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11 May, 2010

by Ayan Osman, volunteer, Somali Initiative for Dialogue and Democracy (SIDD)

Osman Jama, Chairman of the Somali Initiative for Dialogue and Democracy (SIDD), opens the workshop
Osman Jama, Chairman of the Somali Initiative for Dialogue and Democracy (SIDD), opens the workshop
Conflicts between generations are common to all communities living in Britain. Under the auspices of Initiatives of Change, the Somali community is pioneering an effort to breakdown communication barriers between parents and children, through transformational change.

What started off as a discussion on Peace Begins At Home among representatives of the Somali community in Harrow, London, quickly developed into considering more wider issues, involving peace, reconciliation, identity and the quality of life in Somalia and Britain.

The intergenerational dialogue workshop, was organised by the Somali Initiative for Dialogue and Democracy (SIDD), with the support of Initiatives of Change UK. Funded through a grant from Awards for All, the event was held at the Harrow and Wealdstone Library Centre, on 27 and 28 March.

The workshop was held at Harrow and Wealdstone Library centre in London
The workshop was held at Harrow and Wealdstone Library centre in London
The workshop was put together by Abdi Gure, a community leader, who leads an innovative mental health project. He was assisted by the project's co-ordinators, Amina Khalid, Outreach Associate, Initiatives of Change UK and Zahra Hassan, Director of Women of the Horn. Mohamed Mohamud, an Anti-Social Behaviour and Community Safety Practitioner, moderated the sessions. Don de Silva presented the impact of IofC in the UK and the world.

During both days, the workshop was attended by over 70 members of the older and younger generations of the Somali community in Harrow. The aim was spontaneously described by one participant as "helping individuals and families to counter the climate of blame and selfishness with a culture of care and personal responsibility" and contributing to "rebuilding a sense of community and hope and tackling the cause of racial and communal discrimination."

Children had their own space at the workshop
Children had their own space at the workshop
The workshop was opened with a prayer to bring the group unity and run its course smoothly. The facilitators stressed the importance of letting everyone express their opinions without discrimination and focus on the issues at hand.

The meeting was opened by Osman Jama, Chair of SIDD and the former Deputy Prime Minister of the Transitional government in Somalia. Commenting on the situation in Somalia, he apologised for the mistakes made by the government during his time, which led to the current situation in the country. Several community leaders appreciated and welcomed the apology and urged him and SIDD to continue to work to bring unity and healing among Somali diaspora.

Working sessions

During the workshop, participants broke into several working sessions to discuss intergenerational conflict. Afterwards they reported their discussions to the whole workshop.

Reporting back from the working sessions, many highlighted the lack of communication between parents and children within Somali families. Some children, caught up in new ways of thinking, demanded greater freedom of thought and action. Some parents had difficulties with adapting to British culture, despite living in the country for many years. For them, "home" was still Somalia.

Young people called on parents to attend parenting classes
Young people called on parents to attend parenting classes
Young women in the workshop said that "conversations" with parents flowed only in one direction from parents to children. Parents spoke down to children and asserted their authority, often using religious texts. They expected children to obey what was told without question.

All participants agreed that there wasn’t enough `family time’ spent within each household. Parents were ‘blissfully unaware’ of what their children were up to within and outside school. Parents need to get involved within the education of their children and help and encourage children to better themselves. This involved taking care to choose the right schools for their children.

All participants agreed that expressing unconditional love for children was not something that was done within the Somali community and that this attitude needed to change. In some families, children could feel neglected and unloved. Some of the young people felt that they were under pressure from parents to do well, without being given proper support or guidance.

Fathers set aside clan differences to discuss what is best for their children
Fathers set aside clan differences to discuss what is best for their children
The meeting discussed the impact of chewing "Khat" has among Somali families. Khat, a flowering plant native to tropical East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, has been targeted by anti-drug organizations. It is a controlled or illegal substance in many countries, but is legal for sale in Britain. Many participants pointed out that some Somali fathers emptied their pay-cheques in the Khat cafes, chewing the substance and socialising with their friends, rather than at home.  Without the support of fathers, mothers were forced to work as cleaners or cooks to find the money to keep the family going. Young people, and some women, are now picking up the habit.
Better understanding of religion and culture

Clan and tribal attitudes were identified as being among the major causes of violent attacks within the Somali community. Parents passed on their prejudices to young people.

Learning about identity and culture could help young people to live and work together in diverse communities. It could also help them develop their identity and sense of belonging which are fundamental to personal well-being and the achievements of a flourishing and cohesive society.

Young people need to be helped to develop the ability to see themselves as part of British society, and to critically reflect on who they are. One young person said: "In the house you’re Somali, in school you’re English, sometimes classed as black. Among the black people, we are classified as Somali. And some parts of  the media call us, 'pirates'."

Parents pointed out that not all the old ways were bad. Some traditional values, such as caring for elders and the community spirit of helping each other could assist young people to negotiate the challenges of living in Britain.

Recommendations on ways forward:

All participants agreed that personal transformation was the key to creating peace at home and in society. "Before we can change anything, we have to change ourselves" was echoed by all.

Parents needed to cut down their addiction to Khat and spend the time and money saved for the benefit of families.

Parents should attend parenting classes.

All participants agreed that there wasn’t enough `family time’ spent within each household
All participants agreed that there wasn’t enough `family time’ spent within each household
All members of the community should get involved in community projects. Somalis tend to exclude themselves from the other cultures and races. This needed to be stopped, especially when living in a multicultural society.

Somali community organisations should hold regular events and field trips for parents and children to enjoy together.

Encourage young and old to take full advantage of the education opportunities available in Britain.

The  Quran states that Allah created nations and tribes for identification only and not to despise each other. SIDD has a major role to play in promoting peace and reconciliation among the Somali community and should establish a regular series of events to bring people together.

Sample of feedback from participants

One parent said: "Speaking as a father, I came with some baggage and reservations to this workshop. I thought that mothers and children point the finger at the fathers only. During the workshop, we had honest dialogue. I realise now that I need to change my attitudes towards my children, to take time to be with them and listen to what they say." 

A woman community leader called for unity within the community.

One participant said that uniting as a nation or on the basis of sound religious values was far better than joining clans.

 

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