What can innovation do for Famagusta?

This week, Lina from the Renewal team shares with us how a team of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots from the Famagusta region have joined forces with the innovation platform Mahallae to crowdsource creative solutions from a community in need.
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I have been working with the Renewal team since September 2014. We work closely with citizens and municipalities in the greater Famagusta region to address specific problems the region is facing.
Our efforts are focused on the walled city of Famagusta as well as the three communities of Deryneia, Frenaros and Vrysoules. Although quite diverse within itself, this region is nonetheless subject to a great deal of shared problems, among which is a very difficult economic situation.
The greater Famagusta region suffers from the highest unemployment rate among yimage (3)outh in the whole of Cyprus. The unemployment here has reached 40%. As you can imagine, the side-effects of this level of unemployment are devastating psychologically, economically, socially. We have a lot of young people leaving their homes in search for opportunities in other cities over the island or abroad. As we took a look at this grim picture, we wondered what we could do as the Renewal team that has never been done before. We began by offering a series of seminars on entrepreneurship, in partnership with the Cyprus Enterprise Link (CEL). This allowed us to build capacity and create an extended network of young people who were meeting frequently to learn together.
But we wanted to go beyond merely offering skills – we wanted to offer the Famagustian youth a chance to put their newfound skills to use.
This is how our collaboration with Mahallae was born, to launch what we are calling the Famagusta Region Challenge. Using the Mahallae platform, we are taking an in10922361_600964856717103_3025988399328892618_onovative approach to supporting positive economic and social development in the region. We are asking young people to submit their ideas; the winners will receive the funding and support from our team to kickstart their efforts. We are giving Cypriots a chance to put their ideas and talents together in order to create a service or product that benefits the communities on the island.
I feel like what really makes this project special is the fact that it has been directly designed based on the needs of the people in the area. As the Renewal team, we are constantly in dialogue with the citizens of the region. The Mahallae Challenges is our response to the ideas and experiences you shared with us on how you can spark change in this region. We are open to everyone’s suggestions, so please don’t hesitate to join us on this journey. And don’t forget to visit Mahallae’s page and read all about our Famagusta challenge. We want to work with you and make you innovative ideas come true!

Serdar Atai: “My dream is to see Famagusta Walled City as a UNESCO Site”

In the last few months, a local team in Famagusta has been creating good kind of trouble. Today, we’re talking to Serdar, one of the team members of Renewal, about the work they are doing there and his dreams about the region for the future.

Hi Serdar. We would like to begin by getting to know you a little more.

I was born in Famagusta in 1967 and raised here.

DSC_9803I’ve been engaged with civil society and bi-communal work since the early ’90s. I’ve worked with many different groups. I’ve also had the chance of visiting many conflict regions in the world for sharing our experience and exchanging lessons with them.

I’m in love with my beautiful city. My dream is to see Famagusta Walled City as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites where the Famagusta Port is transformed into a Tourism Port and the Greater Famagusta Region; beginning from Deryneia and ending at Salamina, as a completely demilitarised and reunited hinterland.

How did you get involved with RENEWAL?

For the past 6 years, I’ve served as the vice-president of MASDER (Famagusta Walled City Association) and for the past 4 years I’m the spokesperson for the Famagusta Initiative.

RENEWAL is the end product of consultations by UNDP-ACT with local stakeholders in Famagusta and Deryneia regions. MASDER was one of the stakeholders they visited. The idea was born through our consultations together.

What are you trying to accomplish with the RENEWAL initiative?

As RENEWAL, we attempt to provide soft infrastructure for business development, facilitate youth entrepreneurship and enhance civil society dialogue and cooperation within the Greater Famagusta Region.

What are you most excited about in your work?

10457710_579106582236264_1628229526672439542_oFamagusta and Deryneia are two remote regions in Cyprus with physical barriers and extremely limited capacities.

The communities are surrounded by buffer zones.

The Small-Medium Entreprises (SME’s) face major obstacles in their daily commercial activities.

The highest number of youth migration to the other main cities are from this area because of the existing conditions causing unemployment.

The civil society actors and the general public have limited contacts with each other due to the absence of an easy access checkpoint that can be easily opened and operated from Deryneia buffer zone.

