Cure Violence is deeply concerned about the continuing violence in Syria. We are particularly concerned about the impact the current violence is having on increasing non-conflict-related violence — both now and after the end of the current conflict. With this in mind, Cure Violence partnered with American Islamic Congress and FREE Syria from June-October 2013 to train over 130 activists from Syria in the Cure Violence approach to interrupting and stopping the spread of violence.
The program focused on providing an understanding of the contagious nature of violence and the fact that it’s spread can be contained using proven methods. Although highly skeptical at first, the majority of those trained came to fully appreciate the theory and to see how it could apply in their own lives, even in the midst of an active conflict.
Working with our partners, we adapted existing training materials to address the situation in Syria. These adapted materials were shown to a focus group comprised of Syrians and Syrian expatriates and then further refined before presenting to the first cohort of Syrian trainees in Gaziantep, Turkey in August. Cure Violence staff trained two Syrian trainers who had been engaged by AIC for the explicit purposes of conducting these trainings. They did an excellent job of learning the material and presenting it to the trainees. From August-November, 2013, AIC carried out seven trainings, reaching 133 Syrians. The training participants were selected by the organization FREE Syria, largely through its network of Local Coordination Committees.
The training modules addressed the following topics:
- The theory of violence as a contagious disease;
- The Cure Violence approach to interrupting and stopping violence
- Identifying established connections and techniques for building relationship with targeted populations (networking);
- Mapping and detecting violent events;
- Conflict mediation and violence reduction strategies;
- Changing behaviors and norms around violence;
- Risk and safety for mediators.
AIC maintained contact with participants after the conclusion of the training and received valuable feedback from them through post-training surveys and a capstone event that was held at the end of October.
We are aware of several specific instances in which our trainees were able to use the training they received to interrupt potential violence in their home towns. We learned, for example, of a planned retaliation that was prevented by one of our participants. He reported that he would not have thought to get involved had he not participated in our training. In the Outcome Analysis Survey, after only one month of using the training in the field, 70% of the respondents claimed to use the skills they learned in our training in an actual incident. This is much higher than we had anticipated or than we would have hoped. It leads us to believe that there is a great potential impact of a program of this nature even in a conflict situation.
During the capstone event, participants reported that the scientific understanding of transmission of violence was the most valuable thing they learned. The participants stated that they would have liked to receive more training in building negotiation skills and said the program would have the most value if it could be continued on the long term.
Cure Violence is interested in continuing its work involving Syria and believes that the health approach could be an important part of preventing retaliatory violence, particularly after the end of the current conflict.