A YOUTH EXCHANGE PROJECT BETWEEN IRELAND AND LEBANON ON CONFLICT TRANSFORMATION
We are increasingly seeing divided communities, young people driven apart and discriminated against because of who they are or where they come from, experiencing anything from racism to street violence and war; crime, substance abuse and disaffection. We wanted to challenge this using non-formal youth work practice, and art as a tool for critical social engagement.
We brought 12 young adults (aged 20–30) from diverse cultural, social and religious backgrounds from Ireland and Lebanon to work together in Beirut, Lebanon for one week to explore how they had Transformed Conflict in their own lives and what they would like to impart to other young people experiencing conflict.
They developed key messages to impart to youth leaders and to empower other young change makers. They present their key messages here as video resources and a companion activity pack.
The project was led by the National Youth Council of Ireland in partnership with Al-Jana, Lebanon. It was supported by the Anna Lindh Foundation. Project partners in Ireland: Bluebell Youth Service and Rialto Youth Project.
These resources were designed to give youth workers and young people the tools to support people to transform the conflict in their lives. The videos and activity pack are designed to be used across Ireland, Lebanon and the Anna Lindh Foundation network countries. The project uses non-formal youth work practice, and arts practice as a tool for critical social engagement. The project acknowledges that all young people experience conflict and building the skills to transfom conflict in their lives is critical, empowering, life changing and has the potential to change communites for the better.
We want to challenge discrimination, disaffection, despair and isolation. We believe in the power and efficacy of using creativity and good youth work practice. We want to challenge the phenomenon of divided communities, people driven apart and discriminated against because of who they are or where they come from.
These resources can be used with any group of young people and adults. The twelve young adults (aged 20–30) we worked with were from diverse cultural, social and religious backgrounds. The range of ethnic backgrounds of our group included: Syrians, Palestinians, Ghana, Nigeria, South Sudanese-Ugandan, rural Ireland and Dublin city.
Our full team was: National Youth Council of Ireland (Project leaders), Amel Yacef (project coordinator), Bluebell Youth Service, Rialto Youth Service, and our Lebanese partners – Al-Jana (experts in using creative methodologies with young people in conflict). Al-Jana were also keen to learn about youth work practice in Ireland. Our team of youth work facilitators shared their skills and experiences during the initial visit and these were expanded on during the return visit.
To begin to explore the concept of conflict transformation, we explored inner conflict by unfolding the thought process of who I think I am, who I think others are and how others see me. This concept is related to the looking glass sociological approach of being both the producer and the product of our own identity. While uncovering this process it was also important to explore the concept of our own shadows and light and understand that there are no shadows without light. Shadows represent our conflicts while light is what we bring to transform our conflicts. We also looked at how we don’t always recognise our own shadows or the light we possess, or that of others. Furthermore, we explored how our shadows can at times block our light and our inner power.
We then used the concept of a tree to explore how conflict often arises when needs are not being met. The roots represented the needs, the trunk represented the emotion and the branches the behaviours. When a person digs deeper through the emotions and the behaviours then can see what needs are not being met.
Following this process we asked the group to then decide on three messages of transformation. One message was for themselves, another for someone younger than them and the final one for community, society and those in power. This is what appears on the two videos both as a simple powerful spoken piece and as a song that was written and performed by the group. The process itself can be seen to unfold in the documentary
We never asked the young people to talk about the conflict in their lives but instead focused on the fact that they had overcome conflict, and were continuing to transform conflict, that they are role models and we would explore the process, not their own life story.
We spent lots of time on team building, setting up agreed ways of working, and exploring what roles each preferred taking in a group.
We were strong about the distinction between Conflict Transformation and Conflict Resolution – we were talking about transforming conflict as being the critical process that needs to be explored and understood. We do not assume that the conflicts we experience reach a resolution or can reach a resolution – that is part of a longer journey where some will and some won’t. The important thing is the process, the journey.
Identity is a critical factor – young people need to choose their own identity – ethnic, national, political, cultural, sexual, gender, religious etc – and be given safe space within the work to test these for themselves as they are challenged by what they hear and experience from others. Part of this work may involve doing work around identity labels such as refugee, female, working class, drop out, and the connotations of belonging to a particular ethnic group etc.