Documents
Resources
Learning Center
Upload
Plans & pricing Sign in
Sign Out

MINORITY COMMUNITIES IN ACTION

VIEWS: 6 PAGES: 19

									        Minority Communities in Action: Sharing Success and Looking Ahead
                       A report on two NICEC seminars
                     Derry/Londonderry – 6 September 2006
                           Newry – 7 September 2006

                                             ***

                                    INTRODUCTION
NICEC‘s Minority Community in Action Seminars were held on the 6th of September 2006 at
the Millenium Forum, Derry/Londonderry and on the 7th of September 2006 at Ballybot
House in Newry. The seminars aimed to showcase best practices, tools and resources
developed by minority communities, for minority communities, both locally and
internationally. As the population of Northern Ireland becomes more and more ethnically
diverse, new challenges and opportunities have arisen. Discrimination and racism are serious
problems, but are also being addressed at grassroots levels in innovative and creative ways.
Some of the most interesting initiatives come from minority groups themselves, who are
fighting discrimination from the majority while often simultaneously challenging their own
communities.

The purpose of these events was therefore to make all those involved in the area of minority
rights in Northern Ireland, and especially those working on the ground, aware of some of
these initiatives. The seminars were designed to give speakers a chance to tell their own
stories, some of which were intensely personal and all of which were greatly inspiring. The
organisers were pleasantly surprised at the amount of interest in the seminars, and each was
attended by close to 100 delegates.

Both events shared a similar basic structure, with local and international speakers presenting
their work under four broad themes. Four groups, invited from Canada, London, the
United States and the Czech Republic, gave presentations at both events, and were followed
by local speakers who differed from day to day. Many of the international speakers also met
with policy-makers, activists and community workers in the days surrounding the seminars.

The organisers would like to thank all those involved in making each event a success, and
hopes that this report will serve as a useful reminder of the information and discussion
shared. Thank you, especially, to SEEDS and the Confederation of Community Groups for
co-hosting the events with INCORE. This report has attempted to integrate both days into
a coherent whole, and differentiates only between days where necessary.
                     CONFERENCE OPENING AND WELCOME
On the first day, the Mayor of Derry/Londonderry, Helen Quigley, opened the conference
by welcoming all participants, and by extending a particularly warm welcome to those
coming from outside the city. She stressed the importance of making members of minority
groups in Derry/Londonderry feel secure and valued for their contribution. As the region
changes, policy and practice will have to adapt, and she felt that the conference provided a
useful means by which such a process could be facilitated.

On the 7th, Laurence Bradley, Community Work and Education Manager at the
Confederation of Community Groups, opened the conference and expressed his happiness
at seeing so many relevant organisations represented. Community development, he felt, has
undergone a transformation in recent years—whereas previously in Northern Ireland it has
revolved around solidarity and struggle, it is now about synergy and services. It is an area of
work which constantly has to prove itself, as the government often sees things differently to
community groups. Measuring and proving outputs will become more and more important.
In short, community development must continue to engage with new realities and to adapt
to changing needs in the community.


          SESSION 1: CHALLENGING RACISM & MOBILISING YOUTH
Facilitatator:                 Gillian Robinson (Director, INCORE)
International Speakers:        Rotimi Akinsete (Face 2 Face, Waltham Forest PCT)
                               Leyla Hussein (African Well Women’s Centre)
                               Adnan Mohamed & Sureya Ishaq (Somali Youth Forum)
Local Speaker, Day 1:          Margaret Boyle (Derry Travelers Support Group)
Local Speakers, Day 2:         Denise Wright (South Belfast Roundtable on Racism)
                               Maciek Bator (South Belfast Roundtable on Racism)
                               Leish Cox (Chinese Welfare Association)
                               Tommy Marrow (South Belfast Roundtable on Racism)

Rotimi Akinsete began by giving a background into his community and heritage. He works
in the London borough of Waltham Forest, a poor and ethnically diverse area with a
population of 250 000. A significant African community has existed in Waltham Forest
since the 1950s, when a large number of Africans were invited to Britain to fill labour
shortages (a fact which, Rotimi explained, conflicts with the stereotype of immigrants
―stealing‖ jobs). His own parents immigrated from Nigeria before he was born, giving him
an identity rooted both in the UK and in Africa.

Rotimi‘s organisation, Face 2 Face, works with any young person who has a connection with
Waltham Forest, offering a variety of health services. These include one-to-one counseling,
a sexual health clinic, specialist support youth workers, a drug & alcohol worker, housing
advice and careers, education and benefits advice. The centre promotes the mental, physical
and spiritual well-being of all young people through workshops and activities, providing one-
to-one support and sign-posting young people to other services.
Leyla Hussein from the African Well Women‘s Centre, also in Waltham Forest, then
introduced herself and explained her background. Like Rotimi, she feels both African (she
was born in Somalia) and British. She is thus well placed to understand what she called the
‗dual lives‘ that many young black Londoners live every day, and to tackle, through her
Centre, many issues usually taboo within her community, such as HIV/AIDS and female
genital mutilation. She also works closely with many local youth groups such as the Somali
Youth Forum, the football teams which some Somali youth have formed in the area, and
non-African youth groups.

Leyla and Rotimi were in Northern Ireland to accompany two young Somalians who have
been living in the UK since they were granted refugee status several years ago. Adnan
Mohamed, 17, and Sureya Ishaq, 16, spoke of their involvement in the Somali Youth
Forum, created after the ‗7/7‘ bombings in London. One of the alleged perpetrators of the
attempted bombings on the 21/7 was Somali, and many in the Somali community felt they
were being unfairly stigmatised by society and the media, and disproportionately targeted by
police in Waltham Forest. Some personal anecdotes were given to illustrate these
arguments; Adnan and his friends, for example, were asked sarcastically by the police if they
were ―training for the Somali football team‖ as they played football in a park, an incident
Adnan perceived as offensive and harassing.

The Forum was thus set up to portray a more positive image of the Somali community. Its
aims include identifying other Somali youth services from other London boroughs, linking
up with other non-Somali youth services, building up the profile of young Somalis,
identifying positive role models for young Somalis and organising social events such as
fashion shows, celebrations of the Somali national day, and interfaith Eid celebrations. It
hosts a poetry and writers circle, a dance group and an arts group.

The Forum has been trying to showcase the contributions Somalis make to British society.
It combats the association of Somali youths with terrorism through schemes such as the
―Somali Youths Against Terrorism‖ Campaign. It has also created Somali Eye magazine and
radio shows, which highlight the positive by, for example, publishing lists of the degrees, A-
Levels and GCSEs earned by local Somalis. In addition, it screens educational videos which
raise awareness about issues affecting Somalia, such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM),
child marriage and women‘s health.

The local speaker on the first day was Margaret Boyle, who spoke of the work of her
organisation, the Derry Travellers Support Group (DTSG). She mentioned several
disturbing statistics relating to the lives of the 22 000 Travellers in Ireland and approximately
1 600 in Northern Ireland: only 1% of Travellers live to the age of 65, and the overall life
expectancy is 12 years below that of the settled population. At 18.1%, the infant mortality
rate of Travellers is twice that of the settled population. Levels of education are also
significantly lower, and not a single member of the Traveller community is currently in
tertiary education. Travellers report widespread discrimination, with 75% claiming that they
have experienced difficulties in trying to book a hotel room. Resident groups in the
community often organise campaigns against Traveller neighbours.

DTSG exists to foster the growth of confidence among the Traveller community to
encourage participation, empowerment and ownership of projects; to promote opportunities
for education and training that are appropriate to Traveller culture; to promote the rights of
Travellers and ensure equal access to services; to affirm the ethnicity of Travellers and
ensure equal access to services; to affirm the ethnicity of Travellers, address prejudice and
encourage an appreciation of Traveller culture; to facilitate information sharing, advice and
mediation; and to network with other projects and promote integration and closer
professional and social interaction between the Traveller community, statutory bodies and
the 'settled' community.

The organisation provides a wide range of care programmes based on the community
development model of intervention, which emphasises inclusivity and full consultation with
the target community, in this case Irish travellers. These programmes include pre-schools,
crèches, out-of-school care, youth groups, homework clubs, women‘s groups, adult
education and health promotion programmes.

DTSG also represents Travellers on a range of statutory committees and acts as an advocate
representing their views within statutory agencies such as the Northern Ireland Health
Executive, the Western Education and Library Board, and the Western Health and Social
Services Board. It seeks to ensure that the legislation ensuring non-discrimination against
Travellers is upheld through lobbying and monitoring. Margaret ended her presentation
with a request that we all recognise that we carry stereotypes which could be eradicated by
the realisation that each person as unique and each culture as diverse as we see ourselves and
our own culture to be.

On day two, several representatives from (or affiliated with) the South Belfast Roundtable
on Racism explained how and why their organisation was created. Denise Wright explained
that South Belfast had, for a long time, been protected from the forces of globalisation by
the Troubles. Relative peace has rapidly increased immigration, and with this has come an
increase in racially motivated hate crimes, both in Northern Ireland in general and South
Belfast in particular. Entire communities have been demonised and marginalised. The
Forum was created in order to bring together over 40 diverse groups working to fight
racism, in order to share ideas and information, identify the needs of ethnic minorities and to
tackle issues before they grow out of control. The Forum is expanding rapidly, and this has
been a learning process for all involved.

Leish Cox from the Chinese Welfare Association provided some practical examples of the
work the Roundtable is engaged in. The Roundtable was initially criticised by some outside
the organisation as a ‗talking shop‘, but members have persevered and have had very positive
results. The school uniforms of a certain group were becoming, for many, synonymous with
racist behaviour, so the Roundtable organised several educational initiatives such as school
visits and puppet shows. After one such visit, a young person told Leish that it had spurred
him to challenge people shouting racial slurs in his own neighbourhood. Leish also pointed
out that many community groups are open to working with minorities, but have no capacitiy
or information on where to start. The Roundtable has held ‗myth-busting sessions‘ with
them and with the public, in order to dispel negative perceptions, such as the wrongful
notion that immigrants are taking jobs away from locals. It has also conducted a mapping
exercise in order to identify all groups working with minorities in the area, and is in the
process of creating a directory with its findings. Finally, its Shared History project is due to
be completed by early December.
Tommy Mallon, a Progressive Unionist Party councillor, agreed that racist violence has
replaced sectarian violence, and felt politicians in general have not done enough to combat
this. By speaking to people in the community and participating in the Roundtable, he has
had the chance to do his part to tackle this growing concern. He also felt the media tended
to publicise the negative and ignore the negative in areas such as South Belfast. Tommy
defended the Unionist community he represents, remarking that prejudice exists in all
communities. He has helped to set up a Community Police Liaison initiative in a Unionist
area.

Majek Bator, from Poland, spoke of his experiences living and working in Belfast. He
draw attention to the many social and cross-community events the Roundtable helps to
organise, such as football games and family boating trips. He concluded by urging delegates
to sign the Roundtable‘s anti-racism statement, which has more than 122 signatory
organisations thus far.

Discussion, Day 1:

    ―Do you feel that the government and statutory sector listens to the voices of young
     people such as yourselves?‖

Adnan responded that their group does not directly receive any public funds, and that they
often encounter apathy from the police and other bodies. However, he felt that the more
people become involved in the group, the more the government is being forced to take
notice. Leyla echoed this, stating that there was very little support at first but that this has
changed somewhat. When the Forum was started, it did not even have a meeting place, and
because many similar groups existed, many asked ―why are you bothering to start yet
another one?‖ No-one was at the forefront, however, and there was a lot of duplication of
services. Many groups were causing more harm than good, and have had to be ―named and
shamed‖ by organisations such as her own.

Rotimi felt that the government tends to spend a lot of money on a problem when it first
surfaces, but that this has mixed results and often amounts to ―putting a plaster over a
cancer‖. Face 2 Face and similar programmes as proof that the government is listening to
these young people, and seeking partnership with them. He urged that young people be
allowed to dictate the way forward to a greater extent. Margaret from DTSG felt that where
police and statutory responses are concerned, one area which requires urgent further
investigation and research was the matter of police discrimination against travellers.

    ―How is the ‗War on Terror is affecting your work?‖

Leyla felt that the police have not exhibited much willingness to engage with them, citing a
community safety meeting organised by the Forum which the police declined to attend.
Rotimi said that the Stephen Lawrence case had caused black people in Britain to lose all
faith in the police system for a long time, but that committed organisations would continue
to try to challenge, engage with, and change the police and the legal system. Adnan, for
example, plans to study law upon graduating.
    ―To what extent are you cooperating with organisations representing other cultures and
     ethnicities in your area?‖

Leyla answered that the Somali Youth Forum works closely with other faith and other
youth groups, and Rotimi added that as the Forum is a response to a particular situation
(namely the current political climate in the UK), a common, unified position is needed
which encompasses all sectors of the community. Margaret spoke of joint activities which
young travellers have organised with Chinese and Polish groups. However, many people
are often reluctant to come to traveller sites, and this hampers collective action, thus there is
still clearly a lot of groundbreaking work to be done.

    ―How does Face 2 Face target newcomers into the community in order to make them
     aware of their options and rights?‖

    ―How can we avoid new migrants into Northern Ireland from being taken advantage
     of by unscrupulous middle-men, or ‗consultants‘?‖

Rotimi pointed out that there is definitely more social infrastructure in place in London than
in Northern Ireland, and urged local organisations not to ―reinvent the wheel‖, but instead
to learn from the many organisations that were once in a similar position. It is up to each
organisation to get the word out, whether that is through the media, school visits, one-stop
shops, or even by simply approaching visible minorities in the street. Gillian Robinson
added that it was precisely the aim of these seminars to bring such good practices to the
fore.

    ―Leyla, you mentioned that you are doing work to challenge your own community
     Could you please expand on that?‖

Leyla felt that this is the most difficult yet most essential aspect of her work—―we need to
sort out our own culture first‖. This is why it is important to engage with and gain the
acceptance of older Somalis in the community. Leyla was invited to help to select the local
football team, a highly unusual opportunity for a woman and a sign that Somali men are
willing to engage with change. This has been aided by the fact that coming together after
the London bombings has been a coping mechanism for the entire community.

Discussion, Day 2:

    ―What is the first step organisations can take to get things moving?‖

Denise felt that it often takes someone with power and influence to spur the rest of the
community into getting involved. Adnan stressed the need for power in numbers, and for
mobilising as many supporters as possible. Tommy felt that his own catalyst for getting
involved as an individual, was to observe the dynamics in his own neighbourhood. Rotimi
also stressed the need for individuals to take action in order to make a difference.
    ―A focus on Northern Ireland‘s Polish community and on other newcomers is
     simplistic and ignores the many ethnic minorities who have been having to cope with
     racism in Northern Ireland before 2004. Often local minorities distrust the police,
     especially since in many areas in South Belfast, paramilitaries and gangs remain the real
     local authorities. The uniqueness of Northern Ireland‘s continuing security situation
     should be addressed, and activists should realise that socially excluded youth are less
     often the problem than the adults who they emulate.‖

    ―But what about the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI)? Should those in
     community development then ignore the police?

Tommy agreed that paramilitaries are a problem in South Belfast. He pointed out that they
are also members of the community and that it is therefore possible (and necessary) to build
links and engage with them in order to tackle the greater problem of racism. The police, too,
are gradually coming on board and we must continue to work closely with them.

Denise followed by saying that the police often take their lead from organisations such as the
Roundtable, who have built links with the local community. However, it remains a slow
and complicated process. Rotimi felt that the police in the UK remain institutionally racist,
and while lots has been done on this front, lots more remains to be done. Stereotypes do
not go away, they merely change and find new targets. The truism that we need to celebrate
our differences remains as valid as ever, and this event is a good example of how we can do
this.

                                    SESSION BREAK

Between sessions, Wheelworks/Indian Community Centre presented a short film produced
as part of the Multiple Realities programme, an arts led cultural development programme for
young people from cultural and ethnic minority communities in Northern Ireland.
Wheelworks co-ordinated this film with Young People from Belfast‘s Indian Community
Centre in early 2005. Professional artists guided participants through all stages of creating
their own film based on short stories written by group members. The film shown during the
Minority Communities in Action seminars focused particularly on racial bullying.

     SESSION 2: COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT AND COMMUNITY SAFETY
Facilitatator:                 Roisin O’Hagen (North West Community Network)
International Speakers:        Andrea Williams (Williams Consulting)
                               Beverly Jacobs (Native Women’s Association of Canada)
                               Cheryl Elliot (Shkagamik-kwe Health Centre)
Local Speaker, Day 1:          Kamila Lukesova (Bilingual Community Safety
                               Advocates, Ballymena)
Local Speaker, Day 2:          Justina McCabe (Polish Resource Centre, Newry)

The international speakers on both days were Andrea Williams, Beverly Jacobs and
Cheryl Elliot, First Nations women from Canada who are involved in advocacy, community
development and activism on behalf of the country‘s more than 2 million Native Canadians.
Beverly is the Chair of the Native Women‘s Association of Canada (MWAC), a national
Aboriginal organisation founded in 1974 to enhance, promote and foster the social,
economic, cultural and political well-being of Aboriginal women within First Nation
communities and Canadian Society as a whole. It also exercises an advocacy role in
collaboration with Aboriginal women‘s organisations and the federal government. An area
of particular emphasis is the undertaking of initiatives to end violence against women. For
years, NWAC and other Aboriginal women‘s organisations have raised public awareness of
the high number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada.

The terminology surrounding this topic is complex. The term Aboriginal is defined in the
Canadian constitution (1982) as comprising the ―Indian, Inuit and Metis people of Canada.‖
The term Status Indian was and continues to be defined by the Indian Act of 1876, which the
speakers view as grossly discriminatory towards Aboriginal women and their children. First
Nations is a self-derived term, implying a special relationship with the federal government
and a nation-to-nation approach which recognizes that each of Canada‘s more than 600 First
Nations have different customs, political stances and identities. For example, Andrea is
Cree, Beverly is Mohawk, and Cheryl is Shingwauk, and each approaches their common goal
in a different manner due to this heritage.

Aboriginal people continue to face challenges of the past, and the effects of colonialism. As
part of the federal government‘s colonization process, a policy of assimilation was instituted
to extinguish Aboriginal title to the land. This included the establishment of residential
schools, which existed from 1892 to 1996 and sought to eliminate the languages, values and
cultures of Aboriginal people. These schools, colloquially known as ‗mush-holes‘ due to the
restricted diet of children attending them, were largely responsibly for the loss of spirituality,
pride, identity and family cohesion which still affect Aboriginal communities today.
Depression, alcohol abuse and a sense of helplessness and hopelessness are all a result of this
loss of identity.

In addition, because so many Aboriginal people of a certain generation were not raised by
their parents, Cheryl pointed out, many lack basic parenting skills and, in turn, had their
children taken away from them. Cheryl spoke movingly how much it meant to her, herself a
former ward of the state, to be able to raise her daughter and to pass on her traditions and
ancestry.

Another measure geared at disenfranchising Aboriginal people was the aforementioned
Indian Act. The legislation bestows ‗Indian Status‘ along patrilineal lines, but First Nations
in Canada have a long history of matrilineal organization. The granting of different levels of
Aboriginal status seems arbitrary and geared at fracturing First Nations communities.
Beverly thus views the current legislation as profoundly racist, and has warned that it will
extinguish some communities within 10 to 15 years.

Social and economic marginalisation, poverty, abuse and racism have thus led to a situation
where Aboriginal women are the most vulnerable population in Canada. They are three
times more likely to suffer violence than Non-Aboriginal women, and their median income
is $5000 less than non-Aboriginal women. For the last two decades, there has been growing
concern for the safety of Aboriginal women. Reward posters are a common sight in
Aboriginal communities, and cities nationwide have reported abductions, murders and
sexual abuse. However, little to no connection is made by authorities regarding the ethnicity
or Aboriginal descent of these women.

In March 2004, NWAC launched the national Sisters in Spirit campaign, which aims to
bring to the public‘s attention the high rates of racialised, sexualised violence against
Aboriginal women. NWAC announces an estimate of 500 missing or murdered Aboriginal
women, and many other community initiatives are also raising awareness locally about this
alarming trend. Beverly was involved in the creation of a report, released by Amnesty
International in 2004, entitled ―Stolen Sisters: A Human Rights Response to Discrimination
and Violence against Indigenous Women in Canada‖.

NWAC has received government support for this campaign, which will run from 2005 to
2010, thanks to the support of families of victims, community members, and relevant
organisations. It will encompass qualitative and quantitative research undertaken with the
families of victims, in order to gain a better understanding of the circumstances, root causes
and trends behind this violence. It will also develop community education/action kits for
use by grassroots organisations. In addition, NWAC will work with participating families
and the community to develop a policy agenda in order to influence government initiatives.
Care will be taken to follow cultural norms and to base the project on values such as
inclusivity and sensitivity. For example, an Elder may be present during the interview and
incorporate appropriate cultural supports during the sharing process to help with healing
and grief.

The overall goal of the initiative is to reduce the risks and increase the safety and security of
all Aboriginal women in Canada. The desired outcome of this initiative, in combination
with other work underway by similar organisations, is to increase gender equality and
improve the participation of Aboriginal women in the economic, social, cultural and
political realms of Canadian society. Andrea, Beverly and Cheryl were keen to stress the
need to move away from blame and victimhood towards active participation, both within
Aboriginal communities and in conjunction with the outside world.

As the local speaker on the 6th, Kamila Lukesova gave a presentation about the work of the
Ballymena Community Forum. The Forum‘s Ethnic Minorities Project, established in June
2002 as a pilot project and developed in partnership with Ballymena Borough Council, aims
to influence current and proposed race legislation, be involved in peace and political
developments, shape policy development, build communities, promote active citizenship and
tackle disadvantage. It is presently working on a regional basis to share good practices and
promote joint initiatives.

The project has found that, from September 2002 to September 2006, the minority ethnic
population in Ballymena has increased from 359 to more than 2000. At the same time, there
has been an increase in racially motivated attacks and incidents in Ballymena. Progress has
been made, however, in encouraging more minority ethnic members to report crimes, and
the project has been supporting the work of the PSNI in monitoring racially motivated
incidents.

The Community Safety Support Project aims at preventing and reducing negative social and
environmental factors which affect the lives of minority ethnic communities in Ballymena.
Working closely with the Minority Ethnic Liaison Officer of the PSNI and local interpreters,
it supports individuals in a wide range of issues relating to community safety and access to
basic services, such housing, healthcare and employment. The project has also set up a
support base of over 50 local interpreters. In addition, it also holds multi-cultural events
(such as a multi-cultural health fair held in December 2003) and supports English classes,
arts projects and workshops in and around Ballymena.

On the second day, Justina McCabe presented the results of a survey conducted among
Newry‘s Polish community by her organisation, the Polish Resource Centre. She noted her
amazement at the fact that she often hears Polish being spoken around her in Northern
Ireland, and compared this to the very different situation only a few years ago. In spite of
the 3000 Polish people living in Newry, before her organisation was established in 2005
there was no such centre to meet their needs.

