Building peace and safety


Building peace and safety

…the Manchester Peace Coalition is on a mission

Garfield Myers
Editor at Large
South Central Bureau

Monday, January 13, 2020

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ALLIGATOR POND, Manchester — There was some disappointment at the modest turnout for a function focused on how best to build peace and safety, at home and beyond.

However, perhaps recognising that great achievements often come from humble beginnings, Dr Clifton Reid, chairman of the Manchester Peace Coalition, was upbeat.

“Do not despair, it's the reason we are here, we recognise that there are challenges,” Reid told fellow event organisers, as well as residents of the south Manchester coastal community of Alligator Pond.

Part of a day-long programme, which also included a church service, peace games for children and a peace concert, the late afternoon meeting chaired by social activist, Vivien Morris-Brown carried the theme 'Climate action for a peaceful community'.

The highlight was a panel discussion which included Assistant Superintendent Colin McKenzie of the Manchester police, Joseph Mullah, counselling psychologist, Michelle Saunders, guidance counsellor, Joel Hibbert of the local police youth club, with Nicola Foster-Reid, probation officer for Manchester, serving as moderator.

The audience, mostly parents accompanied by their children, heard advice on how to foster peace and safety at home and in the community, through basic, empathetic communication.

Saunders urged her listeners to “build positive relationships” and to “acknowledge that we are not all the same”. People, she said, should accept others for “who they are”.

“If we are not talking, we won't have the problem solved,” she declared.

Parents, Saunders said, should build a relationship of mutual trust with their children.

“You should be the first person they come to,” she said.

She warned against “pressuring” children, telling a story of one child who planned suicide because of anxiety and stress caused by the fear of doing badly in high school entrance exams.

Mullah spoke of the need to practice forgiveness, not just of others, but self.

“Learning to forgive is a measure of strength” not weakness, he said. And further, “what went wrong in the past is past, we must forgive ourselves.”

McKenzie said his years of fighting crime had convinced him of how much could have been prevented, if only someone had said “sorry”.

Grudges and bitterness as a result of personal experiences had often led to crime, he said. People should learn to meet others halfway, and to say “I am sorry' and move on with their lives”.

He identified child abuse and molestation among reasons for warped adult personalities. Such people he said should be encouraged to talk about their issues. “If the person don't talk, we can't help,” he said.

Hibbert said that “sometimes” social activists like himself needed “to work (subtly) around the issues” in order for others to “get to the point” where they talk about their problems.

As a community leader, he had found it useful to prove that “no matter where you come from you can change” and also that everyone should be encouraged “to be a leader”.

Mullah reminded his audience that building peace takes time. “A climate of peace doesn't happen overnight,” he said.

The moderator underlined the point. “Healing doesn't happen overnight,” said Foster Reid, “it gradually happens”.

Reid assured his audience that the Manchester Peace Coalition was in Alligator Pond and a number of other communities across the parish, for the “long haul”.

He told how the coalition of community stakeholders started work in 2013 after an overseas organisation, the International Institute for Peace, designated Mandeville as the “first peace town in the Caribbean, and Brooks Park, the first peace park in the Caribbean”.

Inspired, Reid and others became active. He told how they were spurred by a question from the media as to whether their movement was merely a 'nine-day wonder'.

“We decided there and then that we would carry the message of peace forward. So, we went to the police and said “which are your most problematic communities?” And they [identified] about 13, and over the space of about a year or two another five were added,” he said.

Funding from the Canadian High Commission assisted the commissioning of a community assessment in Manchester, and “out of that study came several realisations of challenges” facing communities.

Reid named the revitalisation of uniformed groups such as cadets, scouts and guides as a way of helping to encourage positive attitudes such as respect for country, symbols and elders crucial to societal stability.

Parenting training was a priority of the organisation, since “at the heart of many of the problems is the lack of effective parenting,” said Reid.

“It [parenting] is…perhaps the most important role we have for which there is no manual… we [peace coalition] are here to assist…” he said.

The Manchester Peace Coalition had also “bought into” the training of “violence interrupters” to help deal with the crisis of domestic violence in Manchester, Reid said. “The concept is to get people from the community who are well respected and have them trained to recognise the potential for violence and to move quickly to prevent it.

“When you hear the quarrelling beginning to escalate and people begin to speak loudly …these persons can be there to prevail on the situation and hopefully prevent bloodshed and murder. The training of violence interrupters is something we want to do…” he said.

Children “dropping out of school”, was another sore issue on which the coalition was focused, Reid said. “We are committed to supporting education in the communities by helping to set up homework centres. These are places where children…can actually come to and get assistance with their homework,” he said.

Older folks with the requisite skills, including computer know-how were volunteering their services, he said.

Among the harsh realities facing the society, said Reid, was that “no matter how you pontificate, no matter how you preach…. if a father and mother can't find breakfast for his or her children, can't find dinner for [their] children, no amount of pontification is going to prevent them from doing what they have to do…”

Hence, he said, the Peace Coalition was committed to helping to provide income-generating projects. He welcomed the presence at the function of Tony Freckleton, leader of Parish Development Committee, who “is very, very committed to transforming places like community centres into production centres, to provide jobs for young people and so on”.

Reid pledged that his peace coalition will work “on a long-term basis” with the residents of Alligator Pond.

“It is going to take a community to train our children… there is going to have to be a change in mindset…we are going to care for our neighbours for peaceful communities, peaceful schools etc,” said Reid.

The “peace day” in Alligator Pond was just the “beginning of that process”, he said.

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