Peace Direct’s peacebuilding partner in London is Truce 20/20, a conflict management course for young people in Newham who want to make a positive change in their own community. Newham is London’s most diverse borough, and Truce’s 10-week course teaches young people to handle tension and conflict in their streets, homes and schools. For many, it is a life-changing experience.
Last week one of the ‘Trucers’ dropped into our office for a chat, and we took the opportunity to ask him out about his experience of the project. Sam came to the UK from Yemen when he was 12 years old. He struggled to settle in at school and quickly became disruptive, finally being expelled when he was 15. He then went to college but was banned after ‘smashing a security guard’s head into a glass door’.
Instead, Sam began hanging around on the streets with his friends, using drugs and dealing them to others. He told us about selling drugs at a bus stop one day, watching commuters going to work in the morning and returning on their way home at night, while he and his gang had not moved from their pitch the entire time.
Another time they spent a full 24 hours in the local park, using and dealing drugs, killing time. For Sam it was easy money and he got a kick out of spending all day with his friends. But he wasn’t above stealing from the same friends when they turned their backs.
After Sam’s sisters joined Truce, they persuaded him to go to a meeting too. He only went to quiet them down. But he found to his surprise that no-one at Truce judged him for his behaviour – unlike every other figure of authority he had met before.
He agreed to go on the full ten-week course, and there he was encouraged to think about his motivations for behaving as he had. He learned about alternatives to aggression and violence as methods for dealing with conflict, and realised that there was an alternative to his life on the streets. He made new friends whom he could trust, and by the end of the course Sam had resolved to turn his back on his old life.
Now, two years later, Sam has a full time job working for a national charity, and plans to return to college to catch up with his education. At the same time, in recognition of his growing maturity and responsibility, Truce 20/20 have involved him in their regular strategy meetings with the local police force. There he helps to discuss the implications of this summer’s Olympic Games for the people of Newham, and look at ways of reducing tensions in the local community.
In his own words, Truce 20/20 has changed Sam’s life. Now if he is faced with potential conflict, rather than automatically turn to violence he prefers to walk away from unnecessary trouble. But it is not always easy, and his old friends still try to persuade him to join them back on the streets. But he is determined to maintain his progress – and with the on-going support of his fellow Trucers, we are sure that he can make it.
(Name changed to protect identity)