Stories from the Peace to the City Campaign:(1997 - 1998)
The Belfast Interface Project promotes a community development approach to support work carried out by interface communities. An interface is a boundary line between a predominantly Protestant area and a predominantly Catholic area of housing. It can be a solid brick wall 20 feet high, a steel fence or a road. It may not even be noticeable to others but local people know exactly where it is. It can be crossed simply by crossing a street, passing a landmark, or turning a corner.
There are at least 17 purpose-built 'peace-lines,' i.e. walls and fences specially built between Protestant and Catholic areas. There are many more 'invisible' interfaces between communities in Belfast and other communities in Northern Ireland.
Many Protestants and Catholics live in separate areas because they feel safer that way or have little choice, so there are many interfaces between these communities - particularly in lower income districts. Interface communities typically experience high rates of social and economic disadvantage; high levels of ongoing inter-community violence across the interface, especially from young people; and restricted access to facilities and services 'on the other side', e.g. jobs, shops, leisure facilities, social services, etc.
Interface communities have been among those most affected by 'the troubles' of the past 29 years. Peace and stability at the interface and the absence of this are both a 'barometer' of the health of the society and a key influencing factor in shaping that society.
For these reasons the Belfast Interface Project addresses the issues facing interface communities today to help secure a more peaceful future. It lobbies and challenges policy makers, promotes development work, disseminates information, encourages networking and cooperation and the sharing of effective practice.
For the past three years Mary Montague, the Family and Community Worker with the Corrymeela Community, has been working with several interface groups in Belfast. One such group is the Clonard/Ashmore Group from West Belfast. The members of this group live very near each other; however, they might as well be living miles apart as they are normally separated by a 16 foot high wall called the "peace line."
In the past the main contact across the wall was the hurling of stones and abuse. But Mary was able to bring some people from each side of the wall together both at Corrymeela's centre in Ballycastle, sixty miles north of Belfast, and at other times in the city itself. Slowly fears subsided as relationships grew. There was open and honest discussion about what it is like to live on each side of the wall and the ways in which both groups are affected by divisions and violence.
After meeting for some time one member of the group was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Concern for her and her family naturally flowed from members of the group, regardless of which side of the wall they live on. Before her death, Sandra, speaking about the value of the experiences the group had shared, said, "The faceless monster living over the wall no longer exists because we have met one another. Keep meeting, keep talking so that it can never return." With the backing of Mary Montague and Corrymeela, the Clonard/Ashmore Group are living out her challenge. (August Bulletin)
Excerpts from CEASE FIRE - Lessons from the City of Boston (*), by Rubem Cesar Fernandes
Due to Viva Rio's involvement in the World Council of Churches' Peace to the City Campaign, I've just returned from Boston in the United States. Whilst there, I could find out a little about the city's public security policies and accompany the local police in their work against juvenile gangs. Informally organised, these gangs dispute territory and the commercial sale of drugs within poor neighbourhoods, usually inhabited by ethnic minorities. It is clear that these gangs present a similar problem to the movement' of drug dealers in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. Boston has made notable progress in the last decade. An important part of this progress has been the controlling of violence between minors: the number of juvenile homicides has come down from 200 in 1989 to 0 between the middle of 1995 and December 1997. When a youth was murdered in January 1998, the police interpreted this murder as a sign of the return of violent gang disputes, a result of the arrival in Boston of the most famous gangs from Los Angeles. Hence, a preventative strategy called Cease Fire has been developed to stop gang violence from increasing again.
Cease Fire's sessions with gang members are planned the previous night, at the headquarters of the NGO 10 Point Coalition, in the black neighbourhood of Dorchester. This NGO is run by the well-known Pentecostal Pastor Eugene Rivers, who has co-ordinated a night street parish for ten years.
The following day's session consisted of a meeting with juveniles, who according to the police, were involved with gangs in the area. There were around 30 of them in all and sitting in the lecture hall they appeared more childlike than when moving through the streets. At the front, the group from the previous night, somewhat larger than before, started. What followed was a well thought out psycho-drama. The script [speakers and issues] is simple: "Pastor / Good Cop / Bad Cop / Probation Officer / Street Worker / Alternative Money Making / Pastor".
