What difference the Survivors for Peace Programme has made
February 13, 2014 | Nick Taylor
What difference the Survivors for Peace Programme has made – A personal blog by Jo Dover – Programme Manager
“…I started work with the Foundation just over 12 years ago, to run its programme supporting people in Britain affected by the Northern Ireland conflict . Colin and Wendy Parry knew that it wasn’t just Warrington that had been impacted by the NI ‘Troubles’ , but there were families of British soldiers who’d been killed, and many other people caught up in the bombings on this side of the Irish Sea. There had never been anything specifically set up for people in Britain before and it was a big learning curve.
We started in November 2001 and initially brought together a small group of people who had lost loved ones, served in the conflict, or were survivors of bombings here. It was clear that many of these people had coped alone for many years and didn’t have anyone to talk to or who would understand what it was like to have lost a loved one or survived a bombing. Many of them had related to the events of September 11th 2001, and identified with the thousands of people affected, and knew what they would have to deal with in the coming months and years.
We started out bringing people together to share their experiences and this proved to be so valuable to them. They’d never been heard before, and even family and friends had stopped asking how they were, or being interested in hearing about the person who died. When we started we had someone whose son had died 4 years previously, and someone who’d been in a bomb 25 years previously, and everything in between that time. For most it was 10, 20, 30 years ago that their losses had occurred. Yet they were united in that loss, had shared experiences and found comfort and support from talking to someone else who had an inkling of what it was like for them. Over the course of the next six years, over 200 people got involved and we saw these people often, they came to our day events and residentials and connected with each other over the awful events, but that they still had been able to live their life. That sense of connection is what I see as the main thread of Survivors for Peace. It stops people being isolated from each other. People are spread out all over the country, there may be one person in a town who has been affected by terrorism and no one else for miles.
We formed a group called STEPS – Steps Towards Empowerment and Positive Survival, and they created a booklet to help others to come through what they’ve been through, and come out the other side and live their lives again. This booklet is being used still today, has been reprinted by police forces and other organisations and is still helping people now.
Throughout the years of the Legacy Project, a number of other attacks took place – the Bali Bombings of 2002, the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts, the London bombings in 2005 and other incidents like the Madrid train bombings in 2004 and Sharm-el-Sheik in 2005. Every time there was a report on the news of another soldier killed somewhere or another act of terrorism, the survivors, bereaved families and veterans we worked with knew exactly what that felt like and what was to come for each person affected. They wanted to help, they wanted those new victims to have someone to go to and be able to deal with what happened. They knew that there would be support immediately, but over time, the interest and support would diminish, that six months later people would start to become frustrated that they were still upset, or angry or wanting to talk about things, that a year, five years, ten years later, the patience and support would wear thin, family relationships could break down, jobs would be lost, confidence disappears and a great potential to hide away from life.
Having worked with these people for a number of years I watched a pattern emerge – that being listened to, heard and acknowledged by others led to people becoming curious. If they weren’t alone, who else might feel the same way? Could they learn more about what happened? How to deal with things? And in that learning they became more resilient and proactive. A key thing that has been said to me over the past twelve years is that ‘I don’t want anyone else to go through what I went through. If I can do anything to change that, I want to help others and give something back.”
Because of these other attacks, the connection the participants had with other families and survivors, and because we saw the value of our work and how it led to positivity, we opened the Survivors for Peace Programme in 2008 to help that process happen. It is open to anyone who has experienced terrorism, political violence or war. Veterans, bereaved families, people injured, survivors, witnesses, family members, whether that incident was in the UK or elsewhere in the world.
Our activities are designed to help people not only cope with what happened to them, but how they feel now and give them ideas for their future.
I have literally witnessed the change come over people at our residentials and courses, watched them leave the Peace Centre looking years younger, pounds lighter, a huge burden lifted off their shoulders, a sense of purpose and self worth, a feeling of being connected with others, no longer being alone or wondering if they were mad because of how they felt.
At our Living with Trauma days I’ve seen wives of veterans sitting listening and nodding their heads as they finally understand why their husband or partner locks themselves away, or gets angry at something seemingly insignificant. I’ve watched veterans listen to bomb survivors talk about never having slept properly since the bomb, not trusting anyone and realise they are connected with civilians, who never experienced military life. I’ve watched a bereaved mother from a war torn state listen to a woman whose family member was killed in a bomb, and know that someone in this country understands what it is like for her.
And that’s just our trauma days – we run so many other activities that have been transformational in people’s lives. Our conflict resolution programmes have helped people to understand about Northern Ireland, the ‘War on Terror’, how people struggle with the concept of forgiveness, how important remembrance is. And our dialogue work is equally powerful – to try to understand how and why people come to choose violence or feel there is no other option has been hugely helpful in people being able to come to terms with what happened in their lives.
We’ve taken people to meet former enemies, we’ve helped people to create memorials and run commemorations. We now help over 500 individuals and their families and friends have benefited. We’ve held events where survivors and bereaved families share their experience to those who will have to respond to future emergencies like terrorism. Over 1000 people have attended those events and now have a better idea of what will help when they respond. Our conferences have attracted over 3000 people to listen to the voices of victims and who now know the challenges they face on a day to day basis. Many groups have visited and heard from our participants over the years, so this all goes way beyond just the 500 people we have worked with.
There are hundreds of thousands of people in this country who have been affected by terrorism. And as our CEO Nick says in his blog about why the programme should continue, there are unfortunately many more people to come in the future. There are so many different needs for people affected by terrorism and conflict and it doesn’t all go away after six months. One of the things I hear that really gets me frustrated is “Aren’t they over it yet?” No. You don’t get over these life changing events completely. They do change your life. You have to learn new ways to incorporate that experience into your life. You won’t be the same person ever again. Over time the emotions can be less strong, but every time another attack takes place it can bring you back to how you felt on that day. It can be paralysing for you, even 20 or 40 years later. But you CAN live again. You CAN do things. You CAN participate in society, even though some days you might not feel like it. You CAN make a difference. You are not on your own with this – other people have trodden this path and come out the other side, sometimes even doing something they would never expected. Like Colin and Wendy losing Tim and creating an amazing organisation and Peace Centre. There are so many things that can be done, and the thought of us not being able to provide the programme that allows people to find themselves and choose their own positive path in life, and contribute to their family, community and society, well, frankly it scares me to think what could happen.
There are great support services out there, not only in the early stages, but organisations who can and do help later on too. But nobody does what we do here. That’s what I get told by pretty much everyone we work with. Lots of our participants have shared with us how much we have changed their lives. Some even say that we have saved their life.
You too can help. You can support us. We can change this situation. Join our lottery, donate, write to your MP, ask a business to support us, ask your friends to help us find funding in any way possible.
Our participants are spread out all over the country. Maybe someone in your town has been affected by terrorism and has nowhere to go. We’d like to make sure that we are here, not only to support them but to help them to change their lives, and eventually to help others. Please help us to keep this vital work…”
Jo Dover February 2014
Footnote from the Foundation for Peace – Jo Dover is the Programme Manager of the Survivors for Peace Programme. Not only was Jo the leader of the Legacy Project – a study of the needs of GB Victims and Survivors of the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles,’ Jo has dedicated over a decade of her life to the programme creation and delivery and is recognised as a leader in her field of expertise.