Our hands and arms have been tied until now, but RENEWAL gives us the opportunity for tackling all these problematic issues on the ground with technical assistance, expertise and support from UNDP-ACT. With this support, we as the project team are trying our best to achieve the Project’s objectives as much as we can.

Through the initiative has not been around for long, you must already have some achievements you are proud of.

1505194_586130008200588_7474280430414569689_nWe aimed to bring together children, youth and their families by organising different training sessions or cultural and social activities.

We’ve organized youth entrepreneurship seminars, plantation events, chess and football tournaments, folklore and music performances and a food festival. We’ve many people visiting each other’s region for the first time.

Witnessing the satisfaction on the faces of those children, teenagers and the everyday citizens of Famagusta while they spent time together is our biggest motivation in continuing our work.

How do you envision RENEWAL contributing to the peace process?

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Young Famagustians attend youth entrepreneurship workshops organized by Renewal.

In the long run, I believe these gatherings or interactions at the interpersonal and intercommunal levels will help everyone to emphatize with each other that we have more or less the same anxieties and expectations as two peoples of the same region.

Hopefully, it will help us to create a common ground for coexistence and idealisation of a shared future for the Greater Famagusta Region. The synergy of local communities in daily social and economic life is the only way forward for the common future of our region and island-wide.

How can interested people follow the activities of RENEWAL?

RENEWAL has a Facebook page and people who would like to hear more about us or get informed about our future activities can follow our page here.

Ellada Evangelou on Mahallae: “Innovation is not just an empty word”

Following up our spotlight pieces on SCORE project’s Maria, and David on behalf of the Civic Participation Course team, this week we discuss Mahallae with Ellada Evangelou

Hi Ellada, thanks for talking to us today. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hello, and thanks for the opportunity. 🙂 Well, I don’t have a traditional NGO background, and I’m even surprised sometimes that I’m here. But it’s a good place to be, so no complaints!

Ellada_EvangelouI have a background in English, Dramaturgy (which is applied theatre) and a PhD in Theatre Studies / Cultural Analysis. As an artist and researcher, I’m interested in the relationship between identity and the arts, which is why I have been a practicing theatre facilitator and director for many years now, and believe in the arts for social change.

I am also fascinated by the area of the Euro-Mediterranean, the historical trends and the contemporary issues. I feel deeply rooted in the place, the island and the whole area, in spite all its challenges, or perhaps because of them.

How did you get involved with Mahallae?

Mahallae was a natural development for me. After working on Knowledge Innovation as part of a project co-run by the NGO Support Center and the Management Center of the Mediterranean supported by the UNDP-ACT, the opportunity came to work with interesting people on a challenging idea: a platform that would bring people together – Cypriots and from communities in the area – around the practice of innovating towards healthier societies. I was intrigued so I hopped on board, and it’s been a fantastic voyage ever since, more than a year ago now.

What excites you most about the platform?

Mahallae carries the potential to bring different people together to facilitate their working towards a common vision. This will (and already has) overcome barriers of language, cultural perceptions and others.

What is your proudest accomplishment so far?

To see individuals feeling empowered with their own ideas, and spreading that energy, it’s a very rewarding experience. Especially through the Challenges we organize periodically, and the workshops we run, you can see timid individuals flourishing and becoming empowered. That is priceless. I have come to realise the power of innovation… it’s not just an empty word, it has meaning and substance in the context of Mahallae, and it’s building a community of people around it that are creating inspiring work.

Do you think Mahallae can contribute to the peace process in Cyprus? How?

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Ellada poses with participants after a two day Mahallae workshop in the Buffer Zone.

Mahallae, its values and practices are about creating social structures where people are comfortable living. This inherently supports the idea of peace, not peace as the absence of war, but peace as a pro-active process of individuals and groups for self and collective betterment. In this general ideological framework, yes, Mahallae can support the peace process, since it nurtures a community of people who care and act on it.

How can interested people get involved in Mahallae?

As I mentioned before, Mahallae is a community, so other than the Challenges, which are opportunities for people, groups and organisations to run innovative projects based on a theme, people can join us in workshops, events, product testings and other activities. The Mahallae Challenges winning teams also have interesting events, which is a great way to meet cool people, build capacity and generally become more involved in a community that is growing. Follow Mahallae online and register for our newsletter, it’s a great way to stay in tune with what is happening. You can also follow us on our Facebook and Twitter, of course! And we have a blog!

