Racism is for me a severe sickness and I feel that all nations should co-operate to cure it. And I believe that every human being and every nation should feel this way.

Dia, 17 years, Cyprus

Anti-semitism means to hate all Jews without any particular reason. In my opinion this skepticism emonstrates an uncivilised person and we should do something to get rid of this kind of thinking.

Sotiroulla Aristodemou,
18 years, Cyprus

5.2. The Stop the Violence movement in Denmark An example for a peer led youth initiative

The name of the project is Stop Volden (in English "Stop The Violence"). The choice of the name was inspired by the American Stop The Violence movement and by our desire to stop the increasing violence in our country with the help of the Danish youth.

In the autumn of 1993 five young people in Copenhagen got together to make an effort to change people's carelessness towards the growing incidents of brutal violence especially among the teenagers. We had all noticed how increasingly violent the city of Copenhagen had become. Therefore we decided to make a common effort to convince our youth that violence was not the answer.

The start

After a common friend was stabbed 6 times and almost lost his life we decided to start preparing a concert against violence. Soon after that there was another stabbing again amongst vary young teenagers, and this time the victim died. After that we released a notice in the press and soon became popular all over the country as the "teenagers" called "Stop The Violence".

Target group and place

The target group of the project was youth in Denmark, i.e. people aged 12-25. Young people living in major cities and urban areas where chances for success in life are usually lower than in the countryside. After a while we discovered that it was not enough just to address the youth. We had to work with those who surrounded young people: parents, school teachers, youth club workers, police, friends, etc. Only after raising the awareness of that "package" of people we could really get the results.

The project covers the whole territory of Denmark - at youth clubs, primary schools, high schools, etc., at music festivals and concerts.

We have access to young people in various ways. After our first concert, 1500 people had the opportunity to join our movement by sending out a special postcards with their name, address, age, etc. We found out that cultural events such as concerts were an effective means to show our concern and to indicate our common problems as young people be it Pakistani, Moroccan or Danish and whatever our favourite type of music was. Another way of getting access to the youth was through institutions. We started receiving invitations from schools to attend meetings and soon afterwards we discovered that we would be much more successful if we spoke directly to the people. So we started to give lectures around the country. After the press released information about our lectures, the demand for them rapidly increased.

Main content of the project

Our project is basically about the fight against violence as a process of understanding of its nature and of the social conditions which induce it. We had learned that violence, racism, anti-Semitism and drug abuse among the youth are often cry to the surrounding world: a call for recognition or a way to find/establish an identity, or an attempt to demonstrate a position. We did not believe that anyone can become violent simply because he/she likes it. There is much more to it, a logic which may not make sense to the established society but is of a very central importance to youth.

Outline of the methodology and description of one particular session

We never prepared ourselves before a session we followed the natural course of the discussions. Sometimes there was a particular subject everybody wanted to talk about, the subject depended on the place. We did not have all the answers to people's queries but we had the trust in youth and the will to talk about everything that worried them. We mainly talked about things we had experienced and which they were very likely to come across in the future.

We did not tell young people how to live their lives. We did not claim that we knew better what was good for them. That would remind them too much of our parents' generations' way of thinking and would make us seem part of the "establishment" which could result in the loss of young people's credit for us.

We ask the young people to learn from our experiences without having to live through them and learn the hard way we did. Since we're a couple of years older and normally more experienced than our audience we try to explain them that they were probably going to end up with more or less the same ideas.

Nevertheless, we had three principles that we asked the youth to respect:

We are against all kinds of violence (physical as well as psychological)

We deny all forms of racism (there has to be room for all of us)

We say no to drugs

Here is one particular session. which takes approximately half an hour, or sometimes more. We were asked if we could visit that school because it had a problem with a group of boys harassing the other students.

Everybody in our original group had a different background. Dany and Ronni are brothers, half Danish and half Israeli. They lived with their mother who was working most of the time. They were living in an area of Copenhagen which was loaded with crime, alcohol & drug abusers and a very high unemployment rate. Dany and Ronni didn't have anyone to keep an eye on them, so they ended up trying to do a lot of things that made them what they are today.

Both of them, however, got out of the criminal environment before it was too late. They had already learned the hard way that they were heading down the wrong path of life. That awareness came mainly as they witnessed the fate of some of their closest friends.

I am 20 years old, my parents are from Morocco. I have five sisters and three brothers and it was hard to live altogether and to establish a personal identity. We were living at the heart of Copenhagen, at a place called Vesterbro. It was much like the place where Dany and Ronni grew up, just add prostitution and drug problems. This place had everything for the adults but nothing for the kids apart from the school. My brother had problems as many sons of foreign workers do he had been involved with crime which brought much pain to our parents. The girls were struggling for something forbidden to them either by their sex or by the religion (Muslim).

