Sharedwor!ds is a reconciliation, conflict resolution and peace-building project based on the common words between the Greek and Turkish languages. We sat down with Nuri Sılay, one of the two Sharedwor!ds creators, to learn about their new digital game.
Mahallae Team: How did you come up with the idea to develop Sharedwor!ds?
Nuri: The idea for SharedWords was the fruit of my five years long Greek-learning process. During my Greek classes, while I was searching for the meanings of Greek words in Turkish, I realized that thousands of Greek words have similar pronunciation, written form and meaning as the corresponding Turkish words. I found it really interesting that these two languages have so much in common even though their alphabets are completely different. And I realized that common words can be used as a language learning methodology and as a starting point to learn different languages. From another point of view, common words are the evidence of a common way of expression, of common traditions and common values of the societies that speak those languages. They are common grounds that we can use to overcome the psychological obstacle of “foreign” by focusing on our similarities and common values that bring us together. With this pragmatic approach in mind me and Spyros decided to take the opportunity to apply for the Knowledge and Innovation Fund of the Peace it Together Network with the intention to build a game that enables people to see that the common words and our common traditions and values can help us see each other familiar rather than foreign and overcome prejudice.
Mahallae Team: So what do you aim to achieve with the game?
Nuri: As we are living in a digital world nowadays, we thought an online game can help us reach people in Cyprus by using a very convenient communication channel to focus their attention on the common culture and common values of the two communities. Ultimately, we want to help people overcome prejudice and change their perception towards the “other” by making it “familiar” rather than “foreign”.
Mahallae Team: And do you have any plans for future development?
Nuri: Yes, we have a lot of plans for future development. First of all, this game was just the first step. We want to improve its design and functionality day by day to provide an enjoyable experience to players while they are playing and learning. We also have plans to develop a mobile application version of the game. And, in the long run, we would like to apply the SharedWords language learning methodology and peace building philosophy to other societies where common words are a reflection of common culture and common values. We think it can be very useful in many other contexts around the world.
Mahallae Team: Great, good luck, Nuri! And thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!
Nuri: Thank you! Come play Sharedwor!ds here!
by Florin Marin
Stories are an essential component of human life and human experience. We use them for learning and guidance, for sharing wisdom with future generations, and for building a sense of community and continuity that gives meaning to our endeavours. In a way, stories make us who we are. And while stories change us in irrevocable ways, the technologies we use for storytelling also impact us profoundly.
When we set out to build the mahallae civic action road map, we aimed to tell the story of civil society in Cyprus in an innovative way. We didn’t want to write an inaccessible report and we didn’t want it to be a static archive of civil society initiatives that only researchers would find interesting. Instead, we wanted to capture the story as it unfolded over the years so that it can be used for learning, sharing wisdom, and building a sense of community, like every story should.
It was not an easy task and we had our moments of doubt that it would work. But we persevered, we went back to the drawing board several times, and in the end put together three different digital tools to help our mahallae users navigate the different aspects of the story we wanted to tell.
First we assembled a fun to use exploration tool that lets you build network graphs to explore the broad range of initiatives that were carried out by civil society in Cyprus in the last few decades. Here is a snapshot of the initial work we’ve done:
We built this tool thinking of it as a living organism. It even looks like one! And just like a living organism, we want it to grow and mature. And for that we need everyone else to lend a hand and become part of the story. We had our vigilant team gather a lot of the information needed but we know there is more to be uncovered to capture the complete picture of civic engagement in Cyprus. So make sure to check it out once we launch and share with us your piece of the story!
Our second storytelling tool was born out of the necessity to interpret the data we had gathered and give it meaning. We knew that all these initiatives we were discovering had two things in common: goals and methods to achieve those goals. We saw the goals as being part of thirteen different thematic fields, from arts and culture, to environment, to science and technology. We called these spheres of change and build a visual representation of their evolution in time. At the same time, the methods employed by these different initiatives also had deep significance, be it capacity development, knowledge and innovation, or advocacy and policymaking. We identified six of these different methods and called them building-blocks of civic engagement.
On mahallae these won’t be static charts. We’re allowing the users to customize their own chart based on the field and time frame they are interested in. Here is the initial look of this tool, it’s still work in progress but we’re committed to make it as user-friendly and interesting as possible.
Together these charting exercises offer us a perspective of the kind of work civil society has been doing in Cyprus over the past few decades and it can help us identify trends and needs more easily.
