In Tunisia, high levels of youth unemployment, drug use, grievances with the government and an expected influx of terrorist fighters returning home from foreign conflicts have left many young people vulnerable to recruitment by violent extremist organizations.
To build resilience against radicalization and violent extremism in the face of these converging factors, a pilot project called ETTYSAL used an intensive and evidence-based family counseling program with 100 high-risk youth.
ETTYSAL, which translates to “reaching out” in Arabic, focused on changing risky behaviors and strengthening protective factors for youth in vulnerable neighborhoods in the cities of Manouba and Kasserine.
The 18-month pilot project was funded by the U.S. State Department and implemented by Creative Associates International.
High-risk youth participated in one-year family counseling and group activities, programming modeled after Creative’s crime and violence prevention projects in Latin America and the Caribbean.
ETTYSAL evaluated 600 youth using an adapted version of the Youth Services Eligibility Tool (YSET), which has been used in Los Angeles, Latin America and the Caribbean to measure youth risk for engaging with gangs. The diagnostic was adjusted to the Tunisian context, and risk factors including social vulnerability and religious extremism were added to the tool. Of 600 youth tested, 100 presented at least six of the 12 risk factors that placed them at risk and were placed in the pilot.
A dozen trained counselors worked with youth one-on-one and in conjunction with their families to identify and change risky behaviors, based on individualized service plans for each youth. Counselors also worked to strengthen family cohesion, a sense of belonging and parents’ role in shaping youths’ behaviors through activities like building a family tree.
In its short lifespan, the ETTYSAL project made a significant impact in the lives of these youth. After completing the family counseling, 95 percent of participants were no longer eligible for the program, meaning they showed fewer than six risk factors and were no longer at high risk for radicalization to violent extremism.
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Jenny Willier Murphy
Georgina Mendoza McDowell