Connecting & Learning: Young Tunisians Discuss Peacebuilding with SFCG’s Senior Leadership
By Andrew White
Earlier this month, SFCG Tunisia hosted its first Common Ground Café on the occasion of a visit by SFCG president John Marks and senior vice president Susan Collin Marks to Tunis. The event was attended by over 30 members of the youth councils that SFCG has help to found in Tunisia this year as well as several journalists and bloggers.
John and Susan began by discussing SFCG’s mission and approach to peacebuilding, focusing in particular on the organization’s dedication to youth and women’s issues. They also discussed SFCG’s early success in Burundi and the more recent success of The Team in a number of countries as illustrations of the way in which media can be a powerful driver of innovative approaches to conflict resolution and promotion of dialogue.
Following their presentation, John and Susan fielded a number of questions (many posed in English!) from participants. The youth in attendance, while clearly excited to be able to speak with their guest, showed an encouraging willingness to challenge the ideas with which they had been presented. Several female attendees, for example, asked why none of SFCG’s current programs in Tunisia are explicitly focused on women’s issues, and why versions of The Team in some countries featured all-male football squads. In response, Susan discussed the prominent female characters in many iterations of the series as well as the importance of fitting the model of The Team to each local context. She also spoke about the ways that SFCG integrates outreach to youth and women into all of its programs, even those that do not target those groups directly. She pointed to the gender equality in Tunisia’s own youth councils, for example, as well as the decision to make the prison warden character in the Indonesian version of The Team a woman despite some initial resistance to the idea. Similarly, John was asked to justify why SFCG had decide to come to Tunisia after its recent revolution, and he cited the organization’s successful work in places like Rwanda and the DRC during periods of transition. Susan also discussed her personal experience in South Africa’s transition to democracy and spoke more generally about the challenges of identifying best practices in one country that might be useful in another.
The youth also showed a clear knowledge of and engagement in peacebuilding and conflict resolution issues. For example, they seemed very interested in SFCG’s origins, asking John to discuss why he chose to found the organization as well as the challenges that the organization faced in its early years. In response, he discussed his dissatisfaction with the confrontational and adversarial approach taken by many other international NGOs to conflict resolution and related issues at the time he founded SFCG. Rather than just being dissatisfied, he emphasized, he had a clear vision for how he wanted to approach these issues. He talked about the value in starting small as well as the importance of securing funding by presenting project ideas in a way that is understandable and palatable to potential donors.
In another clear indication of participants’ knowledge and engagement in SFCG’s issues, one attendee even suggested that SFCG bring together youth from around the world who have been impacted by SFCG’s work to discuss best practices and lessons learned. John and Susan both seemed very receptive to the idea. They were clearly excited that attendees felt comfortable asking difficult questions and presenting specific ideas to them.
The event closed to thunderous applause, and several youth rushed up to John and Susan to speak with them individually. SFCG Tunisia’s first Common Ground Café was, in other words, quite a success.
Andrew White is an International Intern with SFCG in Tunisia. He is a rising senior at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where he majors in International Relations and Middle East Studies.