After building these two tools, we realized that while both are extremely useful, one was very detail-oriented and the other was operating on a meta-level of overall trends. We needed something to ground them both and make our story personal. So the third tool we built is an interactive infographic that uses new design techniques to delve into the evolution, the key moments, and the achievements of the civil society peace-building movement in Cyprus. A lot of civil society activity in Cyprus has revolved around the bi-communal peace-building movement, so we wanted to honour its legacy and tell the story in a way that it’s never been told before. If you want to see what inspired us, have a look at this.
Of course, we’re still hard at work to finish and polish these tools for the mahallae launch. But we hope our efforts will pay off and these tools will surprise, inspire, and motivate a new generation of activists and practitioners to keep working for what they believe in and become part of this great story themselves.
by Ellada Evangelou
"We spend much of our time worrying about our ideas being truly innovative. Better, faster and newer. But the truth is, the essential elements of innovation are patience and team work."
When we started with the idea of a platform which would bring together the work of NGO practitioners from all around the area, innovation was at the forefront of our planning. And to get the best ideas out there, we launched a Fund and made it all about Knowledge Innovation. We started by getting several strong ideas, and as time passed we realized that innovation became a tangible value when we worked diligently, taking into account the creative input of many people. You need your practical minds to ask “how will this work”, some aesthetic feedback to make sure it looks pretty, a tech person (or two) to get all the technical stuff right and a communications team to make sure you get the word out and do justice to the work. Most of all you need patience and loads of “yes, but”, “ahah” and “duh” moments.
When it’s time to explore the interactive tools on the space of creativity which is mahallae, it is this type of spirit which will welcome you. At the moment, a handful of innovative tools which push civil society into new and exciting paths, reaching new groups and engaging in different conversations. The tools include the following:
Shared Wor!ds: The game was developed by a Turkish-Cypriot Greek Language learner and a Greek-Cypriot linguist, combining experiential and academic knowledge. SharedWor!ds is an on-line language-learning game, part of the SharedWords project aimed at learners of Greek and Turkish. It utilizes common words shared by both languages and uses the learner’s existing knowledge of Greek or Turkish to make language learning easier and more fun.
Collaborating into the Future: The Management Centre of the Mediterranean and the NGO Support Centre, have developed a Video Webinar which explores the case study of the collaboration of the two organizations, one Greek-Cypriot and the other Turkish-Cypriot, and how they dealt with challenges in Cyprus, a post conflict society. These organisations built up a successful relationship with each other centred on trust and developed a unique way of working together. An additional aim of the Webinar is to present their collaboration as a possible model for others to follow.
Digi Wisdom for Mediators and Trainers: The Mediation Association and Conflict Resolution Trainers Group, pioneering groups of peace makers, initiated this project. On a map of the region, mediators and conflict resolution trainers share their experiences and insights via short video clips. The individual stories recounted highlight the vital role that training in mediation and the resolution of conflict can play in bringing about reconciliation and lasting social change.
The Power of Sport: Animated Videos and Learning Guides by Peace Players International, Cyprus. The tool is a series of 5 short animated films accompanied by learning modules and facilitators’ guide. The films illustrate how sport can be used as a tool for peace building and share the methodology used by PeacePlayers International in their programs in Cyprus, the Middle East, Ireland and South Africa. The films can be used by organizations and coaches looking to use sport as a tool for conflict transformation. The learning modules are targeted towards young people aged between 14 and 20 (on average) and can be used by practitioners and coaches in the field.
Nicosia is Calling: an online game developed by the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research and a group of inspired collaborators. Geared towards children aged 8-14, it is also suitable for adults who want to travel through time! The game combines history and learning about the city of Nicosia as it stands now, it familiarizes the player with Nicosia’s rich cultural heritage and its multicultural past and to imagine the city in the future as a unified whole. The game uses a map of the old city within the Venetian walls to take players on a virtual journey.
The CCMC Story: a series of infographics and visuals by the Cyprus Community Media Centre. These capture the story of the Cyprus Community Media Centre (CCMC), from the birth of the idea to the present, as well as serve to bridge the gap between civil society and the mainstream media. The site also illustrates ways civil society can acquire its own distinct voice and how collaboration has been encouraged between two entirely separate (Greek language and Turkish language) media networks on the island. The tool is enriched with hyperlinks, images, videos and “how-to” features. It aims to inspire others in conflict situations who may be considering their own community media initiatives.
