Papatoetoe High REACT presentation of Boko Haram and Darfur

The REACT programme aims to raise awareness and engage with students about armed conflict in the world. The programme does this by creating a fruitful dialogue between the students so they are able to understand the conflicts in their complexity. On Monday July 27th The REACT team presented to 30 students at Papatoetoe High School, where we focused on two conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa: the ongoing conflict by the group Boko Haram, and the genocide in Darfur. These are complicated issues that cannot be understood as a struggle between good and bad people. Because of how difficult these subjects are, it was very encouraging to see some excellent discussion and to watch the students engage with these topics in a mature and thoughtful manner.
 
Northern Nigeria and the Sudan are regions that face ongoing instability. There are various factors that contribute to this instability, such as scarce natural resources, poverty and corruption.  In looking at the causes of conflict allows students to understand the reasons why people could come to commit such crimes. Engaging in such topics with High School ages students can be difficult, due to the sensitive nature of the topics. The idea was then to have the greatest interactions with the students possible but also between the students themselves.
 
When we discussed Boko Haram, a good surprise was having a Nigerian girl in the group who gave us her personal experience concerning the situation in Nigeria and the role Boko Haram has on the region as well as internationally. It also gave confidence to the other students to participate and answer the questions. The presentation was a living interaction with the students who really tried to understand the reasons and the different dimensions of the conflicts. In attempting to increase engagement with the students we discovered that students knew more about these topics than they imagined. Talking about the actions lead on social media for these conflicts helped them bringing up a few matters. Many students had heard of social media campaigns or well-known people who are involved in the crisis although they didn’t realized it was about the same topic at the beginning. 
 
When we moved on to discuss the current genocide in Darfur, the debate focused on the possibility of international military intervention and of prosecuting people who committed war crimes. Even though there was a general opinion that western military intervention and harsh penalties for the perpetrators of the genocide may not be the right solution for the conflict because these responses may only bring more violence. As an alternative, some students thought that reconciliation was more important than judging people for their crimes, even if they had to understand that what they’ve done was wrong. Such interpretations underline the difficulty to define the good and the bad parties in such conflicts when both sides committed crimes. Indeed, a lack of punishment for crimes against humanity and war crimes remains a burning issue because reconciliation isn’t always possible without it.
 
We also had some activities to demonstrate to the students how many people were affected by the genocide we asked them to stand and then we separated the students into groups that represented those who were forced to become refugees and those that needed food aid. In this way, making the students stand and separating them into groups, help them realize that most of them would need this aid to survive.
 
This presentation ended on a really positive conclusion because almost all students wanted to participate to the UN #childrennotsoldiers campaign by having pictures taken which will be posted on the UN website and on the REACT Peace Foundation Facebook page. The comments were mostly positive and it seems that they felt concerned by those conflicts and learned from the presentation, which is ultimately the reason for the REACT programme.