Over 30 participants from diverse backgrounds and ages came together on Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th February 2014 to participate in an inspiring weekend workshop entitled ‘Peace Begins at Home.’ The workshop, a dialogue between generations, took place at the Kurdish Community Centre, located in the heart of the London Borough of Haringey.
Organised by Somali Initiative for Dialogue and Democracy (SIDD) and supported by Initiatives of Change (IofC), the workshop aimed to tackle issues of conflict, division and communication between members of the younger and older generation, and create a platform for dialogue between them.
It was the second of two workshops, the first of which took place in Hackney last August, and was facilitated by Amina Khalid, SIDD Project Manager, and Don de Silva and Peter Riddell, both of IofC-UK and SIDD.
Language and culture barriers
The workshop was opened by Osman Jama Ali, Chairman of SIDD, and former Deputy Prime Minister of Somalia. He thanked the British for their support to the Somalis who had come as refugees, and was glad that through initiatives such as the ‘Peace Begins at Home’ project which was inspired by Amina Khalid, the Somalis could offer something back to Britain. He recalled how as a teenager in Somalia, he had struggled to understand the older generation. Many older British Somalis he said 'had not put down roots in Britain', believing they would be able to go back to Somalia after the civil war. But as their children grew up in Britain, they faced difficulties in 'accepting the new culture and language in which their children were growing up.' He concluded, ‘This Intergenerational Dialogue workshop, which comes out of our struggles as a community to emerge from conflict, can be a contribution to the whole community in Britain.'
Intergenerational conflict is not unique to the Somali community, Amina explained. She stated that this conflict is common in all communities and contributes to family breakdown. The UK currently has one of the highest rates of family breakdown in the Western world with 68.9% of children living with both parents. 'Society suffers greatly from this', she stressed. Being able to have honest conversation in the family about contentious issues is one way of addressing this issue.
Howard Grace, a retired school teacher, gave an example of intergenerational conflict. He and Amina had been taking sessions in schools on the theme of ‘trust-building’, yet a misunderstanding developed between them. Some time later, they agreed to meet to talk about what had happened. Their open and honest dialogue strengthened their working relationship and they now share their experience in schools as an example of conflict resolution.
Identifying issues and finding solutions
The first step in the programme was for participants to share their thoughts on what the key issues contributing to intergenerational conflict are. An older participant said that the 'old and the young live in separate worlds.' Lack of time for one another in a fast-paced world was another issue. Shadia, a young parent felt that 'we have lost the importance of life - it is going so fast - we don’t appreciate the people around us.'
Haesul, an engineering graduate and member of the Universal Peace Federation of Filipino parentage, was concerned with parents’ attachments to ‘back home’ and their prioritisation of working hard in Britain in order to send money back home to relatives. 'Communication is so important to avoid conflict', she stressed.
After the discussion, participants were put in mixed-generation groups and asked to expand on the key issues faced by the older and younger generations. The groups then reported back.
The causes of conflict fell into the categories of ‘individual’ (eg lack of understanding, anger), ‘family’ (eg boundaries imposed by parents, lack of quality time within the family) and ‘societal’ (eg identity crisis, low minimum wage forcing parents to work longer hours to make ends meet). Some parents felt that their children were consumed by technology, particularly social media. Younger participants felt they did not have confidence and trust in their parents because they feared they would brand their actions as wrong. Nasra, a college student, said that parents are quick to tell their children off, but do not explain why the actions are wrong. They just say 'Don’t answer back!'
A panel of guest speakers listened to this feedback and responded. Cllr Sheila Peacock, Mayor of Haringey, was interested in the diversity of the group and wanted to know how it had come together. She told of some of the groups she is particularly involved in in the Borough, including one representing pensioners. Returning to the theme of diversity, she said that, though a Jew, when she is stressed, she ‘pops’ into the nearby Quakers’ Meeting House for some peace and quiet!
Cllr Lorna Reith (Tottenham Hale) spoke passionately about the different viewpoints the younger and older generations hold about one another. 'Older people are fearful of groups of young people. As you get older you forget how you behaved when you were young', she explained. She pointed out the importance of respect: 'If you respect people, you listen to what they have to say.'
Catherine West, Islington councillor and Labour parliamentary candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green, was representing Tottenham MP David Lammy. She stressed the importance of communication. She said: 'You solve conflict through talking, and decision-making, and growing local leadership.' There are excellent events happening to bring people together and we must hold on to them, she added.
Michael Lilley, a member of the Centre for Social Justice and founder of My Time, which provides mental health counselling services particularly to ethnic minority communities in Birmingham, expressed appreciation for what the refugee community contributes to the UK. He had experienced this personally when he, a single parent, was made homeless, and it was they who showed most kindness to him. He highlighted the importance of family time in creating stronger relationships. Social responsibility, he also emphasised, is a key factor in facilitating conflict.
After questions and responses from the participants, Mayor Sheila Peacock said, 'I am overwhelmed. I have learnt so much. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.' She called for a continuation of the ‘Peace Begins at Home’ project.
The day concluded with a traditional folk dance performed by a group of Kurdish women.
Be the role model!
On the second day, participants shared their thoughts on solutions to issues highlighted during the previous day. One of the most inspiring suggestions came from the youngest participant in the workshop, 15 year old Charday, an aspiring paediatric doctor, who told participants, 'Don’t look for a role model, be the role model!' Her father Alvin, Director and CEO of a cookery school, moved many participants with his powerful outlook on change, forgiveness and moving forward from conflict.
Participants again met in intergenerational groups, this time to formulate recommendations in response to the issues identified, in the three categories of the ‘individual’, the ‘family’ and ‘society’. Parents came in for quite a lot of advice: that they should ‘lay down ground rules by example’, provide support for children with care and compassion, encourage and reward good behaviour, and attend parenting courses! Families need to be more creative together, and to create space and the environment for honest conversations.
One of the participants shared that in the middle of the previous night, he had been called by a friend to mediate in an intergenerational dispute in a family, and had found what he hoped were helpful things to say to both parents and children.
The workshop concluded with participants being given certificates of attendance by the workshop’s facilitators. This was followed by an uplifting and energetic performance from musician Antarma, who performed his song, Choose every moment to be lovely.
Hope for the future
The event was considered a success by participants and guest speakers in bringing members of different generations and communities together to facilitate genuine dialogue.
For many younger and older participants, this was their first experience of coming together and engaging in dialogue of such importance. There was an air of genuine hope and commitment from both generations to understand one another and overcome the intergenerational conflict. One of the participants expressed: 'I have been inspired greatly by the work of everyone. I am excited for future events and will be more proactive in my community.'
Report and photos by Dahira Khalid
Dahira Khalid is a teacher and freelance writer