From Diffa to Paris: A young teacher’s rise to global activist

by Astrid Ansah

on April 17, 2017

On a hot, dry Thursday morning, a young teacher and Master’s student, Abdoul Karim Amadou Maman, walked out of his house in Niamey, Niger and made his way to a training for young leaders. Walking into the session, he had no idea that his life was about to change forever.

In 2012, Abdoul Karim attended Search for Common Ground’s USAID-supported Peace through Development II (PDEV II) training which focused on building the capacity of 5,000 young leaders in youth mobilization, participatory theatre, conflict analysis and transformation, and community engagement through presentations, group work, and performance exercises.

Conducted from 2011 to 2016 in partnership with IRD, Equal Access International, and the Salam Institute for Peace and Justice, PDEV II was created to combat violent extremism in the Sahel by promoting the power of youth action. Search’s training provided a place for young Nigerien leaders to develop action plans that would use non-violent approaches to transform their communities and promote social cohesion in the Sahel. With the tools he acquired from this training, Abdoul Karim began to mobilize his community through mobile and participatory theatre.

As a teacher, Abdoul Karim wanted to make a meaningful impact on youth, but felt that his reach was limited. The notable work of his father’s peacebuilding efforts within his own community always inspired Abdoul Karim, so when tensions within local “fadas” increased (areas in Niger where unemployed youth meet for conversation and tea), he knew he had to do more.

“In high school, my friends and I attended forums and conducted sensibility trainings, but our work was limited because we didn’t have enough resources, experience, connections, or tools,” he said. “Meeting Search is really what started me off and triggered my current work. With Search’s training, I learned more skills and gained more resources, which helps me accomplish more [in the community].”

Since his training with Search, Abdoul Karim has successfully mobilized hundreds of youth throughout the Sahel and is now recognized as a prominent youth leader in the region, particularly in rural and hard-to-reach areas. His community-wide events have garnered participation from 400-800 people using innovative tools like film, music, and theatre to engage youth and their communities.

With the support of Search for Common Ground, Abdoul Karim engaged youth members from each district to produce a song around the Nigerien 2016 elections, “On est ensemble,” which built on the idea that although different, each concern in the community was collectively shared and could be resolved together. The song was broadcasted by major radio stations and television networks in various languages and continues to reinforce messages of peace within the community.

In addition to his youth-targeted activities, Abdoul Karim also works to promote social cohesion within the greater community. During the Nigerian election of 2016, Abdoul Karim joined fellow youth leaders to serve as observers for the electoral commission, CENI (Commission Électorale Nationale Indépendante). In this role, Abdoul Karim participated in the early warning electoral process, where he reported suspicious behavior to the local commission and organized sensibility efforts targeted towards youth to decrease election-related violence.

Although busy, his passion for impacting youth continues to grow. Abdoul Karim is now traveling the world to amplify the voices of Nigerian youth. He recently stopped in Paris, France, where he was invited by Plan International France to speak at the French Senate about his extensive experience as a leader in Niger and throughout the Sahel. Abdoul Karim later traveled to Brussels where he met with European policy and decision-makers to share his perspectives on the concerning deterioration of the Sahel band and to highlight the importance of grassroot youth initiatives in tackling existing negative dynamics.

During his stay in France, as a humble hero, Abdoul Karim insisted on his role as a spokesperson for his peers, rather than as a leader. He also highlighted his successes in transforming the perspectives of originally violent groups by giving them a platform to voice their ideas and offering them trainings that could help them take peaceful action in their communities.

“During conflict, the world typically sees youth as a part of the problem, not as a way to the solution,” Abdoul Karim said passionately. “[but many have good ideas and just want to be heard].”

Abdoul Karim appreciated the opportunity he was given to share his story and was pleasantly surprised by the similarities between the lives of immigrants and youth in France and his experiences at home.

“Although we live in different locations, it was interesting to see the similarities. The struggles that a Sierra Leonean, a Syrian, and a Brazilian, have in France are extremely similar to the struggles one faces in Niger – it helps you understand that you are not alone [in your struggle] and it keeps you going.”

Abdoul Karim is now back to work in his community, sharing the positive words and advice he received from donors and partners as he works to give more youth a voice.

“[I cannot] create miracles, but [my] responsibility is to make life better [for those around me].” As he continues his work throughout the Sahel, Search for Common Ground and his community can only delight in the impactful work this hero will consistently complete.