Volume 19 Number 1
Keeping Peace Alive
01 February 2006
Keeping Peace Alive promotes dialogue between teenagers from different backgrounds in Cape Town, South Africa. KPA leaders come from different backgrounds themselves; Cassim and Moosa are Muslim and Hasson is Jewish.
SHEHNAZ CASSIM, Joey Hasson and Junaid Moosa are sitting on the same couch and are jumping in on each other in their eagerness to tell me about Keeping Peace Alive (KPA). They each have their own idea of what it is and they find that amusing. 'Difference isn't bad in itself,' says Hasson, 'the problem is the approach you have towards it. Some people tried to control differences in South Africa, and they created apartheid.'
The project promotes dialogue between teenagers from different backgrounds in Cape Town, South Africa. KPA leaders come from different backgrounds themselves; Cassim and Moosa are Muslim and Hasson is Jewish. Although they do not take the solution of the world's problems for granted, they prefer 'to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem'.
They organised their first camp in May 2004 in Hermanus, a seaside village near Cape Town. 'Our mission was to create a space for young people to engage with each other and explain their religion, so as to increase understanding,' says Moosa.
Once the participants had gathered, the organisers invited them to create their own rules, taking into account different needs. 'They had to take responsibility for their own decisions and this made them realise that some of them had specific praying times, or were vegetarian or that they celebrated Shabbat,' says Cassim. As the participants were between 13 and 16 years old they also had to decide which spaces were for boys and which were for girls and at what time the lights had to go off. At the end of the camp a Christian girl said: 'Despite what my parents told me before, I realised that Muslims and Jews are normal people.'
The second camp took place in June 2005 and dealt with such issues as freedom and the new South Africa. The three leaders of KPA feel fortunate to live in South Africa today. 'Since 1994 everyone has the concept that we are living a new beginning where everyone has a place,' says Hasson. 'However, while the constitution promises a roof over everyone's head, we're very far from that; 40 per cent of South Africans are unemployed. We also have problems with education and a recent UN survey has shown that we have the highest rate of AIDS in the world.'
At future summer camps they want to educate teenagers about different issues that cause division, such as socio-economical position, race or sexuality. Their mission is to capture young people's imagination so that when they go back to their homes, they bring new ideas and perspectives about the world they live in.
Andrea Cabrera Luna
ABIR ABID Faisal Al-Sahlani was forced into exile from Iraq when she was just one year old. She studied and lived as a refugee in Yemen, Syria, Bulgaria and Sweden. During all those years, she dreamed of going back home.
Because he voiced his opinion about Saddam Hussain's regime, her father spent a decade in Abu Ghraib prison, under threat of death. Years later, he was granted amnesty.
When the US overthrew Hussain's government in 2003, Abid Faisal and her father returned home, despite warnings from family and friends. Today Abid Faisal's father is an MP in Iraq.
There is currently 70 per cent unemployment amongst Iraqis and such basic necessities as water, electricity and medicine are scarce. Many civilians in Iraq feel they are experiencing a military dictatorship with a new face-the US Administration. Though Abid Faisal is surrounded by violence, she faces danger with courage and refuses to accept any military occupation of her country, whether by rebels within or by foreign superpowers.
As many Iraqis did not have access to information about the constitution on which they were voting in last October's referendum, Abid Faisal worked to inform them, and continues to do so with the current legislation. She is also involved with the National Democratic Alliance as well as Al-Amal, an organisation in Baghdad that promotes women's empowerment. 'There is a peaceful opposition going on as well,' she says.
Abid Faisal's multilingual skills allow her to understand the local Iraqi and the foreign soldier, the scholar or the diplomat, facilitating communication and understanding between them. On September 2005, she attended the People's United Nations, held in Perugia, Italy. Hearing her speak was mesmerising.
The windows of her flat have been shattered twice from nearby bomb explosions. 'When you don't know if a car bomb will go off while you're walking to the supermarket, it's hard to live a sane life. It's also hard to have a social life.'
Her eyes bleed with the pain of insecurity and they scream with the passion and dedication to make things work. She confesses, 'I carry a pistol with me so that I can take my own life if I am kidnapped. Let them rape me when I'm dead.' What keeps her going is the hope of seeing her country outlive injustice. Her work is not easy and she is often questioned. 'I am working for the Iraqi people-not for the government-and that is my crime'. Monique
Fair Trade Pioneer
ALDO PIERSANTI'S parents, Lisa and Lino, were among the countless Italians who emigrated to Northern Europe after World War II to escape poverty. They returned to Italy when he was a teenager, settling in Ladispoli, just north of Rome. At that time it was a small seaside resort, but today it is a town of 40,000 inhabitants.
Piersanti finished his studies, qualifying as a surveyor and he went into his father's gardening business. He worked hard, and he also enjoyed fast cars and motorbikes. He spent all his money on what gave him pleasure, without much consideration for his future and for other people.
Piersanti met his wife, Gianna, at a dance. She fell in love with him despite the fact that she had 'different ideas about life'.
After the birth of their first son, a friend from the town invited them to attend an IofC conference in Caux, Switzerland. Piersanti's values were turned upside down. They returned to Italy determined to do something to help their community as they realised that it had no sense of unity. They set up a neighbourhood committee, based in the flower shop which Gianna and her sister had started on the premises of the gardening firm.
More and more people were drawn into organising social and cultural events in the shop's spacious basement. As a sideline, the shop started selling Fair Trade goods. These products are sold on terms which benefit the original producers and cut out the middle man.
After ten years the flower shop closed. Piersanti started toying with the idea of retiring early to the farmhouse which he had inherited from his father. But he and Gianna felt that this would not be fair on their sons, who would have had a long journey to school every day and poor prospects for building their future. So, they decided to stay and start a Fair Trade cooperative shop.
'I think a shop-keeper's business is to make sure his customers leave not only with his wares, but also with values such as dialogue, friendship, justice and peace,' says Piersanti.
After five years the cooperative is able to pay Piersanti as a part-time employee, but in reality he does not have time to take on any other profitable activity. The rest of the work is done by volunteers. 'For the future one of our aims is to create new jobs and prove that an alternative kind of trade is possible in our society,' says Piersanti.