We are reaching the end of the first project cycle of the Trustbuilding Program, with the last two and a half months of this year to continue their trustbuilding work. With COVID-19 forcing teams to adjust to unforeseen circumstances, how have the past few months changed their respective projects and what can we expect for the future?
‘At first, it looks like you are infiltrating a community, but with time they gave me trust. I am Christian, but I also have experience with and knowledge of Islamic faith. I gained this from growing up in Mombasa where there is a large Muslim community, which helped me to understand and respect the Islamic faith.' This creates trust with the communities and helps me to establish connections.'
The Kenyan team has been organizing different virtual events: a story-sharing session and an interfaith dialogue for 16 youth from the Eastern Africa Youth Forum, IofC Kenya, and locals from Garissa and Mombasa. The interfaith dialogues center on raising mutual understanding between Muslims and Christians. As women and men who are focused on building trust between both religious communities face different challenges, on 25 July there were two parallel interfaith dialogues: a dialogue for men and one for women.
The work of the trustbuilding team has generated grassroots impact through their dialogues, with inspired participants launching their own initiatives. For example, a group from the trustbuilding cohort has set-up a campaign to raise awareness about the dramatic increase in teenage pregnancy in Mombasa. This is an example of the indirect impact the trustbuilding project is having in communities. Also, participants from Mombasa requested that the team extend the trustbuilding project with ‘under the trees’ sessions, so that villagers can also contribute to finding solutions to the breakdown of trust in their communities.
In addition, in the last month team members travelled to Garissa and Mombasa in order to conduct health and safety assessments, to evaluate if in-person activities can continue. The team checked venues for COVID-19 protection compliance and met with community members and faith leaders. In-person activities are planned to start again at the end of October, at first with the second series of trustbuilding workshops.
‘People of different faiths live with each other in peace, but not in trust.' - Trustbuilding Team Kenya
‘I have a background in philosophy. What I realized during my studies is the lack of dialogue, understanding, knowledge, and listening in our relations with others. Especially towards people who experience injustices. The project in Canada works to level up the empathy, compassion and listening that is necessary for us to be able to heal and move towards deep transformations, allowing all people to flourish. The goal of IofC and the Trustbuilding Program is to provide the expertise and the tools that make that happen.’
Over the course of the last months three sharing meetings and two workshops for the trustbuilding cohort have been conducted online with Agency UENA, a social impact agency and new partner. Originally the trustbuilding team was planning to organize in-person meetings again by organizing the second session of the trustbuilding training for the 2020 cohort’s members as a social distancing in-person meeting, but with Canada’s COVID-19 increasing number of posititive cases, the meeting was moved online.
The workshops are created in collaboration with Brigitte Gagnon Ph.D., consultant, trainer and specialist in compassionate listening methodologies and an associate of Dr. Patrice Brodeur. Dr. Brodeur is an Associate Professor at the Institute of Religious Studies, University of Montreal (Canada), a well internationally renowned specialist of interreligious/interfaith dialogue and a longtime collaborator with IofC Canada. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, all remaining activities this year will be online as Canada is currently confronting a secondary wave of the virus.
The trustbuilding team is also working on another exciting project, together with a partner, exploring the possibility of translating and adapting the 'White Ally Toolkit' books by Dr David Campt. This is being undertaken in order to fill the gap of such resources available to address racism in Quebec. The toolkit helps white people who are more aware about the issue of racism to have more productive dialogues with other white people who do not share their understanding.
'COVID-19 has made the divides and inequalities more visible, and systemic racism has become more tangible. It brought to light much of what we had started to work on since the beginning of the project, making our work even more relevant.' - Trustbuilding Team Canada
‘I saw a shift in my classroom, now the students are listening to each other, there is more cohesion, they learn how to debate and get to know each other.'
During the last months, Frederic Chavanne, International Trainer of the Trustbuilding Program, led a two-day capacity building and brainstorming session for the French trustbuilding team. The aim was to deliver content from the Trustbuilding Manual, increase understanding of IofC for new team members and to discuss how to develop Oui Act to best serve young people. An outcome of this session is that the focus of this year will be the creation of a new catalogue of Oui Act cycles, in order to be able to adapt better to the structures’ needs. For example, there will be shorter cycle options for schools that don’t have more time available in their curriculum.
The team is also working on increasing the diversity of facilitators, as to have facilitators from the same cultural background as the youth, like Algeria and Morocco. There is also a 'Oui Act Club' created for active youth wishing to carry out initiatives in their communities, and the Oui Act facilitation book was translated into English, with the prospect of sharing the project with other interested IofC teams.
From the start of this school year the team is resuming in-person activities again. Partnerships with two schools are extended: ENNA technical high school in Saint-Denis and Jean-Baptiste Clément middle school in Colombes. This will be the fourth year in a row that Oui Act goes to ENNA high school, and will engage around 90 students. Oui Act will also go back to the associations Ma Vie and Les Mamans du Cœur to pick up where they left off in March. A new collaboration has also been created, with young people and their parents, residents of Jean Macé neighborhood in Trappes, in order to create community projects. Trappes is a suburb known for gang violence and poverty, with a large Muslim population and a high number of people suspected to have left France to fight for Islamic State.
‘Thanks to Oui Act our class has become more united than before.' - 5th grade student
GAIN (The Global Alumni Initiative)
‘The power of alumni lies in learning together, supporting each other, and from there gaining strength to show solidarity to our communities: think global, act locally.'
The first online training, a restorative justice seminar, took place 29 June - 16 July with 26 alumni from 19 countries. The seminar, taught by Dr. Carl Stauffer and offered in coordination with the Caux Scholars Program (CSP), discussed practical approaches to restorative justice principles in local conflict transformation.
On 21 August, GAIN held the first GAIN-CSP South Asian Regional Gathering. The session was a space to discuss the impacts of COVID-19 in the region and how can they as alumni support others in their communities. The group of 19 alumni shared creative ideas of what we can do to support each other in these times.
In the month of September, GAIN celebrated the International Day of Peace and hosted online 'Platforms for Justice and Peace' for the alumni under the theme 'Shaping Peace Together'. The celebration kicked off with the launch of the video with members discussing Shaping Peace Together. The online platform hosted dialogues about: rebuilding Beirut; examining acts of race, caste, and ethnic violence in India and Nepal; how the arts can help heal generational trauma and shape new beginnings, and a conversation about trauma healing and peacebuilding in practice, with Dr. Samuel Gbaydee Doe. The GAIN-CSP Career Development Webinars Series for alumni started in September, focusing on the future of peacebuilding work, entrepreneurship, networking and community building. It’s a series of seven webinars, in collaboration with the Peace & Collaborative Development Network.
‘Restorative Justice is a people-centered justice approach that provides greater resourcefulness to understand a conflictual or harming situation by centering accountability and safety, without relaying in punishment and alienation. Moreover, when a justice system takes into consideration the context and circumstances of the wrongdoer, it gives more opportunities for society to prevent further damage.' - Dr. Carl Stauffer, Academic Director, Caux Scholars Program (Switzerland)
*Illustration by Manon Michelle Monhemius
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The Trustbuilding Program is aimed at addressing divisive issues at the international and national levels, on the premise that only those who have undergone the internal process of becoming trustworthy themselves can close gaps across the globe. The Program was launched by Initiatives of Change International in 2019 with projects in Kenya, Canada and France.