Good things are happening in Famagusta

We continue to cover inspiring initiatives from across the island. This week, Maria Zeniou talks about her experience at the Green Streets action, organized recently in Famagusta.

green streets 1As the end of the year approached, things seemed to be slowing down with the peace process. The same could not be said for Famagustians. Indeed, it has been a pleasure for me to experience first hand the various activities organized in December by the people of Famagusta Walled City and Deryneia to work together for the future of their region.

Of the number of activities under RENEWAL that recently took place, I wanted to share with you one of the first and the most memimage002orable for me. It was one of the notoriously rare bad weather days (that Cyprus doesn’t see much of) where the sky was pouring, the streets were flooded and you could barely walk outside, let alone do outdoor activities. Well, I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. Not even the rain stopped them: Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots Famagustians, soaking from head to toe, planting trees around the walls of Famagusta. Two hours under the rain, and they managed to plant around 900 trees!

Perhaps the ‘Green Streets’ event is not what you would call a game-changer. But it shows that even under difficult circumstances, given the right opportunity, the people of Famagusta have the will to work for change. The RENEWAL project, currently underway in the region of Famagusta, is working to create exactly this kind of opportunity. After all, only if Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriot Famagustians work together can the social and economic change they envision for their region finally come.

green streets 2image001image004Editor’s Note: You can follow the RENEWAL project and its activities via their Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/renewal2014

David Officer: “Our courses have been a real act of cooperation between Cypriots”

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Quiet and revolutionary actions are taking place in the Buffer Zone and online every day. One of these is the State, Civil Society and Citizenship course, offered in the Buffer Zone and soon to be offered online by David and his team. This week, we talk to David to find out more about their initiative.

Hi David! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I was born in England and spent my working life in three main locations – London, Northern Ireland and Cyprus. I have worked as an academic, researcher, community worker and NGO activist.

You must have some very interesting insights that have led you to your current position in Cyprus.

Perhaps the most important and formative experience for me was leaving school at 17 and leaving England to work for a community education project in Belfast, Northern Ireland. This was during a particularly violent phase of the “Troubles” as the conflict there was euphemistically called. I gained the kind of education there you couldn’t get in a college or university.

That time gave me a very human insight into the factors which can drive some people to take up arms and prosecute a war against others, but also how even in the midst of conflict, life goes on. People continue to try and live as peaceful a life as possible. In many ways these early experiences set me on a course to try and understand the nature of inter-ethnic or inter-national conflict and how the neccessary difference between individuals and groups might be managed without lethal outcomes.

david 7You are part of the team behind offering a Civic Participation Course for NGO activists. How did the idea come about?

The initiative for this course arose out of a partnership established by three very different organisations responding to a call for proposals made by UNDP in Cyprus during the summer of 2014. The NGO Support Centre is based in Nicosia and largely serves the Greek Cypriot community. SeeD is a bi-communal organisation that is mainly concerned with attempts to overcome the deep-seated divisions evident on the island whilst the University of Nicosia is an academic institution, based south of the partition line but working with an increasingly international student cohort.

david 5What are you trying to accomplish with this project?

We know from our experience in Cyprus that there is a need to encourage a more creative engagement with factors which shape our daily lives. Decision-making on this island tends to reside with an elite, largely organised around established political parties. Our interest is to promote both the skills and knowledge for a much wider circle of people to make a difference within their own communities, set their own objectives and realise outcomes which may be neglected by those in positions of power.

Let’s remember also that the conflict on the island has become locked into a stalemate for at least 40 years. We need to be looking at people outside the established power structures who may have innovative ways of addressing this stalemate and moving the situation forward. This is what we wish to encourage.

What do you like most about the Civic Participation Course? 

What is innovative about this project is how we have combined the academic credibility of university modules with a careful attention to the needs of NGOs and community activists. We wanted to try and stimulate a dialogue between those who have considerable academic knowledge related to the role of civil society and the state with course participants who bring with them real practical knowledge about how these issues shape everyday lives. And it’s working!