All my sisters have one way or another fought for the right to choose in their own lives which is not easy to do when your parents have already decided your future. The only reason being that you are a female and have to be protected.

My parents used to say "The shame a girl can bring to a family is ten times worse than a boy is capable of".

Back to the session now.

The main problem was getting through the five "rotten apples" in the school. They were bringing weapons in school. The teachers talked first to the youngsters, then to the parents (which actually made things worse).

We didn't know how to handle the situation because we didn't have an idea why they were behaving this way. That day we were three of us (two boys and a girl). We entered the room where the session was going to take place and found all 7th, 8th and 9th grade students from the school in the same room. We first looked at the faces in front of us and tried to evaluate the young people from their appearances and mainly from their facial expressions (the eyes).

The first thing we noticed was the silence during our speeches. Not that they didn't have things to say but they were somehow absorbing what we were saying before starting their own "session". Everybody had the opportunity to speak. After a while we started talking about the situation in their school and we noticed that only a few mentioned the five trouble-makers of the school.

It's easy to point out at somebody and accuse them and punish them. But then for sure the problem would come back again. So we tried to find solution which was fair for all.

We asked the trouble-makers to explain their reasons for doing these things which they chose to do after the session finished, when we were alone.

It turned out that they wanted something else to do besides the school, because that was not enough to fill their lives. They wanted something exciting and kept mentioning the word RESPECT. They didn't have positive means to assert themselves and resorted to the easy way of "revolt". For them it was a sign of respect when people moved aside after seeing them coming down the street. We did our best to convince them that what they were taking for respect was fear and that it was very easy to scare people. At the end we invited them to visit our offices and see if they could help in our work.

One of the things that made them listen carefully was our approach to sometimes present in a funny way serious things. The effect of exaggerating certain serious things and making people laugh is often stronger and the message more easily accepted than after a somber and gloomy speech in front of a young audience.

The best and the worst moments of the project
The main successes and failures

Several times we felt we were almost incapable of handling the situation because we were entering new fields. Office work and administration of Stop the Violence gave us a hard time - economic issues, the legal rules around our initiatives, mailing to 7000 people every month, arranging concerts, etc.

Everything is still completely new for us and we try to get as much help as possible but sometimes we feel like before a nervous breakdown. Though it usually only lasts a while we feel a collective mental strain particularly out of lack of support. But then we look back and realise that no matter how hard it was and how long it took as long as the result is worth the effort, and the people it was made for are satisfied, we are satisfied too.

We felt happy after a session when we could feel and see that we made a difference by listening or talking to the youth who were at the session. Sometimes girls would come up to me after a session and compliment my work. They would say that it has been great because it is so unusual to have people of almost the same age talking to students. I know one thing for sure from my time in the public school - I have never experienced young-to-young dialogue. Instead we had police, dentists, etc. to tell us what not to do. There was only one time when someone with AIDS came to speak to us and we learned something that the person had lived through, their true personal story.

We also remember with joy the moments when we were given either an award or another sign of appreciation of our work.

Training for the peer-teams and/or their coaches?

When the project got more acknowledgement from outside we decided to let schools who had pupils interested in helping other young people give an extra hand. After a while we discovered that it was not easy to integrate newcomers every week or month. We had the peers accompany us at our sessions and meetings so they could get an idea about our work. Most of them learned a couple of things, others got a little taste of it. At the end we decided to have one responsible person for every five peers at the office which helped us to relieve the stress.

The results and the impact of the project

The project is still going on so I can only describe the results we have so far. A folder entitled "Life is too short for violence" was distributed to 40 000 pupils all over Denmark. The folder was produced with the financial assistance of the Ministry of Social Affairs.

Stop The Violence has more than 7000 members, most of them young people between 12 and 18. We have produced a 12" inch record of talented young musicians who had never had the chance to be recorded. The youngest of them was 13 and the oldest 25. The record was released with the help of the Ministry of Culture.

"Stop The Violence" has held five concerts with musicians from France, U.S., Denmark. All of them have been successful.

We invited the famous photographer Jacob Holdt to show his pictures from America - a dream land for many young people. The pictures revealed the poverty, racism, drugs and violence in American cities.

We have been out to 250 schools and clubs to talk about racism, violence, hope and all sorts of other subjects. We have participated in three different books about the young and the problems of the teenagers.

As a follow up to the discussion about this initiative, you may like to look at the activity, "Domestic affairs" in Compass. It starts by asking participants to reflect on the most common forms of violence that exist in their own neighbourhood, and then goes on to use critical incidents to look at violence towards girls and women. Alternatively, if you want something more energetic then you could use "Force the circle" in the all different all equal education pack.

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