On leaving the session, the group returned to the NGO's headquarters to evaluate the evening and make further plans for the next session. They are going around all of the poor neighbourhoods of the city this month, repeating this routine as part of the preparatory phase for this summer's action, which will start in June. These sessions exist within an overall plan that goes all the way up to a macro strategy from the Police Headquarters. The Gang Unit, officially called "Fire Command for Juvenile Violence", integrates both investigation and concrete action, and rarely has to use the fire' which makes up part of its name. They attack to apprehend, yet do so selectively and with superior forces, and don't encounter resistance. The police rarely shoot and are almost never victims of gunfire. Prepared for each small confrontation, they work with other government services and community organisations in the area. That is how they have managed to stop the cycle of violence in Boston.
(*) Article published in Portuguese in the Brazilian daily O GLOBO on May 4, 1998. (July Bulletin from Rio de Janeiro)
Boston Local Coordinator:
An alleged LTTE "strike" from cyberspace onto the computer networks of the Sri Lankan embassies abroad a few months ago created headlines in the country. The news was so exotic that it caught the attention of the international news agencies as well. But their assessment of the severity of the threat was insipid and technical. Quoting US intelligence sources, Reuters described the cyber attack as "little more than a bid by the LTTE to swamp Sri Lankan embassies with electronic mail."
To most computer illiterates, who make up the vast majority of the Sri Lankan population, the Internet and Cyberspace conjure up visions of mystery and power. The lack of knowledge about the Internet in Sri Lanka is coupled with a deep sense of insecurity in the Sinhalese psyche in relation to the LTTE. Therefore, even trivial incidents involving the LTTE can grab the headlines of the Sri Lankan media.
On June 24, the National Peace Council's web page designer Kisara Yatiyawela, together with the World Council of Churches' Peace to the City Campaign Colombo coordinator Priyanka Mendis, invited organisations that have been in the forefront of peace work in the country to a session on the internet. The occasion was a "launch" of sorts of the NPC web page, made available to it courtesy of the World Council of Churches. Nearly thirty representatives of organisations crowded into a small room and viewed the NPC web page which was magnified on a screen.
Those present were also taken on a tour of the government and LTTE web sites. The two flickering flames on the LTTE "martyrs" page was also a symbol of the sophisticated and dedicated manner in which the LTTE has sought to project its viewpoint through cyberspace. By contrast the government web site was extremely matter of fact, and in fact, dull.
Having shown what the internet was about, and how it could be used in promoting one's work by utilising the power and versatility of the internet, the NPC made an offer to the organisations present that they could send in any information on their organisations which they wished to be posted up on the internet. A format was provided, which would facilitate the posting of information, including photographs and graphics. (July Bulletin)
Colombo Local Coordinator:
The Diakonia Council of Churches encourages partnership in faith and action with churches in the Durban metropolitan region to promote justice and peace. One of its staff teams is the Peace Team, whose Peace Process Organiser, Rev. Mbonambi Khuzwayo, has worked extensively with Community Policing Forums (CPFs) to deal with criminal violence.
Community Policing Forums (CPFs) were established as part of the S.A. Police Service Act of 1995. The aims of CPFs include establishing and maintaining a partnership between the community and the police, promoting communication and cooperation to improve police services and their transparency and accountability, and promoting joint problem identification and solving by the police and community.
CPFs have been successful in some places and unsuccessful in others. At a workshop in July 1997 hosted by Diakonia, obstacles hampering effective community policing were raised. These included lack of knowledge and training about CPFs in the community, poor representation by civil society, police involvement in crime, the involvement of known criminals on some forums, a lack of transparency, and a lack of resources to carry out CPF-sponsored projects. In addition, members of CPFs from the community were often labelled as "spies" for the police. A deep mistrust between communities and police was fostered under apartheid. Church involvement in local committees has been very successful in a number of communities in KwaZulu-Natal since often the church represents the involvement of an impartial and trustworthy participant which legitimizes the process.
Two communities in the Durban metropolitan and surrounding area provide interesting models for future CPFs. In both cases, the involvement of church leaders has played a critical role in their success.
When the KwaMakhuta CPF first started in 1995, the police were only able to investigate about 13% of crimes in the area effectively. Now police are able to investigate about 60% effectively. This is largely due to a relationship of trust that has been built between the community and police. The chair of the KwaMakhuta CPF is a representative of the church who has been able to shape the CPF's proceedings, including involving other clergy in the community to take part in the CPF. This in turn has helped to strengthen community trust in the entire process.
The chair of the CPF in Umbilo, an inner city suburb of Durban, approached the local Ministers' Fellowship (similar to a Ministers' Fraternal) to participate in the CPF. A representative was appointed which reported back to the Ministers' Fellowship as an organised church structure. Through the CPF, the community then asked the Ministers' Fellowship to organise counselling for victims of violence. The project has been underway since February of this year. The plan calls for engaging professional therapists to do an initial consultation with the victim. Thereafter a minister from the victim's denomination begins a longer counselling process.
The Diakonia Council of Churches' Peace Team has held a number of workshops to encourage church involvement in CPFs, either through direct involvement or through specific projects like the one in Umbilo. Many CPFs have not been successful partly because they focus on problems and not solutions. The Peace Team is encouraging churches to see themselves as part of the solution. (July Bulletin)
Durban Local Coordinator:
In an inner city environment, a word spoken "out of season" ("informing") can cause injury or even death. Recently a woman was alleged to have spoken to the police about where weapons were hidden. Word soon got around that she was the possible culprit and in reprisal, the person at whom she had pointed the finger, shot and injured her. This man was subsequently arrested.
A week after the arrest, juveniles who fancied themselves supporters of the jailed gang leader, set fire to the house in which the woman lived. Unfortunately, in Bennetland the houses are jammed so closely together that one dwelling cannot burn without those in close proximity being affected. So not only was the woman's house quickly burnt to the ground, with all its contents, but ten other families became homeless as the flames engulfed the entire area.
In response to this series of events, the Community Development Council (CDC) immediately called an emergency meeting which considered the plight of the destitute and strategies for rehabilitation. They sought help from the area's Member of Parliament, the Ministry of Social Security and relevant national charities. Due to their quick action and comprehensive efforts, stoves, sleeping materials, and clothes were quickly supplied, and a search for new homes in the area begun.
One week following this incident, the gang leader who had shot the woman was released from jail. He expressed shock, disbelief and anger at the juveniles' actions. His code of conduct would have been to direct his reprisal towards the woman and her alone; there is honour even among the dishonourable. In fact, his disgust was so explicit that those who had not been arrested by the police for their actions, fled the community and have not been seen since.
One of our community health workers has a close relative who lost her house and possessions in the fire. Another community health worker spent a day in jail when police, in a house to house search, found one of the offending juveniles hiding under a bed in her house. The boy had entered her house through an open window as she was at the front of her home with the buzzing excitement surrounding the fire. However, the health worker's seven year old daughter told the police when they arrived to look under the bed for the person whose entry had terrified her.
The police were initially skeptical of the health worker's insistence that she was not connected to the boy. The day after her arrest, the entire staff went to the police station to support her with character references. This intervention stimulated a fresh round of interrogation of the boy who then confessed how he had entered the house. They released the health worker. However, this incident underlines the traumatic experiences which we face in our work. Most affected are the workers who live within the community and are therefore forced into conflicting dual roles of mediator and circumstantial victims of the effects of the social conditions of living in Kingston's inner city communities. (August Bulletin)
Kingston Local Coordinator:
In Rio de Janeiro where more and more mothers are working away from the home, finding a reliable and skilled baby-sitter or communal day care center has become a difficult and often costly endeavour. The lack of adequate child day care centers and trained personnel has reduced not only the quantity but also the quality of the attention being given to young children in the city.
In response to a request by several communities in Rio de Janeiro for skilled baby-sitters and child-care practitioners, Viva Rio launched in late 1996 its first "Viva Baby" project. The aim of the project was to a provide training in child care for young women from the city's poorer communities who could then go on to find employment in a field where there is an increasing demand for skilled labour.
