as noted by two of Trieste’s scholars, Guido Cosciani and Guido Devescovi. The same goes for teaching—teaching literature in particular, and especially teaching literature in times of a crisis.[3]


[1]     E. Garin, L’umanesimo italiano: filosofia e vita civile nel Rinascimento (1952), and E. Garin, La cultura del Rinascimento (1967).

[2]     N. Machiavelli, The Prince, translated by W. K. Marriott, downloaded from: https://www.holybooks.com.

[3]     C. Magris, Istantanee, Milano, La nave di Teseo, 2016, p. 178.

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The State of South African Education: Covid-19 Implosion Brings Good News and Bad News

November 24, 2020
By 25517

How much worse will things get in our education system? Teachers are familiar with the effects of extended periods of downtime, like that during the Covid-19 lockdown. The longer children are out of school, the more difficult it is to get them back into the routine and into the headspace needed for learning.


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I have some good news and, unfortunately, some bad news too. Which would you like to hear first? Most people want the bad news first so that they can move on to the good news and end on a high. And this is the formula I will use. The bad news is, unfortunately, very bad: Take cover! Tsunami warning for the SA education system! Get ready for waves of poorly educated children exiting the education system over the next decade or longer.

But how much worse could things really get in the education sector? Have we not already reached rock bottom? No, I suspect that we still have some way to go. One of the unintended consequences of the Covid-19 lockdown in South Africa has been to push our already ailing education system to an unprecedented low.

“Children are not the face of this pandemic. But they are at risk of being among its biggest victims… in some cases, by mitigation measures that may inadvertently do more harm than good. The harmful effects of this pandemic will not be distributed equally; they are expected to be most damaging for children in the poorest countries, in the poorest neighbourhoods, and for those in already disadvantaged or vulnerable situations.” – United Nations Policy Brief, 15 April 2020.

Covid-19 will naturally affect those who are the most disadvantaged to the greatest extent. This is also true in the field of education. The renowned psychologist Edward Thorndike’s “Law of Learning” provides further support for this. It states that the more one learns, the more learning one can achieve in the future. Learning generates further interest in learning.  

In fact, at a biological level we know that being exposed to interesting ideas and being curious triggers the human body’s narcotic-like dopamine chemicals to flood the brain, a positive stimulus that guarantees the individual would want to recreate these experiences.

Conversely, one who has not been exposed to learning opportunities would be less inclined to seek out cognitive stimulation. Thus, children who are described as educationally disadvantaged and were physically locked out of the education system and left to their own devices during the Covid-19 crisis are at much greater risk of not making adequate school progress in the future.

What do we know about the effects of extended periods of downtime on children’s learning? Teachers are very familiar with such scenarios as they often see a tailing off of children’s learning after long holidays and even long weekends. The longer children are out of school, the more difficult it seems to be to get them back into the routine and into the headspace needed for learning.

Teachers at the training working with the BCP materials.

In these situations, teachers constantly have to revert back to previously taught content. These learning setbacks might not be permanent, but they impact future learning.

Human cognitive development is a complex and individual process. How do we start to intervene in it? 

The good news is that we have accumulated a lot of knowledge about this process and that cognitive science does have a fairly good grasp of the fundamental principles that guide effective teaching and learning.

Most importantly, we know that human beings are cognitively modifiable, thanks to the pioneering and extraordinary work of the late cognitive psychologist Professor Reuven Feuerstein. The implications of this seemingly unassuming statement are profound for educators and for children not already in the learning loop. The notion of cognitive modifiability gives substance to the cliché that “all children can learn”. For too long we have been dominated by a deterministic, all-or-nothing view of human cognition; either you have the “smarts” or you don’t.

Children who are working with the BCP materials.

This recognition of cognitive modifiability has resulted in the development of cognitive intervention programmes, such as Instrumental Enrichment, Bright Start and Basic Concepts Programme. While traditional curative (remedial) programmes aim to close gaps in content learning, cognitive programmes aim to promote the growth of cognitive structures that are needed for higher order and abstract reasoning.

But is it possible to enhance the development of cognitive processes inside the classroom and can teachers do this? It is our experience that emergent cognitive structures can be enhanced and teachers can be trained to become mediators of learning. Mediated learning differs vastly from traditional “chalk-and-talk” pedagogical approaches on both a philosophical as well as humanistic level. 

Human mediators are caring, engaged, open, interactive and intensively involved with their children in the classroom. Young children happen to need these kinds of engagements to free up their involvement and participation. Children who take risks and share their thinking and are able to express their ideas are set on a path to improve their thinking, to reflect on it and consider the views of others.

So why are such cognitive educational approaches not being used more in learning institutions, particularly for young children who are not already engaged in learning and might have cognitive vulnerabilities? 

Children who are busy with an activity related to the programme

The Basic Concepts Programme is being extended across Grade R classes throughout the Northern Cape. The Northern Cape Department of Education has been forward-looking in helping to establish solid cognitive foundations needed for enhanced learning. There is an understanding that cognitive development and the school curriculum are not mutually exclusive activities, but both are integral. In a pilot study we have found almost universal improvements in school readiness of children who have been exposed to this cognitive programme during their school day.

The disruptions to teaching and learning in these very unsettled Covid-19 times might, in fact, allow those invested in education to pause, take stock and re-evaluate our understanding and approaches.

How does our practice as educators align with what we know about learning from cognitive science, and are we following the best evidence-based practices that will help children to improve their learning? It might be that the unintended outcome of the crisis also mobilises those involved in education to develop a range of special interventions to re-establish an interest in learning. 

All children can learn and make educational progress, but it might be that some children need a more thoughtful, intentional and mediational approach to successfully re-enter the educational mainstream. 

This article acknowledges the Douglas Murray Trust and Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund for their generous support of the work done by the author with the Northern Cape Department of Education.

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Reprinted, with a lead by the author, from DAILY MAVERICK which is one of the largest and most credible online newspapers in South Africa; https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2020-11-02-the-state-of-south-african-education-covid-19-implosion-brings-good-news-and-bad-news/.

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Strengthening Journalists’ Election Reporting Skills as Ethiopia Transitions to a Democracy

May 18, 2020
By 24666

In November and December 2019, Mulatu Alemayehu Moges, PhD, now an assistant professor of journalism and communication at Addis Ababa University, organized a training workshop for Ethiopian journalists ahead of the country’s first general election under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, originally scheduled for May 2020. Moges sees the political transition to a democracy under the new prime minister as an opportunity for better-trained journalists to make a significant contribution to free and fair elections.

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I was interested in training and capacitating Ethiopian journalists on various themes. While I was working as a journalist in the local media, it was very clear that the Ethiopian media faced many problems. For instance, while most journalists had attended formal journalism school, they were not ready to apply the principles they learned in practice. Most were also not able to make full use of the technological advances being made in journalism, and there was a need to make reporting more professional.

The author facilitates the training.

In 2018, I served as a resource person for the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia and facilitated two training programs for journalists and communication officers on the election, media, and democracy. Through this experience, I realized that journalists and communication officers lacked a thorough understanding of the election process, particularly, the ethical principles, legal issues, and other technicalities that were very important in election reporting.

From my discussions with experts on the electoral board, I also realized that one of the reasons for the low turnout and the disqualifying of some votes was a lack of clear understanding about the election process and voter engagement.

Last year, I was invited to train journalists and communication experts on the media, democracy, and elections, giving me an opportunity to observe the skills and knowledge of the trainees, particularly on election reporting. The experience prompted me to write a proposal to the Sylff Association.

For Free and Fair Elections in Ethiopia

Training on election reporting is important for several reasons. First, Ethiopia has been undergoing a political transition since Abiy Ahmed became prime minister. This transition has opened new opportunities for Ethiopian politics, making the upcoming general election highly anticipated and very competitive. Most opposition parties have been allowed to return to the country, and they are now freely restructuring and reorganizing themselves for the election. The government has opened up the political discourse, giving not only political groups but also individuals a chance to express their ideas freely through the media and other outlets.

The current government of Ethiopia has promised to end the kind of malpractices seen during earlier elections and to have a free and fair election. This makes it all the more important for the media to make a positive contribution to the election process, since freedom of expression and a free media are imperatives for a free and fair election. Media pluralism and the professionalization of journalists are crucial, and they should be addressed before the election campaign begins.

Among the key questions to be considered are how citizens are accessing neutral information about competing candidates, their political parties and policies, the election process, and voting guidelines; whether the political parties are freely carrying out political debates on the public media; whether the media is serving as a platform for such communication during the election period; and how well the journalists are trained in providing information about election processes to the general public in a timely and unrestricted manner. Accurately reporting on the political campaign and providing voters civic education are determining factors for ensuring both a fair election and high turnout. It is up to the media to connect the electoral commission and the candidates with the voters. This shows how the media can play an indispensable role in the election.

Training Ethiopian Journalists

All the above-mentioned points motivated me to apply for a Sylff Leadership Initiatives grant to facilitate training workshops for Ethiopian journalists who are expected to report on the upcoming election. The training program aimed to have an impact on 100 journalists on election reporting and on educating the public. In the workshops, experts were invited to make presentations on issues related to election reporting, the media, democracy, ethics of election reporting, election and media laws, access to information, and the right to information during the election. Participants were also encouraged to engage in group discussions.

Participating journalists engage in a group discussion.

The main objective of the workshops was not to train all Ethiopian journalists but, considering the budget and time, to approach editors and senior journalists in influential positions in their media organizations. Reaching out to these editors could be expected to have a trickle-down effect on junior journalists in two ways.

The first is that participating journalists may be able to arrange and facilitate similar workshops in their respective outlets. With this expectation, the organizers shared all the training materials with the participants, and some have already conveyed their insights to their colleagues. Two participants from the Amhara media agency, for example, have organized a training program at their organization. 

The second is that since they are in senior positions in their media organizations, these participants will have many opportunities to mentor and coach journalists who are working under them. From my own practical experience in the Ethiopian media, journalists learn a lot from their seniors. This is another way that the workshop can have an impact on even those journalists who did not attend the training. 

Such mutual teaching and learning were also observed during the training sessions. Some of the participants were very experienced, having worked in journalism for two decades and covered the last three general elections. There were senior editors and program producers who shared their practical experience in the Ethiopian media with other participants. In addition, having diverse training participants from community radio stations and both the public and private media across the country made the discussions lively and interactive. In some cases, journalists drew from their practical experience to substantiate the points they were making on the subject matter being discussed.

Sharing past coverage experience during a group discussion.

When the project was being designed, I expected at least 40% of the participants to be women. For unforeseen reasons, though, the number of female journalists enrolling, particularly in the first round, was very small. They were nevertheless very active during the training sessions, engaged in raising issues and questions and providing answers. They were also active in presenting ideas during the group discussion. 

A presentation by a female participant.

Expected Outcomes

The media, especially the mainstream media, plays a major role in raising awareness among the voting public. Radio, for example, still claims large audiences in Ethiopia, and a substantial share of people access information from radio programs. Some of the participating journalists worked at radio stations at the national, regional, and community levels, and they learned important lessons in educating voters and the public.

From this fact, the project can be said to have played a role in potentially increasing voter turnout around the country, and particularly the rural areas where people tend to be less educated. This can also lead to greater participation of youths and youth groups as journalists cover issues related to the electoral process, election guidelines, and ethical practices.

In the civic education section of the training, issues related to values, attitudes, and behaviors of electorates and candidates were thoroughly discussed, so these trained journalists will know how to behave during an election. Usually, youths are the ones who will take to the streets to demonstrate if they feel that an election was rigged or perceive irregularities in the electoral processes. By applying what they have learned in the workshop, journalists may be able to minimize the risks of electoral fraud and its consequence.

Last but not least, the project will play a direct role in the democratization process of the country. Free and fair elections are the foundations of a democratic system, so this project will have a multifaceted significance.

Organizing the training workshop was not an easy task, and it was not without its challenges. But we were able to hold it in a timely manner thanks to the cooperation of many parties. I would like to particularly thank the Sylff Association, UNESCO, and the Ethiopian Broadcast Authority for making my dream come true. The workshop would not have been successful without their support, encouragement, and follow-up. 

Related article on the Ethiopian Press Agency website:

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The Greenhouse Enterprise

March 31, 2020
By 19669

Sylff fellow Sennane Gatakaa Riungu implemented a project to empower a local community in Kenya with funding from Sylff Leadership Initiatives (SLI). The project seeks to provide capacity building and agribusiness training for community members in Maara constituency, Kenya Riungu’s home community—to equip them with the tools and information needed to develop agricultural business enterprises. Aside from her professional work, Riungu has been engaged in empowering her home community with others for over 10 years by utilizing her vast networks outside the community. The result of the project found both great outcomes and challenges to be addressed to fulfill a long-term goal.

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In the words of Simon Winter, Senior Vice President of a non-profit organization for development: “If we’re serious about ending poverty and feeding a growing planet, it’s imperative that we focus on the 2 billion people who live and work on small farms in the developing world. Often, the best way to support these smallholders has less to do with things they can do to improve their farms and more to do with the systems in which they operate.

“What happens at the farm level is important, and farmers need access to knowledge that enhance productivity inputs and tools. But to create sustainable growth in agricultural industries, that can provide opportunities for increasing economic benefits for farmers now and in the future, we need to take a broader approach to development that targets the entire market system.” ( “Beyond the farm: Promoting agribusiness as a way out of poverty,” The Guardian, February 1, 2013) https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2013/feb/01/agribusiness-mozambique-cashew-farming

The Roots

Hailing from a community whose largest population depends on peasant farming for their livelihoods, I had a question that lingered in my mind continually: how can what is described by Winter and myriad other like-minded scholars become a reality? Maara is a constituency located in Tharaka Nithi County in the Eastern side of Kenya. Maara as a constituency has a population of approximately 78,000 per the 2009 census. Whereas the upper part of the constituency enjoys favorable climatic conditions, being on the windward side of Mount Kenya, the larger population engages in small-scale subsistence farming that yields only enough produce for household consumption. The majority of the constituents are unfamiliar with the agribusiness concept, which could make a big difference in their household income and improve their socioeconomic status if well applied.

Map of Maara constituency. It is one of the three constituencies in Tharaka-Nithi County

A view of Maara Constituency, Kenya.


Given the community’s physical location, the agrarian nature of its economy, and the educational levels of most of its population, I researched slowly and grew convinced that creating an agricultural business model that incorporates most members of the community will go a long way in assisting the community members in this area to overcome some of the major economic challenges that they currently bear—mainly poverty—and bring a new dawn of sustainable economic empowerment for them.

Prospects and Action

Together with some of the colleagues with whom I had seen the birthing of the Makuri Development Forum (MDF), a community based welfare organization based in Maara Constituency in 2013–2014 and a brainchild of a conference funded by Sylff Leadership Initiatives), we formulated the concept of providing a practical avenue through which some of the community members would gain knowledge and learn practical skills in agribusiness. The goal of the project is to provide a practical avenue for an agricultural enterprise model where community members can train and build capacity on agribusiness-related concepts with the long-term objective of establishing a sustainable agricultural enterprise hub for the younger generation in Maara constituency. Overall, the project aims at economically empowering the constituents in Maara constituency through agribusiness.

With the above focus in mind, we formulated a double-edged approach: On the one hand, members of the development forum who are connected with other community development organizations would attend an educational workshop that can provide them with relevant information on agribusiness as an economic enterprise. On the other hand, it was expected that a self-sustaining model of greenhouse farming as an example of a functional agribusiness enterprise would be set up within proximity of the community for all interested members to access and have a hands-on experience in this regard.