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There has been a lot of interest from both communities in the courses offered within the Buffer Zone.

What is your proudest accomplishment with the Course?

Well, we are still at an early stage. But I am really pleased that we have already delivered an initial face-to-face course in the center of the Buffer Zone. We have had a mixed cohort of Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot teachers and students. I think it’s been a quiet and undemonstrative act of real cooperation between all who were involved.

How can interested people get engage with the Course?

We will actually be offering an online version of the course soon! It will be University accredited. We would encourage anyone interested in the course or the project more generally to get in touch with us through our Facebook and Twitter. Please don’t hesitate to connect with us.

Editor’s Note: You can click here to see photos from the course.

Maria Ioannou on SCORE: “We’re working to make a complex tool easy to use”

As we continue to support a number of initiatives that work towards engaging more people in the peace process, we want to introduce you an innovative tool in progress: SCORE, a tool to measure the closeness between communities in Cyprus. This week, we are talking to Maria Ioannou to find more about herself, her team and personal efforts at SCORE.

MIoannouHi Maria, thanks for talking to us today. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am a social psychologist. I got my DPhil in Social Psychology a year ago in the UK. Since then I have relocated back in Cyprus. Academically I’m interested in intergroup contact, prejudice reduction, and conflict resolution; personally I’m also interested in more clinical aspects of psychology, as well as a in exploring new places both within and outside Cyprus, and meeting people from all walks of life.

How did you get involved with SCORE? Can you tell us a little bit about what you do?

imageI was introduced to SCORE when I was hired as a senior researcher at the Centre for Sustainable Peace and Democratic Development (SeeD). I am basically the person behind the data analysis for SCORE.

What is SCORE attempting to do?

SCORE is basically a tool to measure Social Cohesion and Reconciliation (hence the acronym).

Through SCORE, we are hoping to be able to provide information how warm or cold relations are between various groups. We also aim to identify what kind of factors are affecting people’s willingness for a political compromise.

What excites you most about SCORE? 

In Cyprus, SeeD is about to launch an outreach campaign to communicate SCORE’s results to a number of important actors but also to the general public. I think that it is the latter that excites me the most about SCORE; that its findings can be shared and discussed with the general public.

Maria works with the SeeD team. The SeeD offices are located at the Home 4 Cooperation in the Buffer Zone.

What are some of the findings you can share with us today?

One of our key findings is that young people feel left out from decision-making. And when people feel left out, guess what happens? They become less willing for a political compromise with the other community.

Another interesting finding for me is that women particularly in the Greek Cypriot community are particularly resistant to coexistence and to a political compromise. Results such as this are suggesting that there are certain segments of the population that are most vulnerable so to speak. It is my opinion that SCORE results should be communicated primarily to these groups, not least to understand the findings but also to provide the floor to these groups to speak up and to discuss.

What is your proudest accomplishment with SCORE?

People who are more acquainted with SCORE talk about a very complex tool whose usefulness they can see but whose essence they can’t quite grasp. When I entered the SCORE team I realized myself that SCORE was indeed a complex tool and that the analysis of SCORE data was quite a handful. After some intense work with the data, I can say we are now at a place to present key findings which are straightforward, thought-provoking, and right in the heart of the peace process.

We are also excited to be rolling out this tool in Bosnia and Nepal. The lessons we are learning through using this tool in Cyprus will be applicable in those countries. We have already collected data in Bosnia in 2014. Data collection in Nepal will take place in 2015.

How can interested people get involved in/engage with/explore SCORE?

There is going to be a number of events taking place in the next few months in Cyprus, to present and generate discussion on the findings. One event will be bi-communal and the other four mono-communal (two on each side of the divide). People who don’t attend these events (or even those who do) should keep an eye on media. SCORE will also have its own Facebook and Twitter account soon.

Finally, we are working to establish a platform through which everyone can interact with SCORE and its findings (SCORE Bosnia 2014, SCORE Cyprus 2013, and SCORE Cyprus 2014). We want it to be easy to consume and very accessible, so our work is about how best to visualize the data.

We also hope to generate lots of discussion, so we are creating a platform where users can leave comments and provide input into the work.

For more information on SCORE, you can check out the Facebook page for Centre for Sustainable Peace and Democratic Development (SeeD).