Independent Appeal: Different worlds, same solutions

A former child soldier is showing Londoners how to overcome conflict

They are an unlikely couple. Albino Forquilha is 41 and a former child soldier from Mozambique. Sohail Karim is 17 and an unemployed school-leaver in the east London borough of Newham. But they have come together in the hope of each learning something about how conflict can be resolved without resorting to violence. Neither is a stranger to trouble but they come from different worlds.

Albino's introduction to violence came during the Mozambican civil war when the government gave him a gun to guard his school against the incursions of rebel guerrillas. He was 13 at the time.

"When the rebels did come I was a target because of my gun. They captured me and the three others and took us to their camp," he said. "If anyone ran away and was caught, they would be brought back and put in the middle of a circle and we then had to kill them." Those who refused were killed themselves.

"I did many atrocities," he told Sohail, and a group of other younger Londoners who have spent the past few months training in conflict resolution in the multi-ethnic borough.

Sohail, a burly crop-haired young Asian, could easily have been sucked into trouble. "I grew up on a council estate in an area where there was a lot of violence between gangs of white and Asian youths," he says. "I was a troubled person, and started to become involved in gangs. I wasn't very good at school."

The pair have been brought together as part of an initiative by Truce 2020, a project dedicated to peace-building in the area in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics. The scheme was inspired by the practice at the original Olympic Games where the ancient Greeks declared a truce for a week before and after the Games to allow competitors and spectators to attend without fear of being attacked. The initiative is supported by Peace Direct, one of the three charities for which funds are being raised by this year's Independent Christmas Appeal.

It would be easy to suppose that the tasks of building peace in post-war Mozambique and the streets of East Ham are too dissimilar for such an exchange to be fruitful. But the young Londoners sit enrapt as Albino tells the story of how a handful of ex-child soldiers, weary of the conflict, went to the government and asked it to talk to the rebels.

Officials brushed them aside many times, Albino says, before capitulating: " 'OK if you can set up a meeting we will speak to them.' So we approached the church in Maputo and through them the Vatican who agreed to host and fund the peace talks."

Yet even when the civil war was finally over there were estimated to be still two million weapons in the hands of private citizens, Albino tells Sohail and 30 other graduates of Truce's conflict resolution programme, which has trained 90 young people between the ages of 16 and 21 this year.

"Many people were still traumatised by what had happened in the war, and the devastated state of the country's economy, clinics and schools," he says. "We knew that with so many weapons in circulation the fighting could be sparked again at any time."

So Albino and several other former child soldiers launched a charity to get rid of the guns. It seemed an ambition that was well beyond their ability. But they approached the ambassadors of rich nations in the Mozambican capital and asked for contacts with groups who would provide goods to be swapped for the arms. "We asked for bicycles, sewing machines, construction materials and even tractors."

Their request chimed in the imagination of the donors. Japan alone sent 12 containers full of bikes, three times, during the first year. Before long Albino and his friends had inspired community swap schemes which collected 900,000 guns. They have created what has become one of Mozambique's major peace-building organisations.

"War does not end when the fighting stops," Albino tells the youngsters of the East end. "You need reconciliation at the grassroots level, which is what you are doing here."

The Truce graduates are a mixed group of blacks, whites and Asians. Their friendship, which has burgeoned over a series of 10-week courses, has become a living embodiment of the mediation skills in which they have been tutored.

What Albino has told them bears out what they have experienced and learned. "You have to be open," says Sohail, " then you have to set ground rules, you have to listen to the other side as well as setting out your own version of events. You have to decide exactly what it is you need from the other person, and what they want from you."

All that, he adds, is true "whether you are arguing with a parent at home, falling out with your siblings, having difficulties with a teacher at school, or squaring up to a gang from a different ethnic community."

So what has Albino taught them, the Truce project manager Klaudia Brezna asks as the evening ends. The youngsters shout their responses:

"That you don't always have to have a Plan B if you believe strongly enough in Plan A."

"That there is always something that can be done and that you shouldn't expect someone else to do it."

"That with patience just one person can make a massive difference."

"That if you put your heart and souls into something then anything is possible."

Albino smiles at the response. He has, he says, learned something too.



Donate Now

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
health
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
News
Sir Chris Hoy won six Olympic golds - in which four events?
news
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Lars Ulrich of Metallica performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
people
Arts and Entertainment
film
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recruitment Consultant - IT

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Computer Futures has been est...

IT Technician (1st/2nd line support) - Leatherhead, Surrey

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Technician (1st/2nd line support)...

Business Analyst

£300 - £350 per day: Orgtel: Job Title: Business Analyst Rate: £300 - £350 per...

C# .NET Developer

£290 - £291 per day + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Manchester C#.NET ...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform