Resilience among Violence Affected Youth

‘We Have Hope’: Resilience Among Violence Affected Youth

WPF Senior Fellow, Dyan Mazurana, has written a manuscript, `We Have Hope’: Resilience Among Violence Affected Youth. It draws on Mazurana’s more than two decades of working with children and youth in conflict-affected areas. She invites readers to slip behind the statistics that often dominate our understanding of ‘children in conflict,’ and to hear what these young people have to say. Mazurana reveals the devastating challenges kids face, and how some of them, despite all odds, thrive. A book of enormous depth and empathy, it teaches readers that the first step to transformation is paying attention.


Overview | Audio/Visual | About the Author | Teaching | Scholarly Publications


A group of girls in Afghanistan, circa 2003 (courtesy of Dyan Mazurana)

FACT: Most young people that survive war and violence go on to lead meaningful and relatively successful lives. 

FACT: Media accounts, films and books are filled with real, heart-wrenching accounts of the horrors young people face in war.

How do we make sense of this seeming disconnect?

A different approach to young people living in violence

Meeting truly complicated and inspiring young people in every armed conflict-affected location I have worked in over the last twenty years made me wonder what it is that makes some young people able to not only survive but to thrive in the face of such tremendous odds?  Is there something special about them?  Is it something about their environment? Or is it a particular combination of both?

A young Uganda mother with a child, returned from rebel captivity, as she sat for an interview with Dyan.  (Courtesy of Dyan Mazurana).

Curious to know more, I looked at what the research on war-affected young people had to say.  Here’s what I found: the vast majority of research on war-affected young people has focused on the ones who are suffering and not functioning well.  Given the deprivations and horrors that many children and youth encounter during war, it’s hardly surprising that most research looks to understand how this harms them and identify what could be done in an attempt to protect them from the effects of war, or at least lessen the effects.

My book takes a very different approach to young people living in violence.  It is grounded in the belief that children’s and youth’s voices, perspectives, actions, and ideas are important and should be heard.  Their stories may surprise us, causing us to think and act differently.  Through their voices we learn about these young people, their families and friends, and the context in which they live and grow.  We hear what they prioritize and how they strategize to meet their priorities.  We discover what they actually do to try and protect themselves, their families and their communities from violence and harm.  We begin to understand what helps them to cope, mature and thrive.  We explore their goals, hopes, and plans for a better life.  We see their attempts, often against great odds, to create a better future.  In fact, as this book shows, these young people may be the very ones we turn to in order to understand and address some of the most serious problems besetting their countries and our world. 

In this book the young people who are our guides are affected by violence and war from Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, Iraq, Nepal, Palestine, South Sudan, Uganda, the United Kingdom and Vietnam, among others.  Many of the stories I share, and the insights that I draw from them, I collected over two decades carrying out field research with young people living through armed conflict.  The young guides who lead and enlighten us through this book are not the ones we usually (or ever?) hear or turn to for insight and solutions.  Yet their lived realities and insights are direct, piercing and, once you encounter them, unforgettable.

Audio and Visual

An audio introduction to the stories

A young girl in Afghanistan, circa 2003. The girl asked to have her picture taken, surprising Dyan, the girl lifted her veil to smile directly at the camera. (courtesy of Dyan Mazurana)

Part 1: Introduction, ‘The heart and soul of this book’

 This book is grounded in the belief that children’s perspectives, actions and ideas are important and should be heard. They surprise us. Through their voices we begin to understand how they cope and learn to thrive.

Dyan Mazurana introduces us to the children’s whose stories we will hear. She describes her research in war zones around the world that led her to meet these young people.


Dyan Mazurana, as a young research about to embark on fieldwork, 1999 (courtesy of Dyan Mazurana).

Part 2: No Lost Generation

Dyan introduces us to Kushanu, who is an “untouchable” Dalit and a child soldier from Nepal, whose musical talent sustains him through difficult times. Dyan met him while interviewing insurgents for a research project. Told not to attend a Maoist musical performances, he invites Dyan to hear him perform in a near-empty hotel rooftop terrace. The night was warm and clear, full of stars. Hotel staff and people on the roofs of neighboring buildings followed the music to listen as well. 

Dr. Patrick Opio, with Dyan’s children, Ayele and Hadia, in Uganda, 2011. The children are helping Dr. Opio unpack donated medical supplies for his clinic that treats the war wounded in Uganda (courtesy of Dyan Mazurana).

Part 3: Charles and James

Meet Charles, who had moved from being a war-impacted, street child war, to a young adult who runs an organization assisting the war wounded in northern Uganda. He encounters a young boy, James, as he seeks to help others needing emotional and health care as a result of war wounds. Their stories cross with that of Dr. Patrick Opio, who tends to war wounded. 

A boy selling flowers in Afghanistan, circa 2003. (Courtesy of Dyan Mazurana).

Part 4: Hakim

‘He is going to kill you’. An American, special forces soldier announced to Dyan, while she was in Pakistan, on her way to returning to Afghanistan for research. He nodded at Dyan’s Afghan colleague, Hakim, repeating his warning. Hakim, Dyan tell us, is the adult version of the child in war–a poor child, a displaced child, a child groom married to a child bride, a child father, and a child soldier. He grew into an intelligent and astute colleague, and a doting father.

Part 5: Ida

About Dyan Mazurana

Dyan Mazurana with her children, Colorado. (Courtesy of Dyan Mazurana)

Dyan Mazurana is a Research Professor at both the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts University, US and a Senior Fellow at the World Peace Foundation. She has published six books and over 100 scholarly and policy articles, and international reports. She publishes in the top scholarly journals within the fields of political science, international relations, public health/general medicine, gender studies, and development, with top scholarly publishers in these same fields for my books and book chapters, including Cambridge University Press, Harvard University Press, Oxford University Press, and Polity Press. She has authored eight high-level reports for the United Nations Secretary-General and the United-Nations Security Council. Her publications have been translated into over 30 languages and she regularly gives interviews to media, including Associated Press, Al Jazeera, BBC (television and radio), Canadian Broadcast Corporation, CNN, France Television, The Guardian, International Public Radio, Fox News, MSNBC, National Public Radio, The New York Times, Public Radio International, and Reuters, among others. 

Her overall work focuses on the impact of armed conflict on women and children, and she worked in Afghanistan, the Balkans, Nepal, and southern, west and east Africa. She has a Ph.D. and an M.A. in women’s studies from Clark University, where she studied International Relations, Comparative Politics, International Humanitarian Law, International Human Rights Law and Comparative Languages.



Mazurana utilized the scholarship she explored in writing `We Have Hope’ to create a new graduate course at Fletcher, “Children, Violence, Protection & Resilience.”  The course was unanimously approved by Fletcher’s Academic Council and was offered in Spring 2020.  Over 50 students enrolled from Fletcher, Friedman and Brandeis.  Mazurana split the course into two sections to offer it as a seminar.


Related scholarly publications

Dyan Mazurana’s publications developed through her World Peace Foundation Fellowship use gender analysis to focus on the violence experienced by civilian populations, and the ways that perpetrators are motivated and they violence they inflict.  Her work then investigates how both victims and former perpetrators emerge from armed conflict and a range of challenges they face in the lives moving forward because of their wartime experiences.

For a full listing of Dr. Mazurana’s publications, beyond those related to her WPF fellowship, visit the Feinstein International Center.

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