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Conflict Matters

on Thu 29 Oct 2015

About growing up, conferences and standing tall

 

When I grew up I started counting the many 'firsts' that I seemed to have to get through in order to be an adult: my first baby tooth out; my first day at school; my first own bicycle; my first kiss; my first period; my first trip abroad without parents; my first heartache; my first time driving; my first salary... the list goes on and on and has most recently involved my first cocktail with my now adult niece and my first funeral of an adult friend.

I don't know where along the way I crossed the line into adulthood...

 

When we've recently taken deep:black to our first international conference I thought about that line: how many firsts are there for an organisation to get through in order to be recognised as fully fledged? Looking back over the past seven years, there's been the first piece of paid work; the first business card; the first annual accounts; the first AGM; the first mentioning in a press article; the first big public event; the first time someone approached us who had merely heard about us through the internet.

Arriving at an international conference seemed to somehow have a big 'welcome' sign around it: Welcome to the Adult World! deep:black had been found and chosen by the organisers of the Conflict Matters Conference because our arts-based work seems to fill a gap in the practice of peace education. We were asked to host one of the table conversations on the first evening and share our perspectives and ideas with regards to ‘how artistic practice can be a constructive force to manage conflicts as well as to support community learning and building’. But not only were we selected as so-called 'experts' by the organisers – we then found ourselves to be also consciously chosen by conference delegates who, after reading about our work in the conference programme decided they wanted to meet us. It was a powerful reminder that much as we periodically struggle as a 4-women-organisation with no core-funding to create enough new work whilst also dealing with all the aspects of a professional organisation (I'm talking every blog post, tweet and mail-out; every team meeting, project proposal and outreach work; every policy update, book-keeping hour and insurance cover renewal etc) – this doesn't diminish the actual quality of our work and the strong, solid foundations of arts-based peace pedagogy that we have developed for it over the past years.

It was amazing to be part of Conflict Matters and and we are grateful to the Evens Foundation who invited us – and gave us the opportunity to share with other professionals from large NGOs to big secondary schools to small social enterprises why we think it does matter and how we think we can go about it. What stood out for me was the conference strap line 'Learning across difference' because more than any of the learning from the different workshop sessions the biggest learning for me seemed to come from us practitioners acknowledging our differences – diverse professional backgrounds and experiences, varying personal capacities and needs, different language and age – and to work with these. It was a constant learning lab in action: one afternoon I found myself in a small group discussion with four quiet 17-year old Flemish speaking students and two seasoned vocal practitioners, and I realised that if we'd like this to be a place of true exchange where learning happens for all of us I'll have to let go of being merely participant and step into being facilitator to help bringing out the different voices. That felt also very deep:black, acknowledging difference and stepping into it – and we ended up having a very engaged debate about fairplay football, Snapchat and gang violence.

 

Back in London I'm still buzzing from the conference, the many new ideas and connections and above all the possibility of us – deep:black – being adult and standing tall in our own story and in our offering.

 

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