Two years of community reconciliation work – achievements and highlights

Over the past two years our community reconciliation work has been quietly making an impact in the diverse groups that we have been working with. We want to spotlight some of the stories and successes of this work. A very special thank you to Angharad Thain who led this programme alongside our collaborators and partners.

What we’ve achieved

Report written by Angharad Thain, Programme Coordinator

Over the last two years, the Community Reconciliation programme, working in collaboration with Search for Common Ground UK, has supported leaders from a number of diaspora groups to name, understand and transform community conflicts into new relationships and hope for a living a different future. From supporting a transnational civil society network of Colombians to raise awareness of the ongoing peace process back home, to facilitating deep story-sharing and building understanding and trust within the Zimbabwean diaspora, convening intergenerational dialogues across clans among the Somali community in Islington, and exploring the unique contribution of women in building peace in the Sri Lankan context, the programme has sought to meet a wide range of needs.

This work over the last two years would not have been possible without our invaluable partnership of Search for Common Ground UK who have provided international links, resources and facilitation expertise that have bolstered St Ethelburga’s experience and given the programme a truly global reach. We have had the joy of collaborating with Steering Groups with members both in London and abroad in each country of origin, and learned from those in the heat of conflict, those involved in campaigns and referendums, ongoing protests and simmering violence; those who wake every day and must make a counter-cultural choice to build peace instead of being hardened by war.

It has been a privilege to meld this wisdom to support diaspora who reside in London, and must grapple with the same histories and conflicts that still beset Colombo, Harare, Bogota and Mogadishu. We live in an ever-globalising world, and the pain of these conflicts is never far from central London. But support can also be global, and that is what can sustain us and give us renewed energy for building a sustainable peace.

Please read on for some highlights of our work, which we hope gives you a flavour of the courage, depth and sincerity of what has been achieved- and empowering hope for what lies ahead. Never has it been more important to live out an alternative narrative of hope over fear, and love over hatred in our times. We believe the stories of these communities can inspire us in the darkness, and show us how against the odds, we can build a new story in a divided world, and see moments of transformation amidst pain.

The Community Reconciliation programme has been proud to support a visionary transnational civil society network, Rodeemos el Dialogo (“let us surround the dialogues”) ReD consists of Colombians and friends of Colombia who support the Colombian peace talks, and believe in the power of a culture of dialogue to build understanding in the midst of pain, and to affect transformation on a national scale.

At such a critical and momentous time, both for the diaspora and for the nation, ReD have frequently been a counter-cultural voice for dialogue, understanding and empathy on the path to securing a peace deal. Through Peace Breakfasts in Bogota and teaching peace pedagogy in educational settings, ReD have brought together individuals from all sections of Colombian society to challenge the myths around the peace process and ask what a sustainable peace looks like for future generations. It has been a privilege to support ReD to raise their voice in London.

Highlights of the programme have included facilitating internal conflict transformation processes and training in dialogue tools, hosting a Skype at St Ethelburga’s with the FARC delegation during peace negotiations in Havana, and supporting ReD to run a significant conference on the role of in building peace, Education, Peace and Conflict in conjunction with Cambridge University.

Highlights of some public events include Lessons on forgiveness: Building sustainable peace in post-accord Colombia in collaboration with Plan Perdon and a screening of Chocolate of Peace: Cocoa challenging violence with producer Gwen Burnyeat, exploring the journey of the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado in Colombia.

Most recently, in the wake of the Columbian referendum result, we were delighted to support a growing community of Colombian artists and musicians seeking to use culture and music to raise awareness of the need for peace in Colombia. Events included Colombia: Peace, Art and Reconciliation, and a peace vigil using poetry, dance, song and prayer to celebrate peace, and involving wider networks in the Colombian diaspora in London.

‘I would like to thank St Ethelburga’s for the patience and dedication and support to ReD. I do not have the words to express my gratitude to the Centre for the dialogues and training you have given us.’

