The intergenerational divide causes conflict, break up and division within families, with profound consequences for the young and the old among many communities in Britain. The Somali community recently discussed this issue and came up with interesting observations and solutions. Ayan Osman, volunteer, Somali Initiative for Dialogue and Democracy reports.
"Peace Begins At Home" was the challenging theme of a two-day weekend workshop for the Somali community in West London. The workshop was held at the Harlesden Stonebridge Hillside Hub in the London Borough of Brent on 23 and 24 January 2010.
Organised by the Somali Initiative for Dialogue and Democracy (SIDD), the workshop tackled issues facing the older and young generations in the Somali community.
Problems of identity
Living in Britain, many within both generations face problems of identity—to be British or Somali. There is a clash between traditional Somali and Western values. Young people are sometimes dismissed by the older generation as having little respect for traditional values and behaviour, while the internet-savvy young generation, brought up in Britain, regard the older generation as being out of touch with reality.
The workshop was opened by Osman Jama Ali, Chair of SIDD and moderated by Mohamed Mohamud, Anti-Social Behaviour and Community Safety Practitioner. The meeting was organised by Zahra Hassan, Director of Women of the Horn, and Amina Khalid, Outreach Associate, Initiatives of Change-UK.
The agenda for the Brent workshop was put together by a team of young people and adults from the Somali community. The agenda included: dynamic, inter-active and participatory sessions; sharing best practice solutions to intergenerational conflict; and sharing solutions to conflict, based on personal change.
Moved by the dialogue
Speaking at the workshop, entitled "Peace Begins at Home", Dawn Butler, the Member of Parliament for Brent South and Minister for Young Citizens and Youth Engagement said: "Dialogue leading to changes in attitudes among parents and children is vital in achieving unity at home. Earlier, I participated in a working session of this workshop. I was impressed, intrigued and moved by the dialogue that I heard between the old and the young. This is an exciting activity. But inter-generational issues are not unique to the Somali community. They can be found in all communities.
“I have done a lot of work with young people. The contribution of the Somali Initiative for Dialogue and Democracy in facilitating this workshop is invaluable. There is a need for parents and children to communicate with each other. They must share life experiences, which will be very different for children who are born here in the UK .
“War, Tribes, likes and dislikes can be consciously and sub-consciously passed on to new generations. We all need to appreciate and understand the elders journey and work together for a more positive and constructive entrepreneurial Somali community. I cannot stress how important these gatherings are and I thank the organisers. We need similar activities, like this, throughout the year."
Other guests speakers were Councillor Zaffar Van Kalwala and Joanne Campbell, Police Constable from Brent.
Many of the young people pointed out that there was a breakdown in communication between the parent and children due to a lack of a common language to converse with. They pointed out that some parents did not feel the need to learn the English. Children growing up in Britain gradually loose their mother tongue.
The language barrier was one of the main issues of intergenerational conflict identified by the workshop.
Participants pointed out that Somalis arrive in Britain from a war-torn country. Often mothers and children arrive in a state of emergency. They have little knowledge of the British system.
Most Somali parents are use to the idea that children should `be seen and not heard’. Whereas in Britain, children have an opinion speak about anything and everything. The new environment takes power away from the parents and makes them feel less in control.
Guidance and counselling
Parents felt that children in Britain have social services on their side. If children want to move away from home, they have the law to back them up. Sometimes social services do need to step in, but some children take advantage of the situation and threaten parents: "I will call the social services on you."
The participants concluded that children need the guidance and the counselling from an early age. There has to be better relationships between parents and children, where they can comfortably discuss problems and come to an agreement before they boil over.
The workshop noted that Somalis experience racism and segregation in many forms. British society classifies them as black. Among Africans, they would be Somali. Clan divisions are rife within the Somali community. Young people get caught up in clan prejudices, whether they choose to or not.
Young people pointed out that "parents must learn to mentally unpack", and refrain from repeatedly talking about going back to Somalia or yearning about the past good life all. One adult admitted: "We came here thinking that we were going to be here for a little while. We did not think that, 20 years on, Somalia is still ungovernable and we’d still be here."
To facilitate understanding, the youth felt adults should adapt to life in Britain, where they have been living for a long period of time. Adults need to learn more about the British system. For their part, children should endeavour to learn their mother tongue.
Dialogue starts at home
The workshop concluded that dialogue starts at home. There should be honest conversations about life, school, religion, culture and social issues. A lot of issues, such as sex or drugs, are either covered up as `Xaraan’ (Prohibited or not allowed by the religion) or `Ceeb’ (Shame), or “Maya” (No), with no explanation given! Leaving such topics only to the school will makes the child curious, experiment alone and subject to learning from peers.
Participants pointed out that many families within the Somali community are run by single parents, mainly women. There is a high incidence of poverty among the Somali community. Many families are on income support, barely able to get by. Women participants who spoke shared about the difficulties they face, bringing up children alone by themselves, without the traditional support networks of relatives and friends they were used to in Somalia.
These situations force some of the young people to seek work and sacrifice their careers. Young people quickly get stuck in syndrome of hopelessness and doing nothing for themselves. Somali adults are afraid of questioning authorities. They readily accept what they are told.
Teaching children traditional, cultural and religious ethics are not the only factors to consider when bringing them up. Parents were urged to undertake `parenthood classes’.
Don de Silva, Director, Changeways International, urged participants to mobilise and work together to tackle common problems. He spoke about how leaders like US President Barrack Obama had to overcome tough challenges and obstacles to reach positions of authority. Members of IofC-UK, Peter Riddell and Kojo Jantuah, shared examples of how peace can begin at home when either parents or children start by putting right what is wrong in their lives.
