Integrity Clubs: young people think it’s cool to learn about integrity and being able to make a difference

edward.irby Aug 9, 2016
Integrity Club members from the Pygmy community near Kalemie monitoring the construction of a primary school

At Integrity Action we love community engagement as much as we love integrity education. So when the two come together in the shape of Integrity Clubs we believe that everyone is a winner! Integrity Clubs are an initiative which combines elements from Integrity Action’s two main programmes: Community Integrity Building and Integrity Education. This allows participants to learn about the theoretical side of integrity whilst also having the opportunity to become practically involved in identifying and resolving every day integrity issues.

It all started a couple of years ago, when our partner from Democratic Republic of Congo Foundation Chirezi (FOCHI) piloted a project establishing 10 Integrity Clubs in secondary schools in South Kivu. Since then, the number of clubs starting out in our focus countries has taken Integrity Action by storm. We now have Integrity Clubs in Palestine, Nepal, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, and our Afghan partner Integrity Watch Afghanistan will soon, well, join the club.

But let’s start from the very beginning. FOCHI started Integrity Clubs but it was another one of our partners who came up with the idea of getting young people involved in monitoring. Monitoring is a grown up thing to do or so people thought. It is about visiting infrastructure projects, collecting evidence, understanding complex documents, bringing together stakeholders and finding solutions to fraud, mismanagement and corruption problems. Most people assumed that no boy or girl would have the slightest interest in engaging with this type of activity. However, the Teacher Creativity Centre (TCC), our Palestinian partner, has now been training 15 to 18 years old students as monitors for several year. The students love what they are doing, whilst also achieving impressive results along the way! TCC trains economic and computer science teachers in social auditing techniques and then teachers take their students to monitor services and infrastructures across the West Bank. Plus, last year teachers and students from Gaza started monitoring humanitarian and reconstruction projects in the Gaza Strip.

Despite young people being involved in monitoring, they were not part of any formal set up. We also had concerns about their age. We wondered whether the community, let alone local government officials and contractors would take them seriously? When FOCHI started their pilot project in 10 schools, training 180 students on integrity education and community monitoring, our partners and us were not sure whether it was going to be a successful initiative. When asked, FOCHI Coordinator Flory Kazingufu, said: “When we started we did not know what was possible. Today we know that communities can champion their own development and now we are bolder with our project. We empower school age students to be the drivers of their own future.”

It is indeed a bold project to establish an extra 100 Integrity Clubs in Kinshasa, South and North Kivu but the pilot is well on the way. These days’ students meet every week after school to discuss issues related to integrity, read and learn about corruption and monitor projects. 100 clubs means a staggering 1,800 students learning about integrity and monitoring development projects worth millions of dollars. Meanwhile our other partner in DRC, Commission Diocésaine Justice et Paix (CDJP), is also establishing Integrity Clubs in Katanga province. They are making sure that no one is left behind by including students from the most marginalised groups within their clubs. On top of that, they are also in the process of establishing Integrity Clubs at university level by partnering with Kalemie University.

Now, it is a long way from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Nepal, but not if you have a well-run network of partners. In this case, it takes the form of an on-line group. And so, as if by magic, well not really since our Nepali partner CAHURAST worked really hard to make this happen, Integrity Clubs have been put in place in a number of Nepali districts. Students learn about integrity, compete in essay competitions, song contests and monitor their own student scholarship funds. Some of them are so proficient that they will start monitoring reconstruction projects in areas affected by the 2015 earthquake. Another Nepali partner of ours Youth Initiative, will soon be joining them, together with a brand new partner Our Attempts For People Welfare (OAFPW).

No, we did not forget about Palestine, where our partners first began involving young people in monitoring. Now students in Palestine will have their own Integrity Clubs which will enable them to combine what they have learnt from integrity education and community integrity building. Our two partners the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem and the Teacher Creativity Centre will join forces to cover as many schools as possible within in the West Bank. Finally, our Kenyan partner the National Taxpayers Association has also started establishing Integrity Clubs in collaboration with the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Committee, and we are excited that it is now Afghanistan’s turn to join the momentum on Integrity Clubs.

At Integrity Action we believe that all it takes to be a good monitor is commitment, time and energy, and after considering all the progress that has been made we are more than confident that teaching young people about integrity and how to apply it is the right way to go.

Integrity Club members in Qalqiliya (Palestine) engaged in outdoors activities