Javier Ramirez, ReD Coordinator, London

Intergenerational dialogues in Islington

Our work with the Somali diaspora has been in partnership with Somali Initiatives for Dialogue and Democracy and Initiatives of Change and involved running a series of intergenerational dialogues for the community based in Finsbury Park, North London.

This programme of dialogues stemmed from consultations with the Somali community across the UK, recognising that one of the biggest divides faced by the community is intergenerational, with 2nd generational Somalis in London more invested in their lives here, speaking English and facing the economic and social challenges familiar to many young people in Britain. Older Somalis are often less invested in British society, with lower levels of English and many still hoping to return home to Somalia at some point in the future.

These challenges cause conflicting identities across generations and a lack of understanding across generations of the challenges faced in daily life. Often these conflicts remain unaddressed in families, affecting both younger and older Somalis. These challenges could be addressed in a safe and secure space of facilitated dialogue, giving opportunity for new ways of communicating, focusing on building empathy and understanding across the age groups.

The dialogues ran over three days in Islington and brought together a cross-generational and cross-clan group of over 60 people in a series of facilitated dialogue workshops to increase understanding of the challenges faced by each generation, build relationships across generations through dialogue, share skills and tools for more effective communication around challenging issues and inspire the community to tackle intergenerational conflict going forward.

‘When we contribute to the family, we contribute to the community, and we can involve the policymakers. Workshops like this can be a platform where we can raise our concerns. What we learned here, we will take to our homes, to the community, the mosques and the churches. We have to begin where we can begin, talking to each other without judgement. It will have a positive impact on the wider community, and continuing sessions like this will have more impact on the community.’

-Yussuf Ahmed Islington Somali Community (ISC)

The dialogues included sharing personal stories both within and between generations and sharing case studies of intergenerational reconciliation; separate facilitated groups of older and younger participants, creating a list of concerns to deliver to the other generation, enabled mixed-generation groups to brainstorm ideas for working on these concerns together and a chance to share the concerns and solutions generated with political and community representatives, including Islington Borough Council and Jeremy Corbyn MP.

Work leading on from these dialogues has included a second set of trainings reflecting on cross-generational leadership, and what is means to be a strong and effective leader in the Somali community. These linked evenings were held in Islington Town Hall with the support and involvement of Cllr Rakhia Ismail of Islington Borough Council. These dialogues involved a smaller group of community youth worker and figures of influence within the local Somali community, focusing on practical ways to tackle the challenges of communication and belonging across the generations.

The second strand of our work with the Somali diaspora involved supporting a new group emerging from the Agenda for Reconciliation network of Initiatives of Change, called Nabad Curiye (which means ‘Creators of Peace’ in Somali). Their aim is to grow peacebuilding and conflict transformation skills among both the Somali diaspora in London and back home in Somalia to build a culture of peaceful resolution of conflict. Our support to Nabad Curiye has included pro-bono mediation skills training and trauma training, with the opportunity for Somali peacebuilders to address questions about facing trauma both within the Somali diaspora here and in Somalia, how it can be recognised, acknowledged and addressed within the context of peacebuilding work, and both the challenges and the possibilities for transferring trauma healing skills across cultures.

Our consultations with the Zimbabwean diaspora community in collaboration with the Britain Zimbabwe Society and Search for Common Ground Zimbabwe led to a series of incredibly rich, moving and deep dialogues exploring identity, history and conflict transformation, building relationships across differences by providing a safe space for dialogue that has been totally absent until now in the Zimbabwean diaspora community.

The dialogues have brought together Shona, Ndebele and white Zimbabweans to start the process of building empathy, understanding and trust across deep-rooted historical divides in a safe space for encounter. This work has been among the most important we have carried out this year and has evolved into something greater than we possibly envisaged at the outset.

The process involved five linked dialogue days covering deep story-sharing around experiences both leaving Zimbabwe and being a member of the diaspora here in the UK; reflections on identity and relationship to conflict; asking what are the key issues that Zimbabweans need to talk about here in the diaspora; space to share personal stories of political violence, and loss and linking these individual stories back to the wider collective story of Zimbabwe.

