by Dahira Khalid, freelance writer and recent graduate and volunteer with Somali Initiative for Dialogue and Democracy (SIDD)
Intergenerational dialogue was at the heart of an innovative two-day workshop for the Somali community on 24 and 25 April 2010 at Andover Community Centre in the London Borough of Islington.
Entitled ‘Peace Begins at Home!’ it was the final workshop of a series of three organised by Somali Initiative for Dialogue and Democracy (SIDD) in London boroughs. They had the mission of identifying the conflicts that exist between the younger and older generations of the Somali community and providing a platform for dialogue. During the two days, over 50 members of the Somali community attended. The senior participants included diplomats, lecturers, and former ministers of the Somali government, whilst the younger participants were mostly students, university graduates and junior community leaders.
The workshop was funded by an Awards for All lottery grant and was organised by Amina Khalid, SIDD member and Outreach Associate of Initiatives of Change-UK, and was the last of three, two having already taken place in Brent and Harrow. Mohamed Sheikh Mohamud, Anti-Social Behaviour and Community Safety Practitioner, Zahra Hassan, Director of Women of the Horn, and Amina Khalid facilitated the sessions.
‘Parents don’t listen and children don’t respect’
Mohamed Sheikh Mohamud explained that “There is a communication problem between the younger and older Somali generation: young people feel that parents don’t listen to them, and parents feel that their children do not respect them.” The aim of the workshop was “to find out if these issues do exist – and if so, to facilitate these problems through intergenerational dialogue.”
Intergenerational conflict is not a new issue nor is it an issue found only in the Somali community. Amina Khalid stated that, although Somalis had experienced conflict in Somalia with civil war and the breakdown of the nation, intergenerational conflict had never before been a real issue. She said, “Intergenerational conflict is a different kind of conflict which has been created by a change in customs, culture, religion and language. If it not dealt with, it could lead to bigger problems for the Somali community in Britain.”
Osman Jama Ali, Chair of SIDD and former Deputy Prime Minister of the Transitional National Government of Somalia also spoke at the opening of the workshop. As a key figure of the former Somali government under Siad Barre, he admitted that mistakes were made and apologised for them. He emphasised the need for the Somali community to engage in dialogue and work with each other, regardless of which clan they came from, in order to build peace and stability in Somalia. Peace, he stressed, needs to come first from the family structure before it can be generated to a national level.
Differing perspectives on respect, religion and culture
After setting out the workshop’s programme, the facilitators asked the younger and older Somalis to separate into different groups, and to identify what conflicts existed between the two generations and to report their findings later to the other group.
It was evident that young Somalis have very different concerns from those of the older generation. Many expressed that their parents did not trust them, particularly when they wanted to socialise with their friends. Also that parents did not socialise or converse enough with their children. Ineffective communication was also a cause of conflict with many feeling that their parents talked at rather than to them.
On the other hand, older participants felt that their children did not respect them or listen to them. Religion and culture was also a concern, they felt that their British born and bred children lose sense of their Somali roots and are quick to embrace British culture and western behaviour.
This belief was met with a strong reaction by the young participants; they stated that whilst being British was part of their identity, they also maintained their Somali and Muslim identities. One young participant stated that while most young people’s hearts are in Britain, their parents’ hearts are ‘back home’ and this is why they fail to embrace British culture.
Language was another hotly debated issue. Young Somalis insisted that the older generation needed to take steps to learn English so they can communicate better with their children and the outside world, whilst the parents felt that the children ought to learn - or improve their use of - their mother tongue.
Next, the participants were asked to provide solutions for the issues they had identified. Participants from both generations agreed that they both needed to be more pro-active in conversing with, and really listening to each other in order to build trust. Older participants accepted the younger Somalis’ call to accept challenges and be more flexible and more tolerant towards them. They also decided to be responsible for teaching their children the value of the Somali language and making sure they don’t lose their mother tongue.
Meanwhile, the younger participants determined that they would be more understanding of the traumas their parents survived which often still affects their outlook and approach to life.
For many of the participants, this exercise was a novel and eye-opening experience. For some young Somalis, this was the longest time they had ever engaged with older members of the community. One student exclaimed that she “couldn’t believe parents and young people were actually in a room together integrating and exploring solutions to intergenerational conflicts.”
During the first day a panel of guest speakers contributed to the programme. Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, took time off from his busy pre-election schedule. He said the Somali community had given him “education, friendship and support” and praised the way they have coped with their trauma. He urged the Somali community to challenge the negative portrayals of Somali people in the British media as he sees an “aspiring and hardworking community.” Lela Kogbara, Director of Strategy and Partnership for Islington Council, suggested that the experience of not belonging is not always negative. In her view “strengths are weaknesses and weaknesses are strengths” and she encouraged the senior participants to refrain from moulding their children to their own idealistic models, but instead to support them in being the best at what they choose to do.
Adam Dirir, editor of Somali Eye magazine noted that with “14 Somali councillors in Britain and 1 mayor in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, the Somali community is slowly coming towards success.” Sheikh Ibrahim Muse, a Somali Islamic scholar spoke about the role of Islam in fostering relationships between parents and children and recited verses from the Qur’an that stress the importance of parents communicating with their children and cultivating friendships with them.
Day Two: inspiring stories
The second day also started with guest speakers. Omar Said Abasheikh, a young Somali barrister spoke of his journey from struggling at school throughout most of his early education to achieving a career in law. Jim Baynard-Smith (photo left), a senior Initiatives of Change member, shared a moving account of how engaging in open and honest dialogue with a close family member had helped him resolve personal conflicts. Jim Baynard-Smith told the participants that “honest conversation may be difficult but it may save your life.” Don de Silva, Head of Programmes, IofC UK, briefed the workshop about the unique nature, process, aims and objectives of the organisation.
Ismail Osman Adam, a young poet, recited a poem about the need for unity amongst members of the Somali community and the necessity to listen to one another and work together in order to rebuild broken relations. Later in the day, Amina Khalid recited one of her poems about the difficult journey that many Somalis had to take during the war, leaving their homeland for a foreign land with a different people, language and culture. The poem stirred memories in many of the older participants who were visibly moved.
The workshop concluded with the participants being given certificates of attendance by SIDD’s Chair, Osman Jama as well as other senior members of Initiatives of Change. The workshop was recorded and aired by Universal TV, the largest global Somali satellite channel.
‘Something brilliant for the Somali community’
Overall, the workshop was deemed to be a success by both the younger and older participants. Maryan Ali Mudde, a senior participant applauded the dialogue format of the workshop. “What has happened today is something brilliant for the Somali community. It is a young person who has thought of the concept of this workshop and young people have important perspectives which we would never have heard before a workshop like this.”
Ismail Adam Dire, another parent, praised the workshop for raising problems and proposing solutions.
Idil Ahmed, a young Somali, said that “usually parents and children do not integrate in these kinds of contexts, so it was wonderful to actually engage in honest dialogue with one another.”
Read report of Harrow and Wealdstone workshop held on 27 and 28 March.
Read report of Brent workshop held on 23 and 24 January 2010.