UNDP Kazakhstan presented its unique experience on preventing violence extremism (PVE) in Central Asia during the third Global PVE Conference in Oslo. The best practices on the ways how mental health and psychological support have been integrated in PVE initiatives in Kazakhstan were discussed at the session on June 15, which highlighted examples from Central Asia.

Mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) play a crucial role in building resilience of youth at risk of radicalisation. It  is also an important part of  PVE programming that allows to  explore the possible links between mental health and radicalization, as well as how psychosocial support – together with other activities such as livelihoods and capacity building – can help strengthen the impact of peacebuilding interventions . However, despite an increasing interest to MHPPS application to PVE programming, there are still many factors, challenges, and risks associated with it.

The rise of violent extremism and its spread across national borders has become a pressing issue for all Central Asian countries. Lack of employment opportunities, unrewarding employment, limited or constrained access to quality public services and justice, coupled with inability to participate in social and civic life lead to the overall sense of discrimination, alienation, and exclusion among youth in the region.

To eradicate isolation and expand economic opportunities of at-risk youth UNDP Kazakhstan launched an apprenticeship scheme in September 2019, providing job training and employment opportunities. The scheme falls within the regional project “Strengthening Community Resilience and Regional Cooperation for Prevention of Violent Extremism in Central Asia”, funded by the Government of Japan.

Within the 3-year UNDP regional initiative almost 600 vulnerable young people from remote localities of Kazakhstan took part in the subsidized 3-month apprenticeship programme.

Overall, around 600 local young people were matched to local companies and mentors. Vulnerable youth worked in enterprises, local government bodies, private businesses and civil society organisations. 331 employers from project areas participated in the Programme. Around 43,5 percent of young people have been employed on full-time basis after completion of the apprenticeship programme”, said Makhabbat Yespenova, Executive Director of KAMEDA Public Foundation, a responsible partner of UNDP within the apprenticeships scheme component in Kazakhstan.

In addition to professional skills, young people were equipped with leadership and emotional intelligence skills, in-demand professional and soft skills, and received counselling and mentorship support, which could help them to withstand extremism, develop and spread ‘positive’ narratives and overcome the isolation.

Youth noted the positive changes not only as obtaining professional skills, but also as the improvement of social interaction, finding new friends, joining interest groups, gaining confidence in their capabilities and improvement of the quality of life in general,” noted Ms. Yespenova.

Important work is being done within the European Union funded Project on Strengthening Resilience to Violent Extremism project (STRIVE Asia). We already provided mental health and psychological support to more than 160 young people, majority of them being young women, through a series of group sessions and individual consultations with qualified psychologists’, mentioned Konstantin Sokulskiy, Head of Governance Unit at UNDP Kazakhstan during the session on June 15.

Last autumn, during five-day group trainings and individual consultations vulnerable youth from Aktobe and Karaganda regions got informed about the risks of violent extremism, stress and work-life balance issues and effective communication with others. The most common issues voiced by the youth during the workshops included family related conflicts, negative emotions, persistent worry and fear about the future, search for self-identity, apathy, and depression.

As a next step, we need to take our preventive work to a next level. For example, we are still to find a way to measure impacts of our development interventions more accurately. Another challenge is achieving transformative and lasting impacts in extended geographical areas across the country’’, concluded Mr. Sokulskiy.

The third Global Conference on Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) in Oslo served a good platform to discuss the pressing issues of violent extremism, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought changes to many aspects. The conference participants heard the voices from the ground on how to promote positive alternatives to radicalization; discussed issues on risks and radicalisation defined in an era of digital revolution, developed insights on how inclusive dialogue and multi - stakeholder interaction could build trust for preventing violent extremism in the society.

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