Justina explained how the Polish Resource Centre, in partnership with the Community
Development Unit of the Newry & Mourne Health & Social Services Trust (NMHSST), sent
out 100 questionnaires to Polish people living in the Newry and Mourne area. The
questionnaires asked 31 questions covering social, economic and environmental issues; 62 of
the questionnaires were returned fully or partially completed. The questionnaire found,
among other things, that most respondents (89%) had arrived in Northern Ireland in the
past year; the majority (70%) were in employment; only a small minority were receiving
benefits (5%) and almost 1/3 of respondents were able to speak English.

Justina concluded that funding should be secured urgently for the continued support and
development of the Polish Resource Centre. She argued that the Northern Ireland Housing
Executive needed to ensure proper compliance with standards in the private sector where
there are multiple tenancies; that there needed to be a clearer understanding of how Polish
migrants can obtain access to healthcare, education, benefits and entitlements; that there was
a greater need for promotion of interpreting services within the statutory, voluntary &
community sectors and that the Polish Resource Centre needs to look at developing
different formats of communication with its own community through newsletters and
promotion of the availability of internet access. Finally, Justina concluded that the results of
this survey needed to be completed and disseminated to a wide range of agencies in the
Newry and Mourne area.

Discussion, Day 1:

    ―How can we harmonise policy on providing information to newcomers and
     standardise the information we provide?‖

Ken Fraser, Head of the Racial Equality Unit, announced that the Office of the First
Minister/Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) would be launching a rights-based guide for
ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland within the next few months. However, he also
pointed out that local, specific information was often more needed than standardised, one-
size-fits all advice.
    ―It is interesting to see that Canada, a country which many of us usually see as a
     paragon of multiculturalism and minority rights, has treated its indigenous people so
     terribly. How do you manage to raise awareness of the fact that Canada still has major
     problems much of the world has little knowledge of?‖

Andrea shared several awareness-raising and research initiatives the NWAC, to which she is
affiliated, are involved in. These include conducting quantitative research, compiling case
studies, and working with the media (each year has a different ‗theme‘ which is
communicated as widely as possible). Community-based awareness strategies, such as
building ties with local youth and with police, are also important. NWAC meets four times
a year with senior officials from different government departments. The fact that this is
even possible is already an indicator of success, given the government‘s initial reluctance.
As many speakers in the first session indicated, the process of engagement is slow and
arduous, but vital.

    ―Coming from Africa, I can identify with the problem of divisive, arbitrary borders that
     split nations in two. In Africa, too, we were discouraged from speaking our native
     language and practising our traditional culture. Could you please tell us more about the
     traditional culture of the indigenous people of Canada? Do you view yourselves as
     Canadian?‖

Beverly said that only the history of the colonisers is taught, and this means that many from
the first nations have forgotten their heritage and traditions. Many native men, especially,
have forgotten the values of gender equality and respect for women that was the backbone
of the culture of Canada‘s first nations, and now oppress women. Regarding the issue of
political identity, each clan has a different stance. Beverly‘s clan, the Mohawks, want
complete sovereignty, i.e. a ‗nation within a nation‘ arrangement.

Discussion, Day 2:

The discussion began with several announcements regarding forthcoming events,
publications and other initiatives in Newry of interest to minority communities and those
working with them. This was followed by a more traditional question and answer session:

    ―What legal and political representation do Native Canadians have?‖

According to Beverly, for a long time, it was an offense for an indigenous Canadian to
obtain a lawyer under the Indian Act. The legal process was thus a tool of assimilation.
Now Beverly is a lawyer and works to drastically reform the Department of Indian Affairs.
Cheryl added that their generation (i.e. Native Canadians born in the 60‘s and 70‘s) are the
first to mobilise politically and to fight to reassert control over their future.

    ―What can we do to help the cause of the NWAC?‖

Beverly expressed her gratitude, and spoke of the importance of allies around the world in
order to help champion the cause of her organisation. The very fact that people recognise
Canada does not have a spotless record of dealing with its indigenous people is valuable. In
turn, the seminars have made her realise that her community is not the only one on the
margins of society.

    During their stay in Northern Ireland, the Canadian visitors visited some Traveller sites
     with An Munia Tober and had the chance to talk to some residents in these
     communities. Derek Hanway, Director of An Munia Tober, now asked them: ―what
     struck you about your visit?‖

Cheryl said she was surprised to learn that St. Mary‘s, a primary school in Belfast, is attended
almost entirely by Travellers, pointing to de facto segregation. Although she had been told
during the week that Traveller parents were free to send their children to any school of their
choosing, she soon learnt that the city council did not provide special transport for
Travellers to encourage them to do so.

In addition, she was shocked to see that young unemployed Traveller men were not being
hired to work in projects aimed to regenerate areas in which Traveller communities were
present. She urged that they be more directly involved. She spoke of the need for Northern
Ireland to be proud of its Traveller community and the richness and diversity it contributes
to the culture, which is defined by all its inhabitants, not merely its majority. She asked
whether there was one day a year set aside for the celebration of Traveller culture.

This sparked a debate about the treatment of Travellers in the Newry area. One delegate felt
that the fact that the Newry local council elected to bulldoze a Traveller site near the centre
of town and thereby dispersed its inhabitants, was proof of continuing racism and
discrimination. Another delegate, however, pointed out that the site‘s location near a river
had made it dangerous for families with small children, and that some families had
specifically asked to live in certain estates in Newry instead. Both agreed, however, that a
massive problem of racism remains, as ―no-one wants Travellers in their backyard‖.
Another participant told Cheryl that St. Mary‘s is fairly unique, and that no such equivalent
existed in Newry. But she agreed that many related problems did exist in Newry, and that an
extensive educational programme would need to be embarked on in order to truly
accommodate the needs of travellers within the sector.


                                SESSION 3: EDUCATION
Facilitatator:                 Eddie Kerr (SEEDS)
International Speaker:         Stephen Wessler (American Center for the Prevention of
                               Hate Violence)
Local Speaker, Day 1:          Dean Lee (Northern Ireland Council for Integrated
                               Education (NICIE)
Local Speaker, Day 2:          Shibeena Ali (Attitude Peer Education Project)


Stephen Wessler, from the American Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence, began
his presentation by noting that although racism is linked to phenomena such as increased
immigration or the presence of travellers in an area, observers must take care not to view the
problem as originating with those coming into a society. Rather, the problem of racism lies
with society‘s reaction to these supposed ‗outsiders‘. Societies around the world are
struggling to adjust to demographic change, yet in Europe and the United States, most
crimes are committed by a very limited demographic—that of the young white male.

It is Steve‘s job to help combat this racism. He has chosen to do this in schools, as he has
found that racial violence often originates from racial slurs and bullying which occurred from
the time the perpetrator was a child or teenager. He believes that violence, or the threat of
it, is not the beginning of a process, but actually the end of a process of escalation. The
routine use of stereotypes escalates because no one challenges it, thereby creating the
impression that use of these stereotypes is acceptable. It was this realisation that made Steve
give up his previous career in law (which focuses on the end of this process), turn to
education (which focuses on the beginning).

In addition, schools force interaction between children of various cultures, whereas adults
can choose to interact only with those of a similar background. The problem, of course,
often lies with the older generations, who pass their biases on to their children. Steve
expressed his admiration of young people like Adnan and Sureya, who are emerging as
leaders in the fight against racism.

Steve regularly holds workshops in order to train teachers and students to recognise bias and
discrimination, and to make them aware of the impact and seriousness of such behaviour.
Steve then asked various delegates to read out statements and testimonies written by
students in Northern Ireland during workshops he had conducted. Delegates found many
of these jokes, slurs and stories of harassment upsetting, and were shocked at the level of
hatred exhibited. Delegates were also asked to read out several of the students‘ ‗impact
statements‘, which told of the self-harm, eating disorders and lack of self-esteem suffered by
targets of racism in schools. Finally, he asked participants to read testimonials from those
who completed his workshops, which exhibited a new understanding of and sensitivity to
the problems faced by victims of racism. They spoke of a new determination to speak up in
the face of abuse directed at peers.

Steve mentioned other positive effects of anti-racism programmes. In one school, truancy
fell by 44%. The self-confidence of students increased tremendously, and students had
many inspiring stories to tell. Two key groups, in particular, need to be involved: teachers,
who need to be equipped with practical skills to use in the classroom, and those who actually
harass, who may not be aware of the impact their behaviour. Turning the old catchphrase
on its head, Steve said that ―sticks and stones can break your bones, but words of hate can
break your soul‖.

Contact and discussion can facilitate understanding and give students a forum in which they
can voice their stories and discover, first hand, the negative impact of stereotypes. These
workshops also encourage students to examine their stereotypes and to understand that
these are often based on false facts and myths. For example, many Americans (and
incidentally, many Irish Americans) have ancestors who faced persecution and hardship
before coming to the United States, as do many newcomers into the country. Sharing these
stories can provide a sense of commonality and understanding.
On the first day, the local speaker was Dean Lee, from the Northern Ireland Council for
Integrated Education (NICIE). Dean‘s parents, from Hong Kong, were invited by the
British government to fill a labour shortage in Northern Ireland. His experience, he stated,
was thus fairly representative of most 2nd generation Chinese people in Northern Ireland.
For a long time, his community was the only sizeable minority in Northern Ireland, making
him feel like a ―big fish in a small pond‖. With his Northern Irish accent, he has not
experience very much racism in Northern Ireland, and has been able to make many friends.
He is still, occasionally, reminded that he belongs to an ethnic minority, especially when
people who do not know him will call him names on the street or attempt to intimidate him.
As a gay man, however, he has found homosexuality to be a far greater taboo than race in
Northern Ireland, and is acutely aware that he is a minority within a minority. Dean thus
stressed that while all of us share many similarities, it is also important not to gloss over
differences, and to realise that everyone is a unique individual with a unique background and
set of values.

Dean next gave some background on the work of NICIE. NICIE is a statutory organisation
that was set up to develop, support and promote Integrated Education in Northern Ireland.
The underpinning principles of Integrated Education is that by bringing Catholic, Protestant
and children of other faiths, and none, together in a shared learning environment, they can
learn to understand, respect and accept their differences. Because most schools in Northern
Ireland are segregated along sectarian lines, NICIE unapologetically focuses first and
foremost on eliminating this divide. However, as Good Relations Officer, Dean is also,
naturally, interested in minority issues and in mainstreaming equality in all areas of education.

One initiative he has helped to organise is the establishment of museums which attempt to
answer the old racist slur ―get back where you came from‖ in an ironic and informative
manner by exploring the heritages of Northern Ireland‘s ethnic minorities. He also meets
with focus groups from integrated schools in order to better understand the challenges and
opportunities students and teachers face at these schools. Integration is a journey, not a
destination, Dean pointed out. While on this journey, Northern Ireland can learn from
diversity policies in England, Wales, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland.

Finally, Dean spoke about the Black and Minority Ethnic Groups (BMEG) Network, which
he has recently helped to form. The BMEG network aims to create a safe space for
meetings between groups representing a variety of minority ethnicities. The network is
informal, and facilitates projects rather than creating them. However, it is a step forward in
achieving closer cooperation between likeminded organisations, and bridging the gap
between the statutory sector and the grassroots.

Shibeena Ali, the local speaker on the 7th, is a 17-year old student in Belfast. Her parents
originate from Kashmir, but she was born in Northern Ireland. Her dual identity as a
Northern Irish and Pakistani Muslim has exposed her to many challenges but also to many
opportunities. Shibeena is currently involved in ‗Attitude‘, a peer education project which
seeks to educate teenagers about the risks of drugs. Attitude is an interagency initiative that
is partnered with the Southern Education and Library Board in order to empower young
people to make informed decisions. Shibeena is one of 14 teenagers from the ages of 15 to
18 who hold workshops with teenagers, teaching them the facts of drugs through exercises,
role-playing and open discussion.
The difference between this and similar programmes is that ‗Attitude‘ has been designed by
young people, for young people. She has been impressed by how responsive and creative
target teenagers have been at these workshops, and feels they will be less likely to experiment
with drugs as a result of this initiative. She also maintained that involvement in this project
has been personally helpful, as it has helped her to gain confidence and educated her about
the dangers of drugs. She mentioned that she would never have had the chance to be
chosen to represent her school at conferences such as this, if it were not for her involvement
in the project. The project has also helped her to meet like-minded young people and form
lasting friendships.

Discussion:

The session began with Olga, a lady from Latvia, speaking of her own experience living and
working in Northern Ireland. She is originally a German teacher in Latvia, but due to a
shortage of teaching positions in her home country, she now works in a restaurant in
Newry. She wants to continue her education to make her more employable in Northern
Ireland, but lacks the money to send her young daughter to a day-care centre. She lacks
information and resources, and asked delegates to give her any suggestions they might have.
This real-life dilemma truly brought the reality of the day‘s aims and objectives home, and
made delegates more aware of the human faces behind the statistics and policies that had
been discussed earlier. Several delegates approached Olga after the event in order to offer
assistance and information.

    ―How do we help teachers to overcome the self-consciousness many of them feel
     when teaching as sensitive and emotional a subject as racism or segregation?‖

Steve admitted that young people are much more receptive than older people, who are often
sceptical and uncomfortable in his workshops. But because teachers are such an integral
part of the equation, they need to be given practical skills to intervene in low-key, respectful
ways. This can include saying ―we don‘t speak like that here‖ when a teacher overhears
racist language, or allowing the class to discuss thoughts they might have on their minds.
Often the best way to pass this on to teachers is to involve them as chaperones or helpers,
so that they do not even realise they are learning along with the class! Dean also spoke of
several projects aimed at diversity and mutual understanding which have proved useful in
teacher training colleges in Northern Ireland.

    ―We must be the change we want to see in the world, and address seemingly small
     signs of discrimination in our daily lives. This can include, for example, pointing out
     the offensiveness of some of the ―jokes‖ forwarded to us in emails every day. Often,
     people appreciate it, as they do not recognise the racism behind such words.‖

Steve agreed, but also pointed out that sometimes people realise the content, but not the
impact of their words. Surprisingly, impact is actually for more important than intent,
especially since students do have empathy and do not usually intend to scar others in the
ways that they do. For this reason, it is very important to correctly articulate the goals of
workshops such as Steve‘s. People should be made to understand that they are not expected
to change their beliefs, but merely their conduct. While the issue of gay rights, for example,
can be debated, it is difficult to challenge the basic principle that everyone should feel safe in
school. In any case, often people do find their beliefs changing as they change their conduct.

The discussion closed with a few additional comments:

    ―A lot of this discussion revolves around issues of power. Asymmetrical power
     relationships lead to racism, and it is therefore important to exercise power over our
     own lives and destinies. First Nations groups such as Andrea and Beverly‘s have
     stopped giving away their power, and it is high time the oppressed and marginalised in
     Northern Ireland did the same‖

    ―From the point of view of folklore, all jokes have a function, no matter how
     seemingly offensive. Jokes are used to test boundaries, to see how people react, and to
     air issues not usually discussed. People use jokes to come to terms with stress, and this
     is why distressing news events lead to a rise in jokes. However, after these jokes have
     been aired, children need a chance to discuss and understand them, and to become
     aware of the impact they have on others.‖


          SESSION 4: CAMPAIGNING AND WORKING WITH THE MEDIA
Facilitatator:                 Catherine Mallon (Confederation of Community Groups)
International Speakers:         Lucie Diandrea (Life Together)
                                Natasha Botosova (Life Together)
                                Vlasta Hulubova (Life Together)
Local Speakers, Day 1:          Eddie Kerr (SEEDS)
                                Melvin Flores (SEEDS)
                                Kennedy Okeraro (SEEDS)
Local Speaker, Day 2:           Derek Hanway (An Munia Tober)


The session began with a presentation by Lucie DiAndrea from Life Together, a registered
non-governmental, non-profit organisation established in 1997 in the Czech Republic. Lucie
is a member of Life Together's Human Rights Team, which is assigned to monitor
discrimination against the Romani minority, and to further address the issue and find ways to
fight it. The team supports families and children fighting at the court in Strasburg against
unjustified placement of Romani children in special schools and institutions. It helps
individuals and families who are forced to move from their homes and monitors and
addresses discrimination in employment. It also monitors discrimination in public places
such as offices, restaurants and discos. Finally, the Human Rights Team works to ensure
equality in the field of medical care.

Most importantly, for the purposes of this event, it offers support to Romani women who
have been victims of the shocking practice of coercive sterilisation. This programme was
established during the Communist era, to systematically sterilise female members of the
Romani population in order to reduce their ―unhealthy birth rate.‖ Social workers were
instructed to obtain ‗consent‘ in a number of ways, including threats, financial incentives,
and through blatant misinformation. Many women gave their consent while in labour or
whilst sedated.

Although this practice was formally ended in 1989, the European Rights Centre, the League
of Human Rights and Life Together have concluded that coercive sterilisation is still
occurring today in the Czech Republic. The key problem now, Lucie argued, is in the
relationship between doctors and patients in the Czech Republic, because some doctors feel
they ought to be the primary decision makers. Other contributing factors, according to
Lucie, include the often unprofessional approach of the media, widespread prejudice against
the Romani community in the Czech Republic and reluctance on the part of the affected
women to draw attention to the issue because of feelings of shame and uncertainty about
their rights.

