New Project Aims to Build Relationships, Understanding Between Winnipeg's Inner City Youth
Youth Peacebuilding Project First Of its Type In Canada; August Peace Camp One Of The First Activities
|Leslie Spillet of Ka Ni Kanichihk, Wanda Yamamoto of The Welcome Place, Ken Mason of the YMCA-YWCA of Winnipeg, Noelle DePape of the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba and Gerald Gerbrandt of CMU at the July 23 signing ceremony for the new Youth Peacebuilding Project. Missing: Daniel Negussie of the Manitoba Multicultural Resource Centre.|
With assistance from the Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) Institute for Community Peacebuilding, six Winnipeg groups have combined to create a new effort to help improve relationships between youth from established, Aboriginal, and newcomer groups in Winnipeg's inner city.
On July 23 CMU, Ka Ni Kanichihk ("Those Who Lead"), The Welcome Place (Manitoba Immigration Interfaith Council), The YMCA-YWCA of Winnipeg, Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM) and Manitoba Multicultural Resource Centre signed a Memorandum of Understanding to create the Youth Peacebuilding Project, which aims to help youth from different cultures develop peaceful relationships through guided conversation around activities such as sports, art, drama and other group activities.
Also present at the signing were Winnipeg City Councillor Jeff Browaty, the Mayor's Youth Ambassador; The Right Honourable Eric Robinson, Minister of Culture, Heritage and Tourism for the Province of Manitoba; and Judy Wasylycia-Leis, Member of Parliament for Winnipeg North.
Partial Funding for the year-long Project was provided by the United Way of Winnipeg.
Browaty praised the initiative, saying that it would help the City achieve its goal of building "strong and respectful relationships between youth in Winnipeg."
Robinson acknowledged there is tension between Aboriginal and newcomer youth in the city, adding that "we look forward to this [Project] . . . we bring peace not by covering over our differences, but by honouring them."
He noted that the provincial government will be watching the Project and "will give it consideration if it needs other help."
"Peace flows from understanding, and this Project is truly the key to that vision," said Wasylycia-Leis. "It is an incredible, visionary Project."
Also speaking at the signing was Noëlle DePape, Executive Director of the IRCOM, who came up with the idea for the Project.
"It's a dream come true," said DePape, who based the Project on Seeds for Peace, an organization that brings together youth from conflict areas around the world to promote peace and understanding.
"Our goal is to create a safer city, a more inclusive and pluralistic environment. I can't wait to see the culmination of this work . . . Winnipeg will be a place that is known for its peacebuilding."
Phoebe Burns, who is directing the Project, stated that she is "confident we can deliver an amazing experience."
Muuxi Adam, one of 20 mentors hired by the Project, shared that many newcomer youth, like him, find it hard to make new friends in Canada.
"It's easy to close ourselves off," said Adam, who is from Somalia and is studying at Menno Simons College, CMU's campus at the University of Winnipeg. He added that the idea of bringing together youth from different cultures is a "brilliant idea."
The work of David Pankratz, Director of CMU's Institute for Community Peacebuilding, was also praised at the signing. "The Institute was a consistent force for driving us forward and making this happen," said DePape.
One of the Project's first major activities takes place August 24-31 when 50 youth, 20 mentors and a dozen facilitators will gather at Manitoba Pioneer Camp for the first Summer Peace Gathering. During the Gathering youth will participate in activities that promote an exploration of, and healthy response to, stereotypes and biases towards each other.
In an interview, Pankratz noted that the Gathering "isn't about sharing rainbows and pretty flowers between people who've already figured everything out. This is about the hard work of overcoming societal and personal stereotypes and biases."
Unlike programs like Seeds of Peace, which take youth to another country to work out their differences, Pankratz says that "we want to do it right where our youth live and interact on an ongoing basis."
For Pankratz, things like workshops, lectures and traditional cultural exchanges "can open doors, but relationships transform the person and cement the change. True transformation, especially for youth, occurs as they do things together and then talk about their experience, drawing out the underlying hostilities and prejudices and dealing with them in a safe and facilitated context. The fundamental premise of the Project is the belief that deep changes between communities can occur through relationship-building."
He says that the Project's partners believe that it has the "capacity to significantly change the relationships between identity groups in Winnipeg's inner city. It's a big challenge but, by working together, we can make a difference."
Building peace "means you have to talk to the 'enemy," he notes, adding that, to his knowledge, the Project is the first of its type in Canada, and one of very few in North America.
Posted July 25, 2008