It has often been stated that most developing countries have a weak culture of entrepreneurship. To assist us in demystifying this myth, I contacted the proprietors at the East Africa Seed Company (EASEED), which has been successfully running agribusiness-related enterprises in Kenya for over 40 years. Fortunately the company’s director, Mr. Jitendra Shah, and co-director, Ms. Nima Shah, were willing to take on the risk of spreading their wings further to encompass the training element of local potential entrepreneurs in my community. Through the director and as part of their corporate social responsibility, EASEED has a goal of training at least 10,000 youths across the country on agribusiness-related enterprises. The Makuri Development Forum members were able to benefit greatly from this venture through a one-day training held on July 13, 2019. The agronomists from EASEED engaged gainfully with at least 60 members of the community-based forum. The company has further pledged to continue providing seeds and related farm inputs at subsidized costs to interested participating members and groups in the community. 

The training session held in July 2019.

A greenhouse set up in the project for practical training.


Following the successful training session, the gained skills were expected to be put to practical use. The community development forum engaged PHFAMS Africa, a professional horticultural farms advisory and management services organization, to conduct the construction of the greenhouse. The greenhouse was set up within weeks of the training session, and the first seedlings of tomatoes and capsicum were transplanted within 21 days after that. The first crop is in season, as can be seen from the photographs presented below, and has delivered in bounty as expected.


The crop in season, week 2.

The crop in session, week 4.

Tomatoes as of October 2019.

Tomatoes in early November.

Tomatoes on the day of harvest.

The Output

The impact of this work is already apparent in the community, with some of the community-based organizations already gearing up to set up more greenhouses in the locality. The desired outcome is that more greenhouses will bring increased economic activities in the constituency, which will lead to revitalization of the local business sector and the broader community.

The first harvest was made on a Sunday in the presence of a visiting SLI Program Coordinator, Ms. Aya Oyamada. It was expected that the harvest from the initial crop would be sold at very reasonable costs to the members of the community. Given the intricacies of storage of a bumper first harvest, however, this was transported to the capital city of Nairobi to a wholesale buyer who purchased the entire lot in one go. This included more than 200 kg of capsicum and over 100 kg of tomatoes. Subsequent harvests have been sold to the community grocers at reasonable prices.

The demand for the produce is very high, leading to quick plans of setting up a second greenhouse in the coming months by other group members. Other nonmember constituents have also shown great interest in this model of farming. At this juncture, the initial income will go toward the maintenance of the greenhouse for subsequent crops and continued demonstrations as a continuous effort to provide any additional information or required support to the members and other interested constituents. A second training session is scheduled for March–April 2020.

With the momentum gained, it can be projected not only that the presence of agriculture-based enterprises will rise in the community but also that there will be an increase in other income-generating activities, such as the setting up of agrovets and like enterprises that will in future cater to the foreseen demand of agricultural inputs and implements in the area. This in turn will translate to better incomes for the community members and significantly improved livelihoods in every other aspect.

The author with a basket filled with capsicum.

The Challenges

As expected with these kinds of projects, some challenges have also ensued. One of the major challenges that we faced in the initial construction of the greenhouse was the negative mindset held by the community members toward crops grown in a closed setup like a greenhouse. As mentioned before, the majority of constituents have been practicing small-scale farming for subsistence use for decades. This means that they have also used traditional methods of farming, in which the yields were low and a majority of the yield was affected by disease and pests. With the greenhouse setup, the output seemed too perfect for the community members. A crop that had not been attacked by pests was perceived as almost “unsafe” for human consumption. This is a myth that we are continuing to debunk through training sessions and smart farming method demonstrations.

The other challenge that we are thinking through is the development of a constant supply of produce for the market that we have now established. Our first harvest was sold in the capital city of Nairobi, which is about three hours away from the constituency. The first wholesale buyer has been asking for more produce, as he was impressed with the first produce that he bought. On the other hand, the local market has now awaken to the availability of a good produce in the neighborhood, and most of the grocery stores are also demanding more. At the moment, we provide at least a harvest every week for the local market. This means that we have been unable to supply on wholesale to our initial client in Nairobi.

With the interest generated from the produce, we are mobilizing resources to set up more greenhouses in the community with the other members from the initial founding groups of the development forum. The constant demand is a good sign that the agribusiness concept will actually pick up and become a sustainable venture for the constituents. Our five-year plan is to be able to establish not only a sustainable client base but also sustainable production of different varieties of horticultural produce for the market. Our current challenge is therefore a positive one: grappling with the high demand for the produce. We believe that with the sustained effort, we will be able to address the foregoing challenges to establish a business model that will elevate the status of the quiet community that lies in Maara constituency.

Youth in the community working in the greenhouse.

In summary, we can safely conclude that “We just need to think and act [in and] beyond the farm.”


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Sylff: Making a Significant Difference to Early Childhood Development in South Africa

September 19, 2019
By 25517

Sylff fellow Louis Benjamin has been proactively engaged in early childhood development in his home country of South Africa through the Basic Concepts Program. Developed by Benjamin, who has incorporated the contexts of the South African educational system into education for preschool and early primary school students in disadvantaged communities, the Basic Concept Program undertakes “a structured metacognitive intervention approach for educators to address language, learning, information processing and socio-emotional barriers in young children, particularly from disadvantaged communities” (quoted from the Basic Concepts Unlimited website: http://www.basicconcepts.co.za/about/about). Benjamin believes in the immense potential of early educational intervention for children in disadvantaged communities, which generates lasting impact on their motivation for learning, thereby contributing to their higher educational achievement for better career opportunities. Benjamin has received a Sylff Project Grant (SPG) to disseminate the Basic Concepts Program in the Northern Cape, one of the poorest provinces in South Africa. Over the three years of the SPG period and beyond, Benjamin is trying to achieve his vision to provide the program to all preschool and early primary school children through workshops and follow-ups for school teachers of the province.

* * *

I am most honored to have been awarded a Sylff Project Grant for the next three years. The funding will be used to implement an early years intervention program for children run by class teachers in the Northern Cape, South Africa. The program is called the Basic Concepts Program (BCP) and aims to improve both teaching and learning in the preschool years and first three years of formal schooling. The BCP was developed by me during my PhD degree at the University of the Western Cape, which was generously funded by Sylff.

I am a native of the Northern Cape. I grew up and was educated in the diamond town of Kimberley, a town well known for its Big Hole dating back to the Diamond Rush at the turn of the twentieth century. It is therefore no surprise that I was drawn back to the province that holds my earliest and most precious memories. The Northern Cape is the largest province in the country but is also the most sparsely populated. Although it is endowed with many mineral deposits, the Northern Cape is one of the poorest and least developed provinces. More than half the population in the province lives in abject poverty (Statistics South Africa [Stats SA], Poverty Trends in South Africa, 2017). Research has shown that children from poor socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to fare poorly at school and/or drop out and have poor educational and vocational opportunities (as cited in the OECD Report Equity and Quality in Education, 2012), and the Northern Cape is no exception. Although approximately 87% of children attend school, only 1.5% attain a tertiary qualification (Stats SA, 2016). The Northern Cape has the second highest (28%) illiteracy rate in South Africa (Stats SA, 2016).

A map of South Africa, with the Northern Cape in red.

The Big Hole, Kimberley.

There is a critical need to improve these educational outcomes if children in the province are to break out of the poverty cycle. The focus of the current project is to give children who are starting school a preparatory boost to ensure that they are able to learn successfully when they receive formal instruction and are taught how to read, write, and calculate. The research data we have gathered over the years (2008–2018) show that the majority of learners who start school are very poorly prepared for school learning. These children without exception come from moderately to severely deprived living circumstances and consequently have limited exposure to the kind of early childhood experiences that would have prepared them for formal, higher-order school learning.