Everyone gained from the experience: the young trainees acquired professional qualifications and the know-how to find a job, the communities involved began taking a greater interest in child care, and many mothers were able to leave their children in safe, reliable hands while helping out young women from poorer communities.
Following the first experience which benefited 60 young trainees in three communities, the second phase of the project is now being launched in the Acari shanty town with sponsorship from the Federal Government aid agency Comunidade Solidaria. Acari, with a population of 70,000 inhabitants is one of the poorest shanty-towns in Rio de Janeiro, with few community services, schools, clinics and an inefficient sewage treatment and garbage collection system. What Acari does have are several church and neighborhood centers committed to improving the conditions of the community. These institutions will take part in the training process of the new Viva Baby recruits, establishing pedagogical centers within their headquarters, as part of a joint community effort seeking to create new opportunities for underprivileged youth.
During a 5-month training period 25 girls aged 16 - 21 will benefit from theoretical and practical courses in child care. They will study several topics related to child care, ranging from first aid and basic notions on health and hygiene, to nutrition and child psychology. The young apprentices will also carry out internships in several day care centers throughout the city. In addition, the young women will also acquire computer skills and participate in workshops on how to set up and manage a small business. Upon completion of the training course, the trainees will have a certificate of qualification which is recognized on the job market, and the know-how to seek employment or to start up their own day care centers.
For Viva Rio coordinator, Virginia Gayoso, who will be working with the girls from Acari in the Viva Baby training course, the real motivation behind her involvement in the project is the commitment the young girls are demonstrating towards improving their lives. "When you see how enthusiastic these girls are, and how much they really want to care for children, then you know that the time and effort spent in this project are well worth it," says Virginia. (July Bulletin)
Rio de Janeiro Local Coordinator:
Racial discrimination is when a person is pre-judged on the grounds of race, colour or ethnic origin. This is keenly felt between Fijians and Indo-Fijians.
Daniel Stanley described how he felt when Fiji was thrown into turmoil eleven years ago during the military coups of 1987: "They would comment on the incident that happened in the coups and also some subject the parliament would bring up...about sending the Indians back to India and letting the Fijians rule this country. They would point out to me that particular subject. It would bother me because sometimes I turn to myself and say where would I go when I am centred in between these two cultures?" Daniel's father is an Indo-Fijian and his mother is an indigenous Fijian.
Naveen is a 26-year-old Indo-Fijian who is married to an indigenous Fijian girl. As he explains, getting married wasn't an easy thing to do. "Coming from a very strong Hindu background, it was bit difficult at first marrying a Fijian girl but then we should encourage inter marriage in Fiji or in any other country because I think this could stop racial discrimination in the countries."
Naveen says encouraging the two main races of Fiji to understand each other can unite the country. He recalls an incident when he felt a victim of racial discrimination.
"The only time I really felt I was racially discriminated was after the coup and things changed like the attitude between our brothers, Fijian brothers, it changed like a blink of an eye. And I remember one day going down to the market and I was doing something when one of the guys yelled out in Fijian and said Moku na kai-Idia' ( Beat up the Indian') and that really made me scared and I took off from there."
Another person, who talks about his relationship with an Indo-Fijian, is Labasa resident Jone Kamea. "I am married to an Indian girl and I am Fijian guy and we are really deep in love. Like from my side, it has not been accepted by my parents. They wanted me to get married to a Fijian girl and on the other hand her parents wanted the girl to get married to an Indian guy. At one stage I even was being threatened that if I ever spoke to that girl again I would be killed, but I took the risk and finally won the battle."
Daniel Stanley says he has been discriminated against by people on a few occasions. "When I would be with my Indian friends and having some good times, I would get over excited and I would show some reaction and some emotional feelings that does not go well with them and they would really point that out as a Fijian misunderstanding of Fijian emotional character."
Stanley says racial discrimination can be controlled if people coming from different backgrounds understand each other. "Many people discriminate others by viewing their own perspective. If people begin to put their feet into the shoes of those fellows who are being discriminated they would gain understanding, they would understand and feel for them." (June Bulletin)
Suva Local Coordinator: