In radicalisation studies, the power of narratives addressed by extremist groups is often attributed to the sense of belonging it provides to young people. It is one of the reasons why we cannot say young people without access to good education or with low income are more vulnerable to extremist ideologies. In fact, every individual wants to feel he/she is part of a certain community or country. When someone feels discriminated, he/she becomes vulnerable to messages that incite hate towards certain groups. In the end, extremist ideologies have damaged social cohesion in a way that we are currently living into a vicious circle of hate.
Words Heal the World was born as an attempt to provide young people with a sense of belonging (for good, I say, because they feel they are effectively part of a community that spreads love instead of hate) and empower them to use their skills to challenge hate on the internet. At first, it was very focused on actions developed to tackle extremism on the internet – the main medium used by extremists to spread their messages. However, recently we started engaging with local communities and students from elementary and high school. The results have been so impressive that have driven me to share a few words about it with you.
In three days, I had the chance to talk and listen to more than 150 students who live in Petropolis (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). I designed the workshop Words Heal the World in a way that I encourage students to come up with strategies to tackle different types of extremism. In three days, I delivered this workshop to both public and private schools (Bom Jesus Canarinhos and Sao Judas Tadeu School), and in each of them, I was impressed with:
- the number of creative ideas that appeared
- their willingness to know more about extremism
- how they presented their strategies with great happiness and willing to move forward with them
- how they were glad because they were been heard
Students from different religions, backgrounds, colors came up with ideas to challenge racism, Islamophobia, antisemitism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and religious intolerance towards African-Brazilian religions. Some of the ideas will be implemented by Words Heal in the following months.
I always knew how powerful young people are, but this workshop enabled me to see this power in action, and now it is time to share it with the whole world! With social media, the creativeness of young people have become even more powerful and it is time to encourage them to use it for peace. Some organisations have been doing an amazing work empowering youth and making them realize how talented they are. Activities like these should be boosted because once young people realize their creativity can make a difference in our society, we’ll effectively turn the vicious circle hate into a virtuous circle of peace.
By Beatriz Buarque (founder of Words Heal the World)