What Is the Basic Concepts Program?

In the BCP, there is a focus on both the development of cognitive processes, such as accurate perception, matching, comparing, classifying, seriation, perspective taking, and conservation (Figure 1), and the expansion of understanding of conceptually structured content (Figure 2). The content of the BCP includes the following higher-order conceptual domains: color, shape, size, position, number, and letter and their associated subordinate concepts. These concepts are used to mediate the cognitive processes in the program and are particularly important for children who have not had adequate early childhood educational experiences or who start school with deficient language abilities. The BCP thus provides the classroom teacher with an extensive higher-order conceptual language for instruction that is easily transferrable and linked to the curriculum.

Figure 1

Figure 2

In addition, the Concept Teaching Model (Figure 3) provides a detailed, systematic scaffold for mediators of the program. While the program was developed as a cognitive intervention program, it can also be run in the mainstream classroom to improve teaching and learning. Teachers are trained and assisted to run the program with small groups of learners who need intervention, but in Grade R (Reception Year) the program is used as a curriculum and is run with all learners. While the teacher works with one group on the mat inside, the other learners work on related activities in rotation. The teacher works with each group for approximately 15 minutes and sets aside around 60 minutes per day to run the BCP sessions.

Figure 3

The Northern Cape Province was one of the first provinces to introduce the BCP. I in fact started my work in the province while I was still busy with my PhD. I conducted a trial of the program in the Namaqua Education District in collaboration with the Rural Namaqualand Education Trust (RNET), starting our work in a small cluster of schools before expanding to around 80 Grade R classes.

The results of the initial pilot projects were recognized by the Northern Cape Department of Education, which wanted to extend the program and make it available to all its Grade R teachers. (See an example of results in the chart below.) There are approximately 800 Grade R teachers in the province. A Memorandum of Understanding was subsequently signed between Basic Concepts Unlimited (the organization responsible for the Basic Concepts Program) and the Northern Cape government, and the Basic Concepts (BC) Advocacy Project was born. The BC Advocacy Project in the Northern Cape (2019–2023) aims to improve the school preparedness of Grade R learners by between 20% and 30%, thereby improving the overall literacy and numeracy outcomes of learners in the Foundation Phase (Grades 1–3). Baseline testing was done on a sample of Grade 1 learners drawn from the project schools. It showed that a majority (72%) of the learners were not prepared for school learning.

A total of 350 teachers from the districts of the province were selected to participate in the BC Advocacy Project. The district officials are responsible for supporting and monitoring the project teachers, and they will also be responsible for the continuation of the project and the training of the remaining teachers in the province once this project comes to an end.

Phase 1 of the project was initiated at the start of 2019 with approximately 85 teachers in two of the education districts. The teachers have thus far attended four days (out of the six days) of training and have implemented three of the six conceptual domains. Approximately 2,200 learners are receiving intervention. The project is supported and monitored by the local district officials who are ably assisted by teams of mainly retired teacher-volunteers who do regular classroom mentoring visits. 

Provincial and district officials and volunteers in the JTG District.

Teachers at a training session in the Pixley Kaseme District.

Teachers mediating the BCP to small groups of learners. (1)

Teachers mediating the BCP to small groups of learners. (2)

The teachers have already made wonderful progress as they learn to become mediators of the program. We have begun to hear increasingly more complex learner verbalizations while the teachers have become more confident in demonstrating the Concept Teaching Model. The change in the teaching style of teachers has in many cases been dramatic. For many teachers this has been the first time that they have used more interactive and questioning-based approaches in their teaching. The majority had previously used more recitation-based approaches, where the children merely copied what the teacher said. While it is very exciting to see these initial signs of change in these classes, we are aware that it takes time for these to become a permanent part of the teaching repertoire. Admittedly, there have also been some teachers who have required additional support and encouragement to implement the program and to run it on a regular basis. It is for this reason that each phase of the project is run over a period of two years. This allows the teacher time to become a mediator and to use the program with increasing frequency and confidence.

In conclusion, we have been very pleased with what we have observed over the first six months of the project. The teachers have responded positively, and we have also been most encouraged by the response of the local and provincial officials to the project. The enthusiasm for the project remains high, with high levels of participation. As our baseline data show, it is essential that we try to shift the preparedness of the learners in Grade R for school learning. The BC Advocacy Project offers teachers a tool to significantly improve the prospects of their learners. The BCP not only provides teachers with a way to better access their learners but also develops those nascent and often fragile cognitive functions needed for school learning. The core philosophy of the BCP emerges clearly in this project—that children, notwithstanding their circumstances, have the unlimited potential to learn and to continue learning, provided they are given regular classroom mediation by an involved and caring adult.

For more information about the project, please click here.

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[Report] Fall Session of Sylff Leaders Workshop 2018–19

November 16, 2018


An inaugural group of 20 Sylff fellows participated in the fall session of the newly launched Sylff Leaders Workshop from September 16 to 23, 2018. The fellows, who were selected from among 114 applicants, were a highly diverse group in terms of nationality, Sylff institution, field of specialization, and current occupation.

Sylff fellows and secretariat members in Sasayama.

Sylff fellows and secretariat members in Sasayama.

The main objective of the workshop was to provide graduated Sylff fellows an opportunity to experience diverse cultures through intensive discussions with people from different backgrounds and with varying viewpoints. Fellows were also able to deepen their ties to the Sylff community and gain new insights into Japan—not just the well-known aspects of the host country but also traditional and local areas off the beaten track.

About Sasayama

All participants had been scheduled to reach Sasayama via Osaka, but some were forced to switch routes, as Kansai International Airport was heavily damaged in the catastrophic typhoon just prior to the workshop. From Osaka, fellows traveled an hour and a half by bus to Sasayama in Hyogo Prefecture, where most of the sessions were held.

Sasayama is a scenic farming community of low-lying hills famous for such products as kuromame (black soybeans), mountain yams, chestnuts, and tea. It is also a former castle town, and the castle originally built in the seventeenth century has been partly reconstructed. Some buildings and neighborhoods retain the style and structure of the castle town.

Fields of harvest-ready rice in Sasayama.

Fields of harvest-ready rice in Sasayama.

A reconstructed section of Sasayama Castle.

A reconstructed section of Sasayama Castle.

Welcome remarks by Sanae Oda.

Welcome remarks by Sanae Oda.

Sanae Oda, executive director of the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research, welcomed the fellows on behalf of the Sylff Association secretariat. “One major aim in developing this program was to enable fellows to renew their understanding of the kind of leadership qualities we’re looking for,” she said in her remarks. “Society today has become very divisive. We need leaders who will bridge differences and promote understanding between people of diverse cultures and values. The message I hope you’ll take home from this workshop is that this is a role Sylff fellows should play in working for the common good.

“Our second aim is to help you enjoy your stay in Japan and gain a better understanding of the country,” she continued. “Through your two visits, I hope you’ll not only get to know each other better but also come to appreciate the many faces of Japan.

Activities in Sasayama

Being a community with a vibrant agricultural sector, Sasayama was an excellent setting for the workshop, whose topic was “The Future of Food Production in 2030.” When considered in terms of the “food system,” the issue is of overriding concern across the globe, as it encompasses not only agricultural production but also transport, manufacturing, retailing, consumption, and food waste. There are impacts on nutrition, health and well-being, the environment and ultimately, global food security.

Keynote speech by associate professor Yoshikawa.

Keynote speech by associate professor Yoshikawa.

The keynote speech for the three-day program in Sasayama was delivered by associate professor Narumi Yoshikawa of the Prefectural University of Hiroshima, an expert on the agricultural economy, who described Japanese initiatives in organic agriculture and grassroots efforts to strengthen ties between consumers and producers.

The workshop was facilitated by methodology experts from German-based Foresight Intelligence, which supports strategic foresight and planning processes in various organizations. After the plenary session, fellows broke out into smaller groups to discuss the topic under a subleader, delving into such issues as “food security through efficiency and resilience,” “ethical attitudes and awareness raising,” and “responsible and open innovation.” Fellows also conducted an online discussion with Philipp Grunewald of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, who, in addition to running a mushroom farm, has expertise in such fields as the global food production system and organic farming. The three days in Sasayama formed the foundation for the presentations by fellows on September 21 in Tokyo.

Plenary session.

Plenary session.

Breakout session 1.

Breakout session 1.

Breakout session 2.

Breakout session 2.

A majority of fellows stayed at Nipponia, a traditional wooden mansion that has been renovated into a ryokan, or Japanese guesthouse. On September 17, workshop participants were joined at dinner by Sasayama Mayor Takaaki Sakai, who introduced the city and welcomed the guests from overseas. On the following day, fellows got a taste of Japanese culture, choosing to participate in either the tea ceremony or a visit to a local sake brewery. In the evening, fellows enjoyed a Japanese style barbeque, sitting on small cushions on the wooden floor. 

Welcome dinner at Nipponia on September 17.

Welcome dinner at Nipponia on September 17.

Dinner at a robatayaki (Japanese-style barbeque) restaurant on September 18.

Dinner at a robatayaki (Japanese-style barbeque) restaurant on September 18.

Fellows participate in the tea ceremony.

Fellows participate in the tea ceremony.

Visit to a brewery for a sake tasting.

Visit to a brewery for a sake tasting.

Kyoto Trip

Before moving to Tokyo, fellows spent a night in Kyoto, visiting the Gion district, where they were entertained by maiko (female performers-in-training between 15 and 19 years old) and geiko (trained performers over 20). Maiko and geiko are part of a social tradition in going back to the eleventh century, performing for members of the upper class.

A geiko (left) and maiko (right) play games with fellows.

A geiko (left) and maiko (right) play games with fellows.

Tokyo Session

On September 20, fellows visited the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research, located on the 34th floor of a high-rise in the Roppongi area, for a session introducing the activities of Japanese think tanks and the current state of the Japanese economy. Foundation researchers later joined fellows for dinner on a yakatabune boat cruise in Tokyo Bay.

A session with policy experts in Tokyo on September 20.

A session with policy experts in Tokyo on September 20.

The following day, fellows presented the conclusions of their workshop discussions. They used a methodology called “visioning and road mapping” developed by Foresight Intelligence calling on fellows to start with a target year—in this case 2030—and to work backwards from potential scenarios. In thinking about the status of food production in 2030, fellows first discussed bad scenarios and then considered more desirable outcomes. They identified specific problems, developed the means to resolve such problems, and presented their visions of the future. These tasks were considered in reverse chronological order (using the “backcasting” approach), rather than by envisioning a future based on the current situation. Visioning and road mapping are tools enabling the normative construction of the future and are designed to remove current biases and to think about ethics and the values needed to build a desirable future.

Fellows divided into four groups to make their final presentations, expressing clearly how a desired future could be created.

Final presentation (1) on September 21 at the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research.

Final presentation (1) on September 21 at the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research.

Final presentation (2) by Rosangela Malachias (left of screen) and Stefan Buchholz (right).

Final presentation (2) by Rosangela Malachias (left of screen) and Stefan Buchholz (right).

Final presentation (3) by Kabira Namit (left) and Evgeniy Kandilarov (right).

Final presentation (3) by Kabira Namit (left) and Evgeniy Kandilarov (right).

Final presentation (4) by Andrew Prosser.

Final presentation (4) by Andrew Prosser.

The workshop ended with a lunch reception with Nippon Foundation President Takeju Ogata, who recounted how the first Sylff institution, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, came to receive a Sylff endowment and how Sylff as a program has developed thereafter.

The same 20 fellows will meet again in April 2019 in Beppu, renowned for its natural hot springs, located in Oita Prefecture. The workshop will be hosted by Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, a Sylff institution located in the city. Fellows will wrap up their discussions and make their final presentations.

The workshop was launched to facilitate networking and to give fellows a fuller appreciation of the rich diversity of the Sylff community. The Sylff Association secretariat intends to offer this program biennially and is already planning ahead to the next round.

A group photo at the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research on September 20.

A group photo at the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research on September 20.

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Catalyzing Cultural Revitalization in Western Province, Solomon Islands

June 7, 2018
By 19632

Indigenous knowledge and practice are critical on Kolombangara Island, but they are often not visible in discussions of conservation and resource management. In response, Sylff fellow Joe McCarter and the Kolombangara Island Biodiversity Conservation Association (KIBCA) initiated a workshop to discuss cultural revitalization, as well as teach practical documentation skills to rangers and community members. The workshop was held in Hunda, a village on Kolombangara Island in the Solomon Islands’ Western Province, and was led by representatives of the Vanuatu Cultural Center (VCC). The VCC team included three fieldworkers (ni-Vanuatu researchers) and the head of the Vanuatu Women’s Culture Program. The workshop covered a variety of topics, including the challenges and ethics of cultural maintenance, techniques and best practice, and the importance of such activities. On the final day, the group came up with several action points and next steps, including community and home-based recording and maintenance and agreed to create a new network focused on Kolombangara Island and run through KIBCA.


Project Background

Indigenous knowledge and practice are important components of everyday life in the Solomon Islands. Most people live in rural areas, and gardening, fishing, and food gathering are the basis of income and nutrition. Most land is managed under customary tenure, and people’s links to the land can be traced back several generations. Local languages and cultures are important and diverse, and cultural practices guide interactions and governance over much of the country.

On Kolombangara Island, a high volcanic island in Western Province, local knowledge and practice play a key role. Over 6,000 people live on the island, largely in small rural communities on land that is managed under customary tenure. Kolombangara is a biodiversity hotspot, and KIBCA has been working since 2008 to coordinate and promote biodiversity conservation activities around the island. However, there has been little attention to the maintenance of language and kastom (a Solomon Island Pijin concept referring to history and tradition), and KIBCA has been seeking to increase its focus on maintenance and revitalization.

This work is driven by fears that elements of kastom are being lost. In the present day, local language and knowledge are often not valued by education systems, cash economies, and the time pressure of everyday life. For example, school systems usually focus on Western educational techniques and may not support traditional forms of knowledge transmission. There is concern that this may lead to the erosion of knowledge, practice, and language over time. In everyday life, knowledge of language and history can help students to excel at school and can guide healthy food practice based on local and organic food produce.

Moreover, and more pressingly, ongoing commercial logging on Kolombangara continues to threaten sacred sites and people’s links to land. Often, logging operations will destroy cultural sites (for example, old village sites or shrines), which in turn weakens knowledge and the cultural histories associated with place. Because land is under customary tenure, and this knowledge is often orally transmitted, these activities can result in people losing their claim to land and a reduction of the biocultural values of the landscape.

The Workshop

With generous funding from Sylff Leadership Initiatives, KIBCA coordinator Ferguson Vaghi and Joe McCarter worked together to bring participants to Kolombangara the maintenance of knowledge and practice. This was relevant to KIBCA’s work because it focuses on maintaining ecosystem services and values associated with intact biodiversity areas. Vaghi led and facilitated the workshop, set workshop goals and objectives, and liaised with the Hunda community to arrange accommodation and housing for the workshop. I assisted with designing the workshop, liaising with the Vanuatu group, arranging logistics, and setting the agenda for the meeting.

Participants outside the venue in Hunda.

The major goal of the workshop was to allow the chance for exchange between Kolombangara and fieldworkers from the Vanuatu Cultural Center (VCC). The VCC group comprised Evelyne Bulegih, Numaline Mahana, Chief Jimesan Sanhambath, and Chief Joachim Moleli. The VCC has been working for over 30 years to promote the maintenance of traditional knowledge, practice, and language. The heart of its operation is the presence of a nationwide network of over 100 “fieldworkers”, volunteer indigenous anthropologists who meet annually and are trained in various forms of cultural documentation. They typically work within their own community to record cultural histories and traditional knowledge, which are then stored in the community and in the national archives. The fieldworkers also act as the gatekeepers for external agencies seeking to work on cultural or social issues in Vanuatu, providing advice and guidance that ensure that ethical concerns and intellectual property are appropriately addressed.

The objectives of the workshop were to:

  1. Provide training in methods for documentation of oral histories and traditional knowledge and practice
  2. Provide training in methods for mapping and recording of sacred sites using GIS technology
  3. Provide a forum for sharing and exchange between Solomon Islander conservation practitioners and ni-Vanuatu indigenous anthropologists
  4. Produce and publish a short article for the national media about the importance of cultural knowledge and practice for the management of the environment

Attendance varied between 20 and 23 people across the three days of the workshop. Participants included KIBCA staff, among whom were four rangers (responsible for carrying out KIBCA’s work, including enforcement and awareness activities); community representatives from the neighboring communities of Votuana, Cana, and Ireke, as well as from the host community Hunda; and community representatives from Vavanga and Kalina (Parara Island), which also form part of a biocultural network. These representatives included two village chiefs. Attendance was largely male, but there were at least five women attending each day of the workshop.

The meeting was held at Hunda, a small village of around 200 people on Kolombangara. All catering and accommodation were provided by the village.

Vanuatu and New Zealand workshop participants: from left to right, Joachim Moleli, Evelyne Bulegih, Joe McCarter, Numaline Mahana, and Jimesan Sanhambath.

Outline of Events

Wednesday, February 21

The aim of day one was to understand the context of work in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. The meeting was opened by the chief of Hunda village and then formally begun by Vaghi. During the day, participants worked to compile lists of challenges around the maintenance of kastom and culture in their communities. The Vanuatu fieldworkers were able to provide input to these solutions with their practical experience. Discussions particularly focused on governance and how it was important to record knowledge on genealogies and leadership protocol; the participants felt that one of the key issues in the communities at the moment was a lack of legitimate leadership, combined with a lack of respect from youth. In the final part of the day, the Vanuatu fieldworkers went into greater depth about their work, including a discussion of some of the challenges of maintaining kastom and culture in Vanuatu.

Waiting for the workshop to start on day one.

Thursday, February 22

The aim of the second day was to pass on skills to assist with some of the challenges that were identified on the first day. The day began with a discussion of the “kastom economy” and the ways in which tradition and culture intersect with daily life in the village environment. For example, Chief Moleli discussed an initiative in his community, Tavendrua, to use traditional wealth items such as yams and pigs to pay teachers in the kastom school, while Mrs. Mahana discussed traditional marriage arrangements on Tanna Island. Participants then split into small groups to document the kastom economy in their communities. These groups focused on a variety of topics including traditional medicines, fishing techniques, and exchange items. In the afternoon, there was a practical session on the maintenance and recording of kastom and culture. Each of the fieldworkers gave a talk and held trainings on an area within their expertise: Mrs. Bulegih discussed the written recording and storage of kastom stories, Mrs. Mahana the written descriptions of weaving and woven products, Chief Moleli the recording of kastom stories, and Chief Sanhambath the use of handheld units to document sacred sites. The focus on all these presentations was to try to make sure that participants understood that technology should not be central for this work—that it is better to record things in a basic format (e.g., with pen and paper) and store it securely, to ensure that it is accessible to future generations.

Small group work on day two (photo by Piokera Holland).

Friday, February 23

The aim of the third day was to define next steps. Throughout the day, participants worked in small groups to define what practical steps could be taken to halt the erosion of kastom and culture. These were discussed in a closing plenary session. Topics included home-based recording with family members, consultation throughout the communities to decide which components of traditional knowledge and practice are at risk, and a cultural documentation network run through KIBCA. The group decided it was important to maintain linkages with the Vanuatu group, through Facebook and email, so that lessons could continue to be shared.

Saturday, February 24, and Sunday, February 25

On Saturday and Sunday, the Vanuatu group traveled to Imbu Rano field station on Kolombangara. During this trip they were able to observe KIBCA’s biodiversity conservation work in practice, as well as learn about threats to the area and the challenges that the rangers face on a daily basis. 

Outputs and Outcomes

The workshop was lively, well attended, and able to produce the outputs that were intended. These included:

  1. Provision of a discussion forum and practical trainings around the maintenance of kastom and culture on Kolombangara
  2. Initiation of efforts on Kolombangara to maintain kastom and culture, at a household level and through the networks of KIBCA
  3. Creation of linkages and exchange between Vanuatu fieldworkers, biodiversity conservation rangers, and community members
  4. A draft newspaper article, which has been submitted for publication in the Solomon Star and Vanuatu Daily Post (find it in the full report)

We are confident that these outputs will lead to a range of outcomes. For one, this workshop gave the Solomon Island participants an introduction to the skills needed to monitor, record, and maintain cultural knowledge and practice, including the mapping of sacred sites around their home communities. More importantly, the discussions and activities of the workshop provided a forum for dialogue on the value of cultural knowledge and practice, which can sometimes be lost in the day-to-day focus on livelihoods and living. The participants agreed to some solid and measurable next steps, so we are confident that this workshop was a first step toward an ongoing network of cultural monitors and the maintenance of knowledge and practice on Kolombangara.

Over the longer term, we see these efforts as being a small but necessary contribution to the overall goal of maintaining the biocultural resilience of rural communities in the Solomon Islands. Both cultural and biological diversity are critical to the ongoing vitality of communities, and we believe that more of these kinds of activities and discussions are needed into the future.

Personal Reflection

From both a personal and a professional standpoint, it was a pleasure to be involved in organizing this meeting. On a personal level, it was a privilege to reconnect with the VCC group after several years, and it was exciting to begin to foster some dialogue around the importance of kastom and culture on Kolombangara. The VCC has been a regionally leading institution, and there would be much to be gained from further collaboration. From a professional standpoint, it is clear that the maintenance of knowledge and practice should form a key plank of ongoing efforts to support conservation work around the island. This work aligns well with other Kolombangara projects, including a push by KIBCA to seek national park status for the area above 400 m. The partnership with KIBCA was absolutely critical to the success of the meeting, and while there were challenges (for example, arranging logistics for Hunda, setting the agenda remotely, and the difficulties of scheduling across several different calendars), Vaghi and his team worked hard to make the meeting a success. I look forward to our working together to turn the discussions in the workshop into solid progress over the remainder of 2018 and 2019. 

Find more details of the project in the original report.

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Workshops on the Socio-Analysis of Oppression

February 22, 2018
By 19626

Melinda Kovai, a 2009 Sylff fellow at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary, and her team members have recently completed their SLI project, which took them over one and a half years, to address the problem of social disparity strongly linked to negative notions toward the “Gypsy.” The project incorporated the idea of reflection on one’s own social position to encourage understanding of different social groups, which contributed to the uniqueness of the project. The training materials, the final project product, have been already integrated into two courses at universities in Hungary. The project members hope that the materials will be utilized in many educational settings not only in Hungary but also in neighboring countries faced with similar social challenges. They are determined to keep working on resolving the issue and extending the impact to society.



A mother and son of the Roma people, commonly known as Gypsies.