At the end of the meeting, workshop participants called for follow-up meetings to continue and sustain the momentum generated by the Brent workshop. One participant volunteered to set up a Facebook discussion on intergenerational dialogue. Participants decided to create a network of parents and adults, committed to forging better understanding and dialogue within the community.
At the end of the workshop, Abdi Afrah Gure, a community leader and Treasurer of SIDD, presented certificates of attendance to all participants.
The SIDD inter-generational project is supported by Awards for All. Similar workshops are planned for Harrow and Islington.
Nowhere is safe
by Mohammed M Noor: A young British-Somali Law student, social activist, anti-corruption campaigner and charity worker. In this article, he reflects on the workshop on intergenerational dialogue, entitled “Peace begins at Home”, organised by the Somali Initiative for Dialogue and Democracy, which was held in Brent recently. He wishes to take up the call for change, real change, and strongly believes that this begins at home.
After engaging in an immensely fruitful workshop, which left me feeling hopeful for a better future, I would like to share my personal outcome and outlook for the future.
The workshop covered many different aspects of Somali home life in Britain, and addressed the most important issues such as communication, culture and language barriers and the roles of both parents and children. There were tears, laughter and a steely determination to cross all barriers between young and old.
The workshop was a huge success and I expect to see future workshops in the other boroughs of London.
I personally would like to concentrate on the predicament and potential of the younger generation, and possible ways to move forward toward a beneficial future.
Naturally, my thoughts and efforts will be along the lines of projects and ideas that will help young Somalis achieve their full potential.
While the workshop directly dealt with issues between old and young, I believe that the inter-generational gap is only part of a bigger problem facing young Somalis. I think we should take into account;
What it is to be young and Somali in this day, age and country.
Problems facing both troubled/troublesome and untroubled youth.
The numerous problems a teen/youngster faces growing up in this environment, and the new problems and challenges facing our youngsters every day.
Balancing life outside the home with life inside the home.
We must consider the current social environment and culture in Britain, and how young Somalis fit in and perceive this environment.
Unfortunately, we seem to live in a time where almost everyone is a suspect of something; be it “anti-social” behaviour or offending someone.
The way we as a country (Britain) view youngsters has changed, and while some of the new views of young people are good and encouraging, others are more negative.
Many of our youngsters have become stifled to such an extent that when they reach adulthood they have missed out on some essential social development, added to a restricted and sheltered childhood.
Now if we take this attitude towards young people in Britain, and add it to the “strange-land” syndrome in the Somali community, you can begin to see that young Somalis face many more problems than is apparent: Everyone is dangerous; Nowhere is safe; and The world is out to get you.
That is the attitude within many Somali homes, and although it is born out of love and fear, it does not help the development of our youth.
The Somali youngsters of today are more stifled, restricted and controlled than other ethnic groups, from an early age until adulthood.
Or until that child cannot handle such a prison-like lifestyle and they finally put it in their head that they will do what they please, and lash out against the people who (through blind love) have sheltered this child from many life experiences.
I feel that life is made up of experiences, and experiences make someone who they are.
And if a child has not experienced essential life-lessons or faces them unprepared, then that child has been unfairly prevented from having a full and enlightened lifetime.
It is not only those who have been through the judicial system, or been identified as “troublesome” by schools, social services and/or police who are facing problems growing up today.
Many of our youngsters who do stay out of trouble and are generally “good” also face many problems growing up in today’s climate.
And often it is they who are unheard and go through their life trying to do what’s best, or what they have been told to do. And while this youngster may be a delight for parents, the lack of honesty about the youngster’s goals and aspirations can later lead to that child having an unhappy and unfulfilled existence.
It is important to address these youngsters, along with those identified and known to the community as “troubled”, because these young people are and will be our most effective tool in rebuilding the new Somali community.
And if they do not have the confidence to follow their visions and ambitions (rather than a life-plan laid out by a parent either trying to impress friends or somehow trying to live their life again through that child) then we have lost a potent tool in our struggle for improvement.
We must, as a community and within the home, nurture and release the full potential of our youngsters.
Understanding the nature of dreams, ambitions and aspirations of our young generation, and how we as a family and community deal with these ambitions is an important step towards releasing the full potential of our young generation.
We must realise that ANY goal or dream or ambition is a good one.
A child with a target and hope, even if he/she wants to own their own ice cream van, is better than an A* child with no ambitions or goals save what his/her parents have TOLD them to do.
We as a generation are not stupid; we know what is beneficial to us and our futures. We know that good grades mean a good job (generally).
However what many of us also know and it is something many of our parents do not understand, is that certain attributes needed for a successful life are not taught in the class room, and is not found in a text book.
A teacher doesn’t teach a child how to be courageous, or a brilliant entrepreneur, a hero, a leader, etc.
These are traits that are not taught, but are developed internally by that child, according to external forces.
But do our parents fully understand this? That it isn’t just school, then home and telling your child what to do and how to do it. You are that external force that determines whether your child will grow up to achieve all that they can.
In conclusion, I believe we have two sides that stem from the same problem.
Our “troubled” youths and our “good” youths are one and the same.
They have faced very similar childhoods, take entirely different paths as young adults, but have a common trend in the way they have grown up.
The way forward is to channel any negative energy or determination, into a positive drive towards a beneficial and responsible adulthood.
And one way to do that is to engage in talks with both sets of youngsters (“troubled” “untroubled”), find out what their strengths and weaknesses are, and most importantly, find a channel for them to freely express and achieve their ambitions and dreams, whatever they may be.