20130321 Interface Diaries

VASSALLO VanessaInterfaces Diaries: Give peace a chance through a camera
By Vanessa VASSALLO for Northern Ireland Foundation
21 March 2013

Although it may seem obvious, it is often the lack of dialogue that contributes to the rise of new conflicts or the resolution of those already existing — and this is a truth which can be widely found in Northern Ireland.

This is why Interface Diaries, now in its third edition, is an important peace project for the new generations in Northern Ireland, with the aim of giving young people the chance to speak up and lead a resolution of its historical conflict.

Interface Diaries is a cross-community initiative that uses video diaries to connect Catholic and Protestant teens living at interfaces areas. For four weeks during the year, two groups — one from Catholic areas, the second from Protestant ones — ask each other questions on camera. After getting to know one another through the filming, they meet in person for another four weeks of activity days, workshops, community tours and a residential trip to Manchester.

The programme began in the spring of 2011, with first a young men’s group from Ardoyne and the Shankill. In 2012, it was the turn of a girls’ group from those same areas. This year they have worked with groups from the Shankill, Carrick Hill, Highfield and Ballymurphy.

The launch of the DVD containing the videos of this last experience was held today at The MAC, Belfast (abridged video below).

The protagonists are teens who have never known anyone from another religion/community, and hence know the members of the other community only through biased information. For them, befriending or even just talking peacefully with a Catholic or a Protestant is a huge step forward.

The teens have the chance to ask any kind of questions, and to reply freely. It is interesting to observe how the tone of the questions changed over the weeks.

The first questions were a bit aggressive, very focused on the confrontation between Catholics and Protestants (“Why don’t you consider yourselves British, if you live in a British country and spend British money?”; “Were you even aware of the Union Jack on the City Hall before the riots for letting it down?”).

They were then followed by more general issues shared by both communities, e.g. their opinions on paramilitaries (“I don’t like them, but can’t do anything about it”, said a Shankill boy, followed by his mate: “At least they keep drug dealers away”), or the future they imagine for their children (“Not like this”).

The most amazing feature of this experience has been the absolute honesty with which the boys shared their views. They hold little or nothing back, and gave answers that sometimes sounded simplistic, but that provided a fuller insight of the clichés they grew up with:

“What is the difference between a Protestant, a Loyalist and a Unionist? A Protestant person would go to church every Sunday, a Loyalist would like support the UVF and the UDA and paramilitaries. A Unionist would be like people in the Parliament, like the UUP.” (answer by a Shankill boy)

It did not take much for the boys to acknowledge, through their questions, that even though belonging to two different communities, there are commonalities and they share similar interests and fears. The tone of the questions rapidly changed (“Where do you go for a night out?”; “Can you teach me dance moves?”) and so did the answers:

“If you could add something to your community? A lot more of girls.”

Less sectarianism, more fun. A “normal” answer from a regular teen.

Because this is what they just should be: regular teens.

One comment

  1. Insightful , some issues very well articulated. Most interesting is the: differences within the ‘groups’, the use of language. Interested in next level conversations … and reflection on the learning and what the experience created /gave them. Children/young people should be getting this experience of ‘difference’ as part of everyday growing up. Any follow up re the longer term impact?

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