How Palestinians’ experience of conflict can help Scottish families –Ewan Aitken

People who have lived through prolonged conflict in Zimbabwe and the Occupied Palestinian Territories are due to take part in a virtual conference about how to make peace that could help families mend broken relationships, writes Ewan Aitken.
Professor Alison Phipps is co-hosting the ‘Peace-making in a world of conflict’ event (Picture: John Devlin)Professor Alison Phipps is co-hosting the ‘Peace-making in a world of conflict’ event (Picture: John Devlin)
Professor Alison Phipps is co-hosting the ‘Peace-making in a world of conflict’ event (Picture: John Devlin)

In Scotland alone, family conflict accounts for over 4,000 young people becoming homeless every year. That is around the equivalent of the population of about three high schools. This number has dropped from around 6,000 six years ago, which is good news, but still far from good enough.

We also know that this figure is just the tip of the iceberg. Conflict happens in all our lives, often with minimal consequences, but sometimes the impact can be devastating – affecting relationships, opportunities, education, mental health and well-being.

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With Covid-19 putting additional pressure on us all, this is causing real harm where families were already at breaking point.

Ewan Aitken is CEO of Cyrenians ScotlandEwan Aitken is CEO of Cyrenians Scotland
Ewan Aitken is CEO of Cyrenians Scotland
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We know that, if you live in a household struggling to get by, you’re more at risk of strained relationships and conflict. Things can spiral out of control, and relationships become fractured. Young people that leave can then end up living an insecure, transitory existence; sleeping on sofas, in and out of institutions, or on the streets.

The impact then on the outcomes for those experiencing homelessness – on health and well-being, on educational and employment prospects, on life expectancy – is profound, and deeply unjust. 

We have to see homelessness from this wider perspective – one that takes into account the whole story of individuals, how the various aspects of their lives relate to one another, and how they relate to their community. This is not an isolated issue, and we must do all what we can to prevent it.

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Six years ago, Cyrenians set up the Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution (SCCR) as a model of prevention, providing training and resources across Scotland for parents, young people and professionals to enable them to explore why conflict happens and how to manage it positively, instead of it being a potential trigger for family break-up.

One such event where we have done so over the past six years has been our annual conference – bringing together young people, parents and professionals to explore this together.

As we can’t do that this year, throughout October we’re embracing the digital revolution to bridge the divide and put on a series of events, bringing together speakers, film makers, writers and artists who will talk from their heart and experience, combined with the opportunity to engage in interactive workshops and the arts.

For the final event, I will have the huge privilege of co-hosting an event with Professor Alison Phipps, Unesco Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts at the University of Glasgow, along with – technology permitting – colleagues from Zimbabwe and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It is their hope that through storytelling, the “Peace-making in a world of conflict” event will draw attendees into a rich world of lived experience so we can better learn from those with long experience of living with conflict, not least from the Gaza strip and Zimbabwe.

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I hope to be able to join some of you virtually over the month. Sometimes the problems of the world can often seem too huge for us all to deal with. But through shared connections, understanding, and a vision we can all believe in, we are reminded and shown how we can all really be part of the solution.

Ewan Aitken is the CEO of Cyrenians Scotland

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