Towards Understanding and Healing is a project that focuses on the needs of the individual by creating a space for reflection and recognition of individual experience and supporting individuals to share their stories. Because Northern Ireland is the way that it is, no one person can tell the story and this project emphasises the need to hear all the disparate narrative in order to open minds to other possibilities. There is also a reality that, within the field of conflict resolution and peace building, there has been little focus on individual and community trauma as a result of over three decades of violence – ‘Towards Understanding and Healing’ offers a space for people to begin to articulate and share personal stories and also listen to other stories or ‘truths’ in a way that does not diminish their own personal experience.
Towards Understanding and Healing has a multi-tiered approach:
• Residential gatherings attended by diverse groups of people; former British soldiers, parents of soldiers killed, people injured/bereaved (in NI and UK), ex-combatants, ex-security forces, community leaders, etc.
• A long-term project to raise awareness and understanding of the difficulties facing a society which has suffered a protracted, low-intensity conflict and which has encountered both individual and collective trauma.
• Encounters in schools and community, providing a wide range of voices and perspectives that aren’t always accessible to particular groupings, communities
• Workshops, seminars, and discussions addressing unresolved issues of the past.
• Creative methodologies to engage people with their own lived experience and story.
• Aims of Towards Understanding and Healing:
• Safe spaces which offer opportunities for dialogue, debate, and discussion both at the intra community level and at the inter community level
• An expectation to meet with individuals/groups one would never otherwise have the opportunity to meet
• An opportunity to address individual and community healing
• A wide range of networks and contacts to address past experience of conflict
• Opportunities to open minds and encourage changing attitudes through the re-humanizing of the ‘perceived’ enemy and victim
• A distinctive way of using language that engages people to think differently about community relations work. This includes the expression of ‘understanding and healing’ of all those who have been directly or indirectly impacted by the conflict.
Objectives of Towards Understanding and Healing:
• Identify and work alongside various communities which have been directly or indirectly affected by the conflict. Respond to requests from communities and groups.
• Target particular groupings to encourage a diverse range of voices: ex-British soldiers, parents of soldiers killed/injured in Northern Ireland, ex-combatants and victims, including carers and families of victims of the conflict.
• Create ‘Positive Encounter’ groups to support interface work.
• Creative models of practice which incorporate individual learning and growth, developed within the project and in collaboration with other organisations or individuals.
• Models of practice that address trans-generational impact of conflict: awareness raising, information, and education on second and third generations, what approaches are necessary to dissipate hatred, fear, and ignorance of the ‘other’.
• Cross-border links and programmes of activity, which create possibilities for wider dialogue.
• International dimension within the remit of project to inform and expand the thinking of groups and individuals.
• Research/training/education and publications.
• Inform and influence policy on dealing with the past.