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Women Initiating Change: The Strength of the Outsider by Kat Callo

Posted by peacedevelopmentnetwork on March 15, 2010

Women Initiating Change: The Strength of the Outsider

By Kat Callo, Trustee of Project Mosaic

www.projectmosaic.net / kat.callo@projectmosaic.net

Thank you for inviting me to take part in this event for the United Nations’ International Day of Women – on the subject of celebrating the achievements of women. How fitting to celebrate this on Mother’s Day. May I first wish to all Mums a very Happy Mother’s Day!

I am a little person, involved in a small and modest initiative called Project Mosaic. This is a UK-based educational charity that helps teach young people to be more tolerant of those coming from a different background – whether that’s a different race, ethnicity, religion, nationality or culture.

One of our projects, the Global Citizen programme, sends successful people from immigrant backgrounds to give inspiring talks to disadvantaged children and young adults. Each “Global Citizen” speaker focuses on two themes. The first is to give practical advice about job hunting, higher education, developing a career and getting better connected into mainstream society. The second theme is identity and tolerance, with a look in particular at how the multiple identities enable us to make a richer contribution to society.

Our Global Citizen speakers are teaching young people how to transform an identity as “an outsider” into a powerful tool for self improvement, community service and nation building.

We all have felt, at some point in our lives, like an outsider. People from immigrant backgrounds can feel they are living on the edge within their new country. Poverty makes people feel like marginalised, left out. Women working in a predominantly male industry can feel like outsiders. Being an outsider can be lonely – but it can also be liberating.

Violent extremism also plays on the theme of  “the outsider” – but it combines it with fear and ignorance, to creates a poisonous cocktail for our young people. Sadly, it’s a type of poison that is contagious, since prejudice by one group can so easily trigger prejudice by another. After the attacks of 9-11, many Americans concluded that Muslims as a group hated Americans and wanted to kill Americans. At Project Mosaic we are working with Muslim friends in the UK, the U.S., the Middle East, Asia and elsewhere to move beyond the fear and ignorance, and break the vicious cycle of group hatred. That’s just one conversation that needs changing. There are so many others.

In a globalised, interconnected and fast-changing world, it can feel comforting to place the blame on someone else, on a group. I’m talking about people that say “I blame Muslims” or “I blame Jews” or “I blame Westerners” or “I blame the Saudis” or “I blame men”.

Fortunately, we can learn from those have already succeeded in breaking a vicious and deadly cycle of group hatred and recrimination – in places like South Africa, Rwanda, Bosnia, Northern Ireland. We can bring these lessons – about creating reconciliation and resolving conflict – into this new type of discussion, whether it’s with angry university students in the UK or those working for peace in the Middle East.

So, how do we do this? In a very small, very simple way. With a conversation, over a cup of tea or at a youth club or at a gathering of mothers at a refugee centre or talking with family members and friends. We are working to amplify the voice of the outsider – that person that takes a weakness and transforms it into a strength.

At Project Mosaic we teach young people to celebrate their background, whatever that is, and to rejoice in their ability to make things happen. This includes a celebration of the immigrant experience – and the ability to view one’s status as an outsider as a gift, for helping to bring about positive, peaceful social change.

About the author:

Mrs. Kat Callo is a Trustee of Project Mosaic, a pro-tolerance educational charity based in the UK. The charity was set up in 2008 in memory of Kat’s cousin, Dave Fontana, who was one of the 343 firefighters that died on September 11, 2001 while helping to rescue some 28,000 people from the World Trade Towers.

Previously she worked at Reuters for 17 years, as a correspondent based in London, Brussels, Manila, Hong Kong and Hanoi. She reported on conflict in Afghanistan and Cambodia in the 1980s and traveled extensively as a journalist throughout Asia. Kat later worked as a media executive at Reuters London headquarters. She has lived in the UK for nearly 20 years.

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One Response to “Women Initiating Change: The Strength of the Outsider by Kat Callo”

  1. […] Women Initiating Change: The Strength of the Outsider by Kat Callo […]

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