Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Anjum Ali is a member of the board of directors of Initiatives of Change USA. She has a graduate degree in Islamic Studies focusing on women and children's rights in Islamic Law and has served as an educator of Islam for over 15 years in the Richmond area and as a public speaker and diversity/inclusivity trainer at international forums. She was born in the USA but has lived and traveled abroad in South Asia, the Middle East and Europe. She and her family live in Richmond, Virginia. She reflects on a trustbuilding workshop she recently facilitated with Rob Corcoran in Sweden.
 
Relationships can set a tone and feelings that remain embedded in our psyches our whole lives. If they are positive, then all the more reason to relish and cherish them. Amazingly, my first encounter with Sweden was actually during my earliest years in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, when a Swedish doctor and his family moved into a villa just across from ours. My father and he were colleagues and expats together in the same hospital and his daughter befriended me and my sister. Growing up, Sweden, to me, was synonymous with love and care because of that wonderful childhood friendship nurtured in the hospital oasis amidst the hot desert sands of Arabia. 
 
I am delighted to say that my journey with Rob to partner with IofC Sweden in further establishing Hope in Järva, confirmed all of those positive emotions while creating more encouraging experiences. IofC Sweden and their stakeholders’ enthusiasm to effect change within Sweden at this tumultuous time in our global community was heartwarming and inspiring. It was a real honor to be able to share the experience of IofC USA's work on reconciliation and trustbuilding with those on the front lines of community work in Swedish cities. Although the environment and historical context in the USA are significantly different, we found that sharing the story of our work and our strategic trustbuilding efforts around systemic and communal racism has the potential to influence another nation with more recent dilemmas around racial, ethnic and cultural tensions. 
 
Anjum AliRob and I conducted a three-day workshop to deliver some of the tools that Hope in the Cities has used to facilitate dialogue, empathic learning, and development to effect change at the personal and community level. Having seen the ravages of centuries old social inequity, discrimination and domestic terrorism based on racism in the USA, we were eager that our Swedish friends avail themselves of the opportunity to stymie the growing fear and reactionary behavior at the local and state level in Sweden. Factors such as "who" is at the table, "what" methods are employed to do the critical bridge building work, and the more complex aspects of delving into the "why" of social inequities, trauma and crime, are all aspects that IofC in Sweden and the USA, togethr with their partners, are currently exploring. 
 
A particular area our workshop highlighted was how imperative it is for societies to put greater emphasis on resiliency building at all levels of society. It appeared to me that the Swedish government has done a fine job in many of its welfare programs for young refugees and immigrants. However, the heritage and burden of trauma that impact their behavior and choices must be better understood along with the need to equip them with ways to build or rebuild resiliency in their new environment. Undoubtedly, there is a need to concurrently focus on resiliency in personal and community development, as it can play a significant role in interrupting the epidemic of human insecurity and breaking cycles of violence.
 
2017 Swedish workshopSweden has been a model of compassion and care in welcoming migrants and refugees of all kinds for several decades. My interactions with people during our few days in Stockholm left me feeling that this is indeed a country with the potential to model humanitarianism and collective healing for all of Europe and the developed world. While still in the early stages of accommodating the rapid and increasing influx of refugees and asylum seekers, there is a strong case for Sweden to become a prototype, with its government establishing trauma and resiliency, informed policies, e.g. around integration, which other nations can adapt and customize further into smaller diversified areas. This is contingent upon Swedish peace and policy makers thwarting the growing inequities through trustbuilding work and strategic and systemic change before the sweeping momentum of fear mongering and divisive rhetoric becomes deeply entrenched as has happened in many other Western nations already. And just as the title Hope in the Cities has always signified, and modern neuroscience is proving more than ever, there is no prevention or cure to any type of disease without a positive, hopeful mindset to undergird it.