Life Together helps victims to organise themselves, and encourages them to campaign for
their rights. On August 17, a member of the group testified before the United Nations
Women's Rights Committee (CEDAW) on the issue. Subsequently, the Committee‘s report
urged the government of the Czech Republic to adopt without delay certain legislative
changes, including the definition of ‗informed consent‘ and to provide mandatory training of
medical professionals on patients´ rights. It also suggested elaborate measures of
compensation to the victims.

After Lucie‘s presentation, two Roma women, Vlasta Hulubova and Natasha Botosova,
spoke movingly about their experiences of being sterilised without their consent. They
highlighted problems with their partners caused by sterilisation, feelings of depression and
helplessness, a loss of confidence and dignity, and physical consequences, including stomach
pains and headaches. In their culture, they felt, a woman incapable of having children is
―like an apple tree that cannot bear fruit‖. They argued that the amount of love present in a
family is more important than how much space or money that family has, and vowed to fight
for recognition of this treatment so that it may never happen to others.

On the 6th, three representatives from the local organisation SEEDS (Solidarity – Equality –
Education – Diversity – Support) explained the role of the organisation and introduced
some recent initiatives aimed at combating racial attacks and prejudice in
Derry/Londonderry and the surrounding area.           Chairman Eddie Kerr explained that
SEEDS, established in 2005, is an independent group, registered as a charity, established to
promote human rights, equality and full integration in our society of asylum seekers, refugees
and migrant workers. It seeks to promote racial, ethnic and cultural diversity in the North
West, thus maintaining a commitment to promote equality and integration. Concerns about
increasing racial attacks, verbal abuse, the isolation of migrant workers, working
conditions,poverty, exclusion, language problems, visa issues, housing, education, health and
social cohesion drew attention to the plight of migrants to Ireland in general, but to the
North West in particular. SEEDS thus seeks to provide a link between new citizens and
statutory services by offering support and information to those coming to live and work in
the North West. As a part of this service, it organises several events for newcomers and
long-time residents of the area, such as family days, consultation events, and cultural
exchanges.
Next, Kennedy Okeraro, from Kenya, and Melvin Flores, from Honduras, spoke about
their experiences of living and working in Northern Ireland. Both decided to get involved
with SEEDS after experiencing first-hand the need in Derry/Londonderry for initiatives that
familiarise newcomers to the region and to include them in society. The spate of racially-
motivated attacks in recent times led SEEDS to launch the ―Hands off My Friend‖
campaign. This campaign asks all residents of Northern Ireland to wear a T-shirt or badge
carrying the slogan ―hands off my friend‖, in order to convey their opposition to racism and
race crime. ―When you treat someone differently because he/she looks different or comes
from outside the country, you are not just taking them on, you are taking me on as well, so
hands off my friend!‖ said Melvin. The speakers asked delegates to contact SEEDS in order
to obtain these badges and T-shirts, and asked them to display these symbols prominently in
order to send out a clear message that racism is not acceptable in Derry/Londonderry.

On day two, Derek Hanway of Traveller organisation An Munia Tober gave a presentation
about the impact of the media on society‘s perception of the Traveller community in Ireland
and Northern Ireland. He argued that the print media commonly suggested to their readers,
in their representations of Travellers, that this category of people routinely displays certain
negative characteristics not only typical of but essential to the group: that is, they represent
Travellers in a stereotypical and prejudicial fashion. He accepted that some Travellers might
possess the negative traits attributed to them in the media, but the difference is that while
some settled people also have those characteristics, all other settled people are not assumed
to also possess them, as is the case for travellers.

Derek then spoke about his belief that many Travellers are reluctant to engage in challenging
the stereotypes of their community, preferring instead to avoid drawing attention to
themselves, and keeping a low profile so as not to draw further ire from society. In addition,
many Travellers have poor literacy, and so can‘t read what is being said about them. Derek
argued that the media are not generally interested in positive stories relating to Travellers
lives and that there has been a poor response by Traveller support, equality and human
rights groups in challenging media stereotyping.

In conclusion, Derek argued that the media should recognise its responsibility not to
contribute to prejudice. Television media coverage has improved in recent years, but the
coverage in radio and print media, especially local and regional media, has not made as much
progress. Derek read out an extract from an article by a local paper which stated ―something
must be done about these people,‖ calling Travellers ―evil,‖ and saying that they ―rob and
rape‖ and ―think they can get away with it.‖

Derek finished by arguing for a need to report on Travellers as human beings, with families,
children and a multifaceted culture with a variety of talents. Both the negative stereotypes of
travellers—which paint them as unhygienic, combative, and unwilling to pay taxes, and the
more ‗positive‘ stereotypes – that all Travellers are good dancers, musicians and storytellers –
need to be replaced by the realisation that Traveller society is as complex and resistant to
stereotyping as the culture of every other delegate at the conference.
                                       CONCLUSION

The Minority Communities in Action seminars had a powerful impact on local audiences in
Derry/Londonderry and Newry. Evaluations of the events were overwhelmingly positive
and highlighted the importance of the personal stories that were told over the course of the
two days. From NICEC‘s perspective the events were unique because they not only
highlighted the numerous problems and challenges facing minority communities across the
globe, but also the positive actions that have, and continue to be, taken at grassroots levels
to address them. Whilst the task of tackling racism and discrimination in Northern Ireland
can sometimes seem overwhelming, these events demonstrated that actions undertaken on
an individual basis, on a small-scale, or at a local level can make a real difference. These can
be as simple as telling someone a joke isn‘t funny, listening, putting kids on a bus to a
different school, or giving young people the opportunity to lead.

The organisers would like to thank all those who contributed, in particular, all of our
international and local speakers/facilitators, NICEC/INCORE staff and volunteers, our
partner organisations SEEDS and the Confederation of Community Groups, and finally
NICEC‘s funders OFMDFM.

								
To top