‘You have brought life, light, hope and helped us begin to reach out to each other. Thank you.’

-Wiz Bishop, participant

Out of these have emerged themes including rebuilding trust, memorialization of the past, reparation and restitution, structural and political change in Zimbabwe, acknowledgement and commemoration of the Gukurahundi massacres in the 1980s, political violence today and the role of the diaspora today. We hope that this work with the Zimbabwean diaspora will continue during 2017, if funding allows.

Our work with the Sri Lankan community, in collaboration with Search for Common Ground Sri Lanka, International Alert and Creators of Peace, has been unique in bringing Sri Lankan women together from across Tamil and Sinhalese backgrounds, faiths and generations to empower and equip them to be agents of peace and reconciliation in their own lives. Women’s voices have often been missing and marginalised in previous work with the Sri Lankan diaspora in the UK, and are often still missing in political and community discussion in Sri Lanka. Creating a space for a women’s dialogue was in response to a real need expressed in our consultations with partner organisations, and enabled the group to discuss issues normally considered taboo, including the role of women in society, challenges of gender and caste politics, and domestic and sexual violence.

The dialogues involved sharing unique personal stories of peacebuilding, and of conflict; deep listening and story sharing on identity, and what it means to be Sri Lankan and to live in the diaspora in London; reflections on what creates and destroys peace and on issues of concern in their lives, wider society and back home in Sri Lanka, and a Skype link up with Search for Common Ground Colombo sharing experience and expertise across the London and Sri Lankan contexts.

‘Hearing the stories of the women in the group, learning new skills to equip us in our daily lives and in ways for us to bring our ‘piece of peace’ to Sri Lanka, gives me cause for hope.’

– Sri Lanka dialogues participant

As well as working individually with the five of the diaspora groups we have had the privilege of working with this year, we wanted to create a space for them to share experience, to hear and learn from one another’s stories.

In all the groups we worked with our participants expressed the need to listen deeply across difference as a key peacebuilding skill and a practice that needs to be honed and improved to ensure more effective working across differences of generation, clan, background, religion, political affiliation. To meet this need, we entered into collaboration the Compassionate Listening Project to offer a space to practice and deepen the skill of deep listening, to share stories across the diverse diaspora communities. This has been a chance for those who are leaders in their contexts and passionate about developing their deep listening skills to go on an intense journey together, and to learn from one another’s experiences and to embed these skills to use in their peacebuilding contexts into the future.

The Community Reconciliation programme 2015-17 would not have been possible without a number of key collaborators and supporters. We are incredibly grateful for the generous funding from City Bridge Trust. St Ethelburga’s would in particular like to thank Lizzie Nelson, Director of Search for Common Ground UK, for her continued expertise, dedication and enthusiasm for the programme, and for the expertise of colleagues at Search Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka. Special thanks to Amina Khalid for her partnership in facilitating the Somali inter-generational dialogues in Islington, and to Kate Monkhouse at Creators of Peace and colleagues at International Alert for their collaboration and support for the Sri Lankan women’s dialogues. Gratitude to Laura Singer and Sarah Harland of Britain Zimbabwe Society without whose initial support the Zimbabwe dialogues would not have taken place, and to all our Zimbabwe Steering Group for their commitment and guidance on the scope and contents of the Zimbabwe dialogues. Thanks to Ann Shearer for her pro bono support enabling us to offer trauma training for Nabad Curiye, and to Sally Norris for partnering with us to offer the Compassionate Listening training to the participants in this programme. Finally thanks to Simon Keyes for sharing his wisdom and knowledge and helping us to draw continued important links between theories of reconciliation and grassroots practice.

community reconciliation group

You have brought life, light, hope and helped us begin to reach out to each other. Thank you.

– Wiz Bishop, Participant


Community Transformation

The Community Transformation programme supports leaders from a number of divided diaspora groups to name, understand and transform community conflicts into new relationships and hope for a different future.