In Hungary, primarily due to their disadvantaged social position, the Roma people are by far the greatest subjects to racism. In public discourse, the “Gypsy” is inseparably bound up with such negative notions as poverty, permanent unemployment, benefits, informal economy, and crime and, more generally, with fears related to existential insecurities. In most social domains, the “Gypsy” is intertwined with a certain inferior class position and social marginality, such as exclusion from or taking the most inferior realms of the formal labor market, with possibilities severely restricted by manifold exclusive processes. The Gypsy-Hungarian ethnic distinction is in many cases a manifestation of class difference, since class positions are heavily ethnicized in many areas of life, in villages and town districts, and in educational and other institutions. While the lower middle and middle classes are associated with majority Hungarians, marginalization from the labor market is associated with the Roma. Everyday social conflicts are hence often experienced as confrontations between different ethnically interpreted class positions, where the “Gypsy” appears as a menace to the middle-class normativity of the majority.

Our team of trainers comprised social scientists whose academic work focuses on social inequalities, public education, and the Roma communities. The project idea arose from a shared urge to engage in activities that have a more direct and palpable impact on the lives of the communities we work with. Therefore, this project was also a way to experiment and to elaborate methods of intervention and ways of committed political engagement that feel right and adequate to us, to our habitus. We held four one-day and four two-day workshops for six groups of university students training to become public-sector professionals and for two groups of Roma university students. Half of the workshops took place in Budapest and the other half in other big cities. In the workshops, participants were invited to work with and reflect on their own social position, their social roles, and their class position. Our workshops are based on the idea that reflection on one’s own social position can help to better understand the behavior of other social groups and encourage collective action and solidarity across groups. Recognizing the social interests and conflicts involved in encounters with the Roma helps to identify the source of negative emotions and reveals how racism veils the real causes of conflicts.

Potential Target Groups and Specific Objectives

The main target group of our workshops is professionals who regularly encounter Roma clients as part of their professional roles. According to the literature, street-level bureaucrats are public-service professionals who represent the state by their work and, on a daily basis, make numerous small decisions in relation to the lives of their clients.[1] Typical examples of such professions are social workers, health care professionals, and the police. In this project, we offered the trainings to university students preparing to enter these professions; in the future, we plan to approach in-service professionals as well.

The workshops address the complexity and tensions of the professional roles related to social assistance, care, and support. We spend time discussing the typical sociological and recruitment characteristics of the professions. We had to bear in mind that university students do not yet have professional casework experience, so the workshops concentrated on their past “private” minority-majority encounters (which most often happened at school) on the one hand and the motivations, desires, and fears related to the caring relationship on the other.

When working with university students, school was often an important theme: we discussed the role of schooling in social mobility, the class-specific strategies related to schooling, as well as the inequalities of the Hungarian education system, and the school’s role in mitigating or reproducing inequalities.

Our other important target group consisted of young intellectuals of Roma background. In these workshops, we discussed the situation of the Roma people within the Hungarian social structure, the typical Roma roles and social phenomena (e.g., ethnically framed poverty, entrepreneurship, and widening middle class), and the constraints of upward mobility. Subsequently, the workshops addressed the tensions of harmonizing the experience of deprived homes and middle-class intellectual roles. By sharing their stories and experiences, the workshops helped young Roma intellectuals recognize the similarities in their backgrounds and challenges and hence share the “weight” of upward mobility.

The Workshops

Melinda Kovai, team members, and other sociologists discussing the contents of the training.

The first part of the workshops concentrated on the social positions of the participants; they shared their memories and their private and work experiences in relation to conflicts with the Roma people. We then explored these encounters in a dramatic form, wherein participants placed themselves in the shoes of both sides and collectively explored the social constraints from which behaviors (stereotypically) associated with the “Gypsy” derive. Ideally, the recognition of common social constraints develops a sense of solidarity and recognition of the differences of the other.

It was important to constantly respond to the social differences among participants and the corresponding differences in career choices. On the final day of the workshops for university students, we set aside time to explore their career choices in the light of their social positions and experiences. While for first-generation young intellectuals our workshops shed light on the constraints and possibilities coming with their upward mobility, for young people coming from long-standing intellectual families the training provided an opportunity to reflect on their privileges.

The following training methods were employed in the workshops:

  • warm-up and energizing games
  • dramatic exercises, the adaptation of the “wall of success” in particular
  • storytelling: sharing experiences, which then become materials for dramatic exercises
  • sociodramatic exercises and action methods: the enactment of typical situations related to ethnosocial conflicts, exploring the motivations, positions, and interests of the participants through dramatic enactment
  • sharing, reflection, and discussion

The overall aims were that, by the end of the workshops, participants

  • understand that society is hierarchically organized along various dimensions and that the distribution of various forms of capital (economic, cultural, and social), based on which class positions form and encounter other social determinants such as housing, gender, and ethnicity, are decisive;
  • have a comprehensive idea of the structure of Hungarian society and the perspectives of people in various positions;
  • have a reflective understanding of their families’ and their own social positions, their mobility pathways, their career choices, and their interests, needs, demands, beliefs, values, tastes, and so forth;
  • understand how society shapes personal beliefs, interests, demands, and tastes and how habitus works;
  • understand how social conflicts are sparked by the clash of different habitus and how actors in higher social positions generate such conflicts according to their interests with the aim of preventing the formation of antisystemic alliances; and
  • in the light of their own social positions, recognize the opportunities for social action and possible alliances with groups in different but proximate positions to form antisystemic alliances despite the differences in their positions and habitus.

Participants’ Voices

At the end of the workshops, as a closure, we asked all participants to share how they enjoyed the course and which elements they liked and disliked in particular. Two weeks after the workshops, we also invited participants to anonymously fill out a detailed online feedback form. In the questionnaire, they could assess group directing, the structure of the workshop, and the tasks and activities, and they were asked to describe their positive and negative experiences and to give us suggestions for improvement. The majority of the participants gave an overall positive feedback on the training and the trainers. They highlighted that, even though it was an emotionally shocking experience, recognizing their own social position and social differences in general were the most important lesson of the workshop. In the participants’ own words: 

I engaged both intellectually and emotionally—I was deeply touched in both respects. I thought a lot about these themes in the time between the workshops. The workshops were emotionally exhausting, but they were also extremely interesting intellectually.

“I developed a sense of social remorse. . . . I could do so many things to be more responsible socially. . . . I used to see helpers as being in a great distance from me, as being much more clever, experienced, capable people. . . . Yet they just probably took the initiative, started something, and then became good at it. . . . Next year I will volunteer at a shelter for elderly or mentally disabled people.” 

“The topics broke taboos. It is painful to realize how stereotypical our thinking is.”

“I grappled with multiple feelings over a short period of time.”

Based on the feedback and our own experiences, we concluded that it would be more worthwhile to organize two- or even three-day workshops for each group. One-day workshops do not provide sufficient time to process such shattering and difficult experiences. One-day workshops were less successful as participants did not have time to open up or, to the contrary, brought in very moving stories and experiences into the group that could not be processed sufficiently and reassuringly in the given time frame. This difficulty was the most striking in the workshops held for Roma colleges. Furthermore, in the cases of both one- and two-day workshops, participants signaled to us that they would welcome more factual knowledge as well as more emphasis on practical solutions for solving conflict situations.

Citing participants:

“The dramatic enactments were great, but I think it would be good to focus on finding some optimal solutions for these situations. This would have helped us in applying what we learned in “real-life situations.”

“You should give us more factual knowledge on the second day. What is integrated education? How was it implemented and responded to? What is the situation with integrated education now? What are the main political claims about the Roma?”

“I was missing some frontal knowledge, as I was interested in data and practices related to [Roma] educational integration in Hungary.”

Training Material, Dissemination, and Future Plans

Working with Roma schoolboys.

The final output of the project is a detailed set of training materials based on the workshops. The training materials were produced with two objectives in mind. On the one hand, we would like to provide our partners with an introduction to the workshops in advance. On the other, we are planning to disseminate our methodology among university and secondary school teachers who are using action methods or are trained in social sciences. The document explicates why we think that awareness and reflection on one’s own social position can tackle racist attitudes and in what ways our approach is distinctively different from “traditional” anti-discrimination and intercultural awareness raising trainings. We describe the structure and main elements of the workshops in detail.

