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Dialogue is powerful

In this Q&A with Tomas Amanuel from Interpeace Sweden we learn about the power of dialogue when engaging youth.

 

What is your work with youth and why do you think it is important in Sweden?

We are facing a change in Swedish society, particularly for youth in marginalised communities. Many struggle with issues related to identity, exclusion and a lack of opportunities.

In 2013, media from all over the world witnessed the riots and violence that took place in Sweden, often seen as a peaceful country with no problems. Similar clashes happened in Paris and London involving frustrated youth. These young people, often living in marginalized areas, were facing increasing economic inequalities, a lack of meaningful opportunities for engagement, as well as general social marginalization. Most importantly, they wanted their voices to be heard.

The same year, Interpeace launched a project to support Swedish society in promoting a more inclusive culture. Locally rooted in Tensta, a suburb of Stockholm and where I am from, the project’s first goal was to engage the population in discussions about the opportunities and challenges they face. As a youth leader working at that time at a local unemployment centre, I felt that it was one of the most challenging things to do.

How do you get youth to open up?

Well in Tensta we gave cameras to a group of youth so that they could tell their stories in their own words. During the production we took an active listening role, but also challenged them to not only describe the obstacles they face but also their strengths. We asked them to explain what an inclusive society would look like for them. This developed into a video documentary called “Dreams from Tensta” where these youths were able to reflect on their neighbourhood and share their hopes for the future.

I think it is important because it raises the voices of youth and asks them to become active in finding local solutions. Interpeace gives us the tools but we, the local actors, are better placed to solve our own problems.

What is your role in the project?

As the local facilitator in Tensta, I lead our program with support from my colleagues at headquarters in Geneva. I do research, facilitate focus group discussions, analyse the key conflict factors, and then use the findings of our work to design participatory processes that can contribute to a more inclusive and cohesive society. I also find local partners, meet with local leaders, and raise awareness about our work in Sweden.

Most important lesson you have learned working with youth in Tensta?

Dialogue is powerful. You need to be a good listener and let people, especially youth, express themselves and find their voice. Let them describe their own situation and come up with their own solutions. I believe that they have the answers and that when you give them ownership, they can become leaders; leadership comes when you get responsibility.

What has the project meant for you personally?

It has been a real journey and I have grown along the way. This is my job but it has also been a chance for me to continue to learn. I now understand more about how to empower others and what are some of the tools that can help societies tackle exclusion. I am thankful to my colleagues at Interpeace who share and inspire us in Sweden with their work throughout the world.

I think that through my work I have also become a role model for others in my area. I have had the chance to speak in the Swedish parliament and showed that my voice matters. I feel that this is important for my community in Tensta to see and to know that this is possible.

What is the next step for the project?

We are now expanding our work to other communities in Sweden, such as Rosengård, Luleå, and Älvsjö. We strive to shed light on what inclusion means to these various local communities and explore the differences and similarities between these areas.

One example is that we have learnt that the level of local engagement seems higher in Rosengård than in other suburbs. We hear from many  that the close location of the suburb within the city centre of Malmö has an impact: the problems and possible solutions are owned by people beyond Rosengård – they concern the wider city of Malmö. These reflections are important and we need to bear them in mind as we look to shape social and political cohesion in our country.

Interpeace believes that dialogue—when it fosters mutual understanding and the development of shared visions—is the best tool to promote inclusion and tackle exclusion and marginalisation. I am a firm believer that this is the way forward. For me, for Tensta, and for Sweden.

 

Tomas Amanuel By Tomas Amanuel
Tomas Amanuel is Interpeace’s Local Facilitator in Tensta. Having grown up in Stockholm with an Eritrean background, Tomas has dedicated his life to help other young people in need. More recently, he has worked with disenfranchised and unemployed youth from Tensta to support them in accessing and finding jobs. Tomas’ personal story sheds light on how youth are positively contributing in making Stockholm's suburbs a peaceful and better place.