Unheard Voices - Londonderry/Derry

One of the greatest dilemmas facing Northern Ireland's politicians is how to deal with the legacy of the past.

Following the Fresh Start Agreement, which pledged to find a structure for tackling the plight of survivors and relatives of more than three decades of violence, the issue, is still mired in controversy.
Carol Cunningham, Project Coordinator with the Unheard Voices Peace Impact Programme believes it provides a glowing example of how to connect with those most directly affected by the Troubles.

The project is developed and managed by Creggan Enterprises, a community-led organisation that has been an active catalyst for positive change in Londonderry/Derry and the wider region.

One of the most striking results of the project was the publication of Beyond the Silence, a book containing 29 intensely personal stories of women who felt ready to share them with the wider world. What was particularly striking about the project was the inclusion of women from the Nationalist, Unionist and security force communities – women who admit they never had a previous inclination to meet or communicate and many who were outside the current political process.
Marie Newton, singer and actress Bronagh Gallagher and Sharon Austin who have been involved with the Unheard Voices project in Londonderry/Derry
Carol says: “To me the hallmark of any effective process for dealing with the past is the quality of its humanity. I believe that those in power should examine projects like this and see how grass roots organisations are dealing with it.”

Creggan Enterprises, which was established in 1991 and celebrates its 25th Anniversary this year, believes that women are key to tackling the problems of the past. 
Carol adds: “They are fundamental to peace building within homes, within families and within communities. We felt there was a need for women to engage in cross-community capacity building.

“Very often when discussing the impact of conflict we hear only the voices of men and we tend to forget that behind every man there is a mother, wife or daughter and sister who have never brought their voices to the fore. 

“We also found through this project that there is often an inter-generational transfer of trauma from the past. There were women who had lost a loved one 30 or 40 years ago and never had any closure, never had their day in court, and that trauma is passed onto other family members, often women in the family. One of the women who told her story in our book, Beyond the Silence, has since died; others are in their 70s and another woman told her story because her mother was in failing health. 
Unheard Voices Project Co-ordinator Carol Cunningham speaks with local participants.
Sharon Austin, Marie Newton, Project Co-ordinator Carol Cunningham and IFI Chairman Dr Adrian Johnston pictured at the launch of ‘Beyond the Silence’, a ground- breaking anthology that captures 28 lost stories from women directly or indirectly affected by the troubles.
“This was very often the first time they had told their stories in any detail, even to members of their own families. It was certainly the first time they had told it to a stranger.”

Carol said it took a lot of quiet diplomacy to encourage the women to engage. “Some of them would have been involved in other projects run by Creggan Enterprises or I would have made contact with them through key individuals in the Unionist community. Effectively what I was doing was planting a seed, building up trust over weeks and months until they reached the stage where they had the confidence and courage to tell their stories”.

But revealing these stories in all their detail including the long suppressed feelings of those involved was only part of the process. “We didn't just walk away from them after they told their stories.

“They were signposted towards organisations which could deal with the trauma that still exists after many years – the first time many of the women had received any support.”

Women engaging with Creggan Enterprises were also introduced to a number of workshops and training programmes to further build their capacity. 

Training workshops in women’s human rights and internet safety are currently being delivered to pupils at St Cecilia's College as both accredited and non-accredited courses. Internet safety was also delivered to pupils at Lisneal College. Personal development and vocational programmes are vehicles used to give women greater confidence, increase their cross-community contact and enable them to make their previously silent voices heard.

Contacts for this project:

Sean Feenan

Community Foundation for NI
Community House 
Citylink Business Park
6A Albert Street 
BELFAST
BT12 4HQ 

Tel:  028-9024-5927  
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

Chrissie Cahill

Community Foundation for NI
Community House 
Citylink Business Park
6A Albert Street 
BELFAST
BT12 4HQ 

Tel:  028-9024-5927  
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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