Youth Power Line: an online platform developed by Youth Power, a network of 4 diverse, Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot organizations, focusing on youth activism. The platform developed for young people who want to take their life and their future into their own hands and discover creative possibilities to help them navigate their way through times of financial and emotional depression. YouthPowerLine.org is divided in two sections: entrepreneurship, for users interested in social or corporate business and youth, for users interested in culture, youth activism and the creative arts.
As we anticipate showing the amazing work done by creative teams to the world in the imminent launch of mahallae, we will begin to introduce the projects through the blogposts. Stay tuned!
Part of the mahallae team spent this Saturday by the sea in Famagusta, building peace one beach at a time. We needed the rest, it’s been an intense week. The mahallae project aims to shake-up peacebuilding in Cyprus and the Euro-Mediterranean area by introducing tech-enable tools for innovation. It’s a risky, ambitious idea, and we’re well on our way to it (you can sign up here for updates or follow us on Facebook or Twitter).
Shaking-up and re-thinking peacebuilding practice also means we have to ask the hard questions. One that came up this week is why some people dislike the word peace. This post outlines my personal thoughts on this debate (not the official views of any mahallae partners). In response to feedback from activists in Cyprus, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, we use a mix of different terms on the mahallae site. Some refer to what you might think of as components of peace: social cohesion or reconciliation. Others stray from what you might typically associate with peace and refer to broader social change processes: civic engagement or a healthy society.
But do we really need to completely avoid talking about peace? The reasons this term is problematic depend on the local context. Some Cypriots dislike peace because they are disillusioned both with the formal peace process (largely stalled) and with peacebuilding activities led by civil society (often repetitive). In North Africa, peace is seen by some as a counter-revolutionary notion at a time when social change through revolution (sometimes peaceful, sometimes not) is important to many. In Israel and Palestine, the most common greetings in Arabic (سلام) and Hebrew (שָׁלוֹם) mean peace. Still, some activists reject peaceas a description of their aim – in their context, peace is likely to mean a settlement requiring compromises they are not sure they can make.
This view from Israel and Palestine goes to the heart of why some people dislike the termpeace. Peace can be a deeply conservative notion, it can mean compromise, it can mean keep quiet and don’t rock the boat. There is certainly some truth to this: conflict often results in change, which can be a very good thing. But that doesn’t mean peace is the enemy of change. Avoiding violence does not require avoiding conflict, and there are ways to build peace that also skillfully allow for change. Johan Galtung makes a distinction between negative peace (avoiding violence) and positive peace (overcoming not just direct violence, but also structural and cultural violence). Galtung’s positive peace reaches beyond the conservative notions of peace that are likely at the root of many people’s rejection of the term peace.
Some have suggested that this notion of positive peace is problematic because it pushes a particular positive agenda (often a leftist or liberal one). Then again, one can argue that negative peace is equally value-laden, since it essentially amounts to an endorsement of the (cultural and structural) status quo. The debate is much like debates around negative liberty versus positive liberty, a fascinating theoretical wrangle that requires much longer than a blogpost. So let me cut to the chase: in practice, positive peace makes room for more voices and accommodates the rainbow of social change initiatives that mahallae should support. Positive peace doesn’t have to be about a concrete agenda, it can just be a recognition that for peace to be real it has to engage in debate all of our agendas for peace. That’s why I think mahallae’s core aim should be to support civic engagement for a peaceful society.
That’s a nice, simple tagline, right? Problem: I still haven’t defined what a peaceful society is, really. Some days, I think it’s easier to take refuge in poetic notions. Jeffrey Yang saying peace can be found “out, reaching up to the stars” or Rumi’s field “out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing“. That may seem like a cop-out, but there is some value to being vague, precisely because it leaves room for individual thought.
Hannah Arendt explained that only individual reflection and independent thought can keep us away from the banality of evil. Buddhism teaches that peace is every step, that we can only seek to build peace in the world if we also commit to building peace within ourselves. Inner peace is essential for a peaceful society because only through self-reflection can we understand the conflict traps we are caught in. Foucault speaks of using self-reflection to alter prevailing narratives, change “games of truths” that have us stuck in identities that are bound to clash (I’ve written about that before). John Paul Lederach also believes that we have to invent new peace narratives. Inventing peace in his view requires that we reach out to those we fear, touch the heart of complexity, imagine beyond what is seen, and risk vulnerability one step at a time.
A peaceful society is one that is structured in such a way that it encourages us to take the risk to invent, every day, new ways of living together. By embracing an open, positive concept of peace, mahallae can be a tool for activists to navigate fear, complexity, imagination and vulnerability. That’s the peaceful society I hope mahallae helps build. Onwards.