It perhaps indicates the success of our project that two of our partners, the Faculty of Social Work at Eötvös Loránd University and the Faculty of Psychology at the Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church in Hungary, integrated our training in their curriculum from 2017–2018 under the title of “Meeting with the Other” as an optional course for social worker students at the former and “Socio-analysis for Psychologists” as a mandatory course for psychology students in the latter’s Intercultural Psychology program. The trainings are led by two trainers: Melinda Kovai, who is a university lecturer at both universities, and another member of our team.

According to the participants’ feedback and our own evaluation, the workshops had the most tangible impact among Roma and non-Roma students enrolled in universities outside the capital. These students predominantly come from working-class families or from families in extreme deprivation. The workshops have the potential to help them not to experience their background as a source of shame but, instead, to recognize the resources in their difficult experiences and thus become professionals deeply and proudly committed to their work with socially deprived children and adults. We plan to orient our future workshops to this target group by developing a longer training in close cooperation with our partner institutions. Furthermore, we would like to begin working with professional adults and adapt the training to their needs.

The training materials are available from the following. (Please note they are written all in Hungarian.)
Training material_Hungarian

[1] Lipsky, Michael. Street-Level Bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Services. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation, 1980.


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Finding a Lasting Solution: Insights From the Forum on Violent Extremism and Radicalization in East Africa

May 31, 2017
By null

Dr. Jacinta Mwende, Majune Socrates, Steve Muthusi, and Alexina Marucha, four Sylff fellows from the University of Nairobi, initiated and implemented a forum titled “Understanding the ‘Push’ and ‘Pull’ Factors Underlying Violent Extremism and Radicalization among the Youth in East Africa” on December 8 and 9, 2016, at the University of Nairobi’s Chiromo Campus. The forum gathered 35 young leaders from African countries including 10 former and current Sylff fellows from Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The participants identified the fundamental causes of the grave problem of violent extremism and youth radicalization and suggested the importance of small but meaningful steps taken by individuals that will bring a major change in their community, country, and region.

 * * *

The twenty-first century has experienced more rapid changes and crises than the previous ones. While the past centuries saw more interstate conflicts, recent crises have centered on intrastate dynamics. The challenge of violent extremism did not emerge yesterday; in earlier times, though, minimal attention was given to violent extremism and radicalization. The horrors of 9/11 set off a spate of violent extremism in various countries and led to the emergence of terror groups pursuing various agendas with political and social motives. Civilians have been the main victims, but members of security forces have also lost their lives in the struggle to protect their beloved countries.

Extremism in East Africa

With the recent development and growing pull of violent extremism and radicalization, a significant number of youths in East Africa have joined extremist groups. Kenya, for instance, has witnessed a sharp increase in individuals joining extremist groups since 2011, when attacks were launched on Kenyan soil. The government responded by “putting the boots” in Somalia. Since then, more troops have been added while extremist activities have escalated, resulting in the loss of lives and destruction of property. Furthermore, the government’s move to target Muslims of Somali origin has led more youths, the majority of them being Muslims, to join these extremist groups in revolt against marginalization. Religious and tribal identity, which are most prevalent in Kenya, have highly accelerated the rate at which radicalization is spreading.

The states are therefore faced with a major problem that, if not curbed in good time, will claim their youths to violent extremism. The Sylff Peace Forum held on December 8 and 9, 2016, brought together 35 citizens of the African continent to not only better understand the problem but provide solutions and a way forward to countering radicalization and violent extremism. Ten of the participants were former and current Sylff fellows (from Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo), while the rest comprised nationals of Kenya, Uganda, Somaliland, Tanzania, Sudan, and Burundi. Coming from diverse backgrounds, they included members of civil society, academic institutions, nongovernmental organizations, and government, as well as students.

During the two-day forum, various speakers—among them were Professor Bruno Kaimwa, Barbra Natifu, Dr. Hassan Kinyua, Dr. Patrick Maluki, and Debarl Inea—gave various insights, prompting heated discussions that delved into experiences of the individuals present and literature that they had read.

Photo session of all attendees on day two. Photo session of all attendees on day two.


To start off the discussions, Dr. Patrick Maluki gave a presentation on the “Political and Economic Perspectives of Radicalization” in which the definition of radicalization was deeply explored. According to Maluki, a radicalized person is one who is tricked, swayed, and seduced into taking radical beliefs. Hence, radicalization is a process whereby individuals adopt extreme political and religious beliefs once they join a certain group with radical ideologies. The group believes that change is necessary and that violence is the means by which this can be achieved.

Professor Bruno Kaimwa, a former Sylff fellow from the DRC, extended the discussion to the state of violence and radicalization in eastern DRC. Barbra Natifu outlined the role of historical injustice in perpetuating violent extremism, while Dr. Hassan Kinyua outlined the link between religion and radicalization. Lastly, the role of media in radicalization and extremism was reviewed by Debarl Inea.

Based on the discussions by current and former Sylff fellows and others, the following factors were identified as drivers of radicalization and extremism among youth: social networks, which are useful in the recruitment of new members; poverty and unemployment; corruption and favors in the public sector; and marginalization due to religious and ethnic affiliations, a big contributor where some communities have been sidelined not only by the government but also by parts of the private sector. Denial of political and civil rights by the government and lack of opportunities to be heard by the government or leaders in power have also fed radicalization. Selective application of the law to citizens, which is harsher on youth, is another one of the major reasons why radicalization has become rampant.


What can be done to solve the crisis at hand? That is the major question facing states. Although efforts are being made to curb extremism, the real challenge on the ground is complex and difficult. Fleeing of countries to places where the ideology is more profound is what is being experienced. One speaker noted that the marginalization of Muslims by governments is real. A refugee from the DRC shared an experience where, while crossing the border using the same pass as that of other refugees, his Muslim comrade faced tougher scrutiny than him.

The exploitation of religion and tribalism has led to the spread of violent extremism and radicalization. Remedies include holding peace forums, promoting education, addressing the challenge of youth unemployment, strengthening governance, and bringing the leaders on board as well as getting them to understand that ideological wars need to be fought using the mind and not physical force. Only when we have achieved this will we eventually see violent extremism and radicalization eradicated from society.

“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” ―Martin Luther King Jr.

Facebook page of the University of Nairobi Chapter: https://www.facebook.com/Sasakawa-Fellows-University-of-Nairobi-397988557219449/


Dr. Jacinta Mwende Maweu received Sylff fellowship in 2004–2006 to pursue an MA in Communication Studies at the University of Nairobi. She is currently a lecturer in philosophy and media studies at the university, having obtained a PhD from Rhodes University. Her areas of interest include critical thinking, socio-political philosophy, leadership and governance, media ethics, political economy of the media, mass media and human rights, peace journalism, and media and society.

Majune Kraido Socrates received Sylff fellowship in 2013–2015 to pursue an MA in Economics at the University of Nairobi, where he is currently a PhD student in economics. His areas of interest include international economics, public economics, institutional economics, and econometrics. Socrates is also a sprinter who specializes in the 100 meters, 400 meters, and 4 x 100-meter relay.

Alexina Marucha received Sylff fellowship in 2014–2016 to pursue an MA in Communication Studies at the University of Nairobi. Her areas of specialization are event organizing and coordination, media and public relations, and development communication.

Stephen Muthusi Katembu received Sylff fellowship in 2014–2016 to pursue a Master of Psychology degree at the University of Nairobi. He is passionate about helping to uplift the lives of all by working together with individuals, institutions, corporations, and communities. He furnishes them with information through training and education for personal, professional, and community development with the aim of leading to improved livelihoods and a better-informed, healthy, and peaceful society.