Amina Khalid fled from war in Somalia and now works for peace. She talks to Davina Patel.
Many people would want to forget the trauma of fleeing from war only to face racism and prejudice in what was meant to be a safe haven, but not Amina Khalid. Her experiences have inspired her to set up Peace Begins at Home, which runs intergenerational and conflict resolution dialogues for communities across Britain.
Amina and her family left Somalia when she was a teenager, because of the civil war. ‘I remember having a beautiful childhood, one that didn’t have any destruction or conflict,’ she says. ‘It was very family-oriented. I lived in a community that believed in doing everything together. I never felt lonely or isolated. When the civil war started, everything changed. We couldn’t stay there.’
When she arrived in the UK, Amina was bullied and attacked at school, and faced racism. Not knowing the language or culture proved to be really difficult. ‘That sense of belonging was not there, especially when someone is telling you, “you don’t belong here, go back home,” but you can’t go back because you don’t have a home any more.’
Feeling ‘stuck’ and searching for a way to ‘dream again’, Amina took part in a training course on mediation, communication and conflict resolution whilst studying her A-Levels at college. ‘The training was a wakeup call and a U-turn,’ she says. ‘I wanted to find ways of supporting others who might be going through a similar situation.’
Amina’s father introduced her to Initiatives of Change (IofC) and she became an Outreach Associate and later Communities Programme Consultant, using her training in schools, communities and
colleges. She began to attend the monthly meetings of IofC’s partner organisation, Somali Initiative for Dialogue and Democracy.
She noticed that these meetings tended to focus on how to bring peace back home in Somalia. She suggested that they should also address the conflicts within the Somali diaspora in the UK. ‘This is our host country, so this is our home. Life is about giving and taking and I feel we have received so much, maybe more than what we would have received back home. It is time to give back to your community. In the Qur’an it says, “Who are your people? Your people are anyone around you.” ‘ Peace Begins at Home was born.
Peace Begins at Home promotes peace and reconciliation in the family and reaches out into the community. Dialogues have taken place in cities across the UK and internationally. ‘Somalis have a strong culture of peace but it is often within the older generation,’ says Amina. ‘Respected elders used to come together and talk openly about their problems. The children weren’t there, so they never experienced how to face conflict.’
The training sessions bring together Somalis of opposing tribes to talk about issues within families and between generations. In the process they open a new channel of communication and begin to talk about community reconciliation and the causes of tribal division.
Working in peace and reconciliation has helped Amina to realise her dreams. She has turned her experiences into something positive that has the power to change the world. She quotes Rumi: ‘You are not a drop in the ocean, you are the entire ocean in a drop.’