Sunday, 31 October 2010

Like a Magic Cup - Vital Communities

Vital Communities is a bit like a magic cup

Art is radical. Art can prevent children from turning into bored, alienated, aggressive teenagers. It can break down barriers between generations and ethnic groups, provide new skills, improve self-confidence, expand horizons and help rebuild communities.

That’s what Vital Communities, a unique five-year arts and research project has achieved and demonstrated.

My friend, filmmaker Dominique Chadwick has followed the project over the past five years and produced “Spotlight” - a film analysing the workings and effects of Vital Communities upon children, their families and communities. She presented her film at the Cambridge’s Festival of Ideas last week.
 Vital Communities brought film, dance, drama, visual arts, literature and other creative activities to children in primary schools in ten diverse communities across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. It then extended the activities to the children’s families and communities.
“Spotlight” shows that Vital Communities has increased participating children and families’ enjoyment and engagement with the arts.  It has helped them develop new skills, increased their self-confidence and given them a sense of well-being.  And the project also acted as ‘social glue’ in the community, creating links between different generations and diverse ethnic groups. These results were found in all ten locations, regardless whether rural, urban, affluent or deprived.  Vital Communities also had a strong 'ripple effect', in which participating children, parents, teachers and artists passed on their skills to those not involved and encouraged them to join in the activities.


"Vital Communities is a bit like a magic cup. When you take a drink, you can do anything!"  Year 1 child, Peterborough.

"Parents, teachers and more crucially the children themselves said they became happier and more creative as a result of taking part in Vital Communities," says Susan Potter, the project manager. "Working alongside people of different ages and diverse cultural backgrounds encouraged these children to be more imaginative, responsive, open and tolerant towards others."

The project, which attracted the attention of UNESCO and other national and international organisations, was originally planned over 15 years, but had to stop this year for lack of funding, sadly.

For more information on Vital Communities and links to the progress and final reports, click here.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Tunnel People – Living underground in Manhattan

This week I took my journalism students to a fascinating and thought-provoking talk by award winning photojournalist and author Teun Voeten at the Frontline Club, the media club near London’s Paddington. 

Dutch photographer and cultural anthropologist, Voeten has covered con´Čéicts in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sudan, Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza for Vanity Fair, Newsweek, The New Yorker, and National Geographic, among others, as well as for organizations such as the International Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations.

In the mid-nineties however, he took a break from war reporting. For five months he lived, slept and worked in a tunnel underneath Manhattan's posh Upper West Side. He lived alongside an eclectic mix of outsiders: Vietnam veterans, hippies, crack addicts, Cuban refugees, convicted killers, computer programmers, philosophical recluses and criminal runaways.

His book on this community, Tunnel People, published in the Netherlands in 1996, describes their daily work, problems and pleasures with humor and compassion. It also tries to reconstruct people’s past and describe how they became homeless.

The tunnel people were evicted in 1996, but Amtrak and homeless organizations offered them alternative housing. Some succeeded in starting again above ground, while others failed. In his 2010 updated version of Tunnel People, Voeten tracks down the original tunnel dwellers and describes what has happened in the thirteen years since they left the tunnels. 

The book is written both as a journalist and anthropologist with the insight of someone who has actually lived there among the rats, collected cans and firewood and scavenged for food. It is an honest, direct and unsentimental account of the mean, grimy misery underground. Yet, in many ways, the tunnel people were doing better than the homeless people above ground. As Voeten points out, they have created their own environment, showing a level of self-confidence and planning beyond the day-to-day that is rare among street people. In fact many don’t even consider themselves homeless.

The book makes you think of the thousands of homeless above ground – in full view, yet still invisible. Since the first version of Tunnel People, there has been a huge increase in the number of the homeless, especially families, as the economic crisis has caused lay-offs and foreclosures on a scale not seen since the Great Depression.  It is not only the poor who have been pushed over the edge – and still are – but also the middle classes. Voeten hopes his book will shed some light on the complex problem of homelessness.

Monday, 11 October 2010

No Women, No Peace – UK coalition calls for women’s participation in peacebuilding

All over the world, women are prime targets during conflict. Rape, displacement, torture and kidnap are common experiences of women. Whilst women are highly resourceful and are actively building peace in their communities, this is not recognized in formal peace processes. Despite international promises, women made up only 1 in 40 peace agreement signatories over the past 25 years.

No Women, No Peace is a campaign run by 14 human rights and development organisations in the UK,  calling for women’s participation in peacebuilding.  The campaign marks the 10-year anniversary, on October 31, of UN Resolution 1325, the pioneering UN Resolution on women and peace and security.  The resolution recognises the devastating impact of conflict on women and states that women must be involved in building peace from the earliest stages. 

Yet, 10 years after Resolution 1325, the international community is still failing to protect women. Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) continues to be used as a strategic weapon of war.  SGBV, which includes rape, forced impregnation, forced abortion, trafficking, sexual slavery, and the spread of sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV/AIDS – is one of the defining characteristics of contemporary armed conflict.

No Women, No Peace campaign recognises that unless women participate in all stages of building peace, the issues faced by women can’t be addressed and peace will fail to meet the needs of 50 per cent of the population.

Wazhma Frogh, an activist with the Afghan Women's Network said: "If a reconciliation and re-integration plan is about bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan, half the population should not be left out. Bringing peace is not just about the end of fighting, but has to be an enabling environment for men, women and children of this country to access education and rebuild their country.”

The UK, as an international key global player and major donor, has a key role to play in supporting women to participate in decisions made about peace and security.  No Women, No Peace wants to use this 10th year anniversary of UN Resolution 1325 to create the momentum necessary to move the issue up the public and political agenda and call on the UK Government to honour commitments made to women in conflict.

 No  Women, No Peace is a campaign by Gender Action for Peace and Security (GAPS UK), a network of peace, human rights and development organizations, including ActionAid UK; Amnesty International UK; CARE International UK; IANSA Women's Network; International Alert; Widows for Peace through Democracy; WOMANKIND Worldwide; Women for Women International UK.