In the Media

How Archbishop Desmond Tutu's legacy is helping young people

PUBLISHED October 4, 2011

Young people in inner city areas such as Liverpool are reaping the benefits of the Tutu Foundation's reconciliation work in the UK There's a mild pandemonium engulfing the Black-E community arts centre in Liverpool, but it's that joyful kind where you feel everyone involved can only be benefiting. Children as young as five, still in their school uniforms, perch on older ones' knees, engrossed in a messy mix of icing, jelly babies and fairy cakes they are decorating to mark Archbishop Desmond Tutu's 80th birthday later this week. Others rush around showing off their creations before placing them in front of a picture of the grinning archbishop. Technically, they are playing the "ubuntu game" ? an exercise designed to get groups thinking about how interconnected they are ? inspired by the Southern African concept of ubuntu, the idea that there is far more that unites human beings than separates them. For many, decorating the cakes is more compelling than answering questions about their neighbours, and what causes conflict, but they give the game a go nonetheless. Asked to discuss Martin Luther King's assertion that "if we don't learn to live together as brothers and sisters, we will die together as fools," one freckled 10-year-old offers his own interpretation: "If we don't crack on, we're going to go to hell," he says. The ubuntu game is brought to the centre by the Tutu Foundation UK . Later this year the foundation, set up in 2007 by a group of the archbishop's supporters, will come back to the Black-E to start a project based on its Conversations for Change (C4C) programme. The ubuntu game is a bit of "pre-engagement" activity. The foundation is designed to bring Tutu's experience in reconciliation work in South Africa and Northern Ireland to disaffected inner city communities in the UK. Its aim to combat knife crime and gang culture by turning gang members into agents for positive change, is particularly timely since the summer riots in England. It believes that underlying attitudes and behaviours have to be addressed first if violence is to be tackled and has worked with 18 communities and more than 300 people. Thousands, it claims, will have benefited from the changed attitudes and bridge-building projects that have arisen from the programme, which is a fitting legacy for  the fierce anti-apartheid campaigner who is the foundation's patron. Earlier this year the archbishop, visiting C4C participants, said he was "overawed" by their work. "Almost all of the situations in which they're involved are daunting," he said. "The eloquence with which they are able to describe the projects in which they are involved is just amazing." Recent projects have included relationship building, using story-telling, between Bangladeshi boys in Tower Hamlets, east London, with older, mostly white residents of a neighbouring care home. It opened the way for a discussion between those who had covered a war memorial with graffiti and those who lost relatives in the world wars. Across Birmingham, community clean-up campaigns have brought together diverse groups to tackle both litter and issues around perceived "no-go" areas. By the end of the programme 92% of participants said they felt more positive about their communities than when they started. The foundation wants to train 80 "community facilitators" to take forward the ubuntu philosophy over the next three to five years, and plans to do more work on restorative justice. In Croydon, south London, it will look at how to bring together those whose livelihoods were destroyed in the riots with those who were rioting. "Using the archbishop's approach to truth and reconciliation, we feel we're very well placed to help the community," says foundation chief executive Alexandra Ankrah. At the Black-E arts centre, not far from where violence erupted in Liverpool in August, younger children will learn about ubuntu through circus skills workshops and older ones will be trained to be mentors in their community. Does this kind of work prevent social disorder? "I know it does," says Maria Paul, the centre's youth arts manager, who will be going out on the streets to recruit "hard-to-reach" programme members. "It takes a long time to measure but it makes a huge difference," she adds. The Black-E's long-time director, Bill Harpe, who was at the centre during the city's Toxteth riots in the 1980s and remembers how would-be troublemakers were kept off the streets by a project making clothes, agrees: "It's about giving people horizons that they didn't know were there." Young people Children Communities Gangs Knife crime Crime UK riots Rachel Williams © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds