In June a group of Active Citizens from Israel visited their linked community in Higher Broughton, Salford to find out more about their work on the ground, share experiences of social action and build closer links between their communities.
This followed a visit earlier in the year when Active Citizens from Salford spent time in Israel learning more about their projects.
The British Council’s Active Citizens programme builds lasting partnerships between communities in the UK and others around the world.
'Imagine, a group of 10 Israelis, mainly Jews, attending a wedding in which all of the hundreds of guests are Muslims, and being treated as close friends.'
The exchange was facilitated by The Broughton Trust, a community-led development trust based in Salford, and Spark Pro, an Israeli organisation that promotes social education projects for young people.
Spark Pro had already hosted the Salford group in April, when a bond between the two groups of Active Citizens was formed. Dave Wildman of The Broughton Trust said:
'The exchange gave a boost of energy to those working on social action projects by adding an international dimension to their work. The day in Jerusalem was life changing for those of Jewish descent.'
A global dimension
The exchange enabled the Israeli group to see the global dimension of the projects that they are doing locally. Maritu Kabada and Hai Atia were able to visit a children’s centre to inform their social action projects back in Israel.
'Visiting the children’s centre was really relevant to our work. It’s amazing that we are dealing with exactly the same issues as people on other side of the world,' says Maritu.
Eran Elharar, who runs a project at the University of Haifa designed to encourage disabled students to be more involved in social activities, says:
'Being part of the international delegation really opened my mind to new ways of thinking and understanding how to define a community and deal with the challenges standing before them. I understand more how I can make my social action work sustainable.'
Immersed in multiculturalism
The visitors were immersed in the multicultural nature of the Salford community. A large proportion of the hosting group were of the Muslim faith, who offered a warm welcome to their Jewish counterparts. The son of a member of the Salford group who is from the Pakistani community in Salford was getting married during the exchange, and they invited the entire group to attend as guests.
Vitali Tkachov, who runs a theatre group for people with stutters, wrote in a blog:
'A unique event was when we were invited to a Pakistani wedding in the UK. In Salford, I saw how Muslims and Jews can live together side by side, which can be a positive example for the situation in Israel. I believe that such visits are a great way to break stigmas and make peace, at least between people, as a first step for peace between nations.'
They were treated to a meal with three courses in three different houses in Broughton. This included Indian and Polish cuisine, illustrating the multicultural makeup of the area.
Integrating a diverse society
In a diverse society is an issue that is common between the two groups. We face the same challenges. Here in Salford the challenge is having lots of diverse groups who do not talk to each other or feel part of the local community. In Israel there was a problem when Jews from Ethiopia were not able to integrate into the local community, and it was a challenge to get them involved and make them feel part of society.
Salford Link, a voluntary charity organisation working with the Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani and other ethnic minority communities living in the city of Salford, hosted the Israeli visitors at their project centre. Here, the group learned more about the community action that Salford Link facilitates, and took part in a storytelling session, where people from both sides shared their experiences with the group.
Both groups clearly benefited from the international aspect of Active Citizens. Eran says:
'I got the idea for my project from the Active Citizens website. A Pakistani student was already doing a social action project helping disabled students integrate into university life. We swapped e-mail addresses, and he was able to help me get my project started.'
A social action network
'Active Citizens is a great way to introduce intercultural dialogue. It was an eye opening experience for many members of the group, and helped to engage them with the projects that they are working on,' says Dave Wildman.
'It is great that I can connect through the Active Citizens network of people doing local social action to get advice. The international aspect was really missing from my work – being able to communicate with others globally is enriching my work and my life, and changing the way I think,' added Maritu.
It was clear that by the end of the exchange, both of the groups had been inspired by each others experiences and they would take this back into the work on their social action projects.