October 16, 2013
This is a story about a group of children crossing the road.
It’s the story of them crossing a road they’d never crossed before.
It’s about how they decided not to let an 18 foot wall stand in the way of them and their friends anymore.
And it may be one of the most heart-warming stories you read today.
In the west of Belfast, Northern Ireland’s capital, a ‘peace wall’ separates two roads: Falls Road and Shankill Road. They are separated in this way because the people living on these roads, for the most part, share a different religious heritage.
One is predominantly Catholic, the other mainly Protestant. The wall is there to keep them apart and minimise any potential violence between the two communities.
A consequence of this is that the children of St Clare’s Primary on one road have never made the short walk to visit their friends at Glenwood school on the other.
For the first time over the past few weeks, children of both schools have made the 500 yard walk to meet the ‘kids across the wall’ at their respective schools, as opposed to a neutral community centre nearby where they would normally have to meet.
It goes to show that, though these children are of a generation not to know the horrors of terrorism and violence in their city, their days remain structured by old divisions all the same.
That is why PeacePlayers International, a Laureus-supported sport for development project, runs what is called a ‘Twinning Programme’ in the area. Here, Protestant and Catholic school children aged eight to 11 come together (“twinned) for mixed-group basketball and community relations sessions. The programme has proved a remarkable way of promoting cross-community peace building.
Visiting the different schools as part of the Twinning Programme for the first time, the children had a new opportunity to learn about each other and build friendships.
One of the girls from Glenwood School said:“I had a lot of fun, and even made two new best friends from St. Clare’s. I really like that they had purple uniforms. This morning I didn’t know anyone from their school and now I have new friends!”
Meanwhile, an image that will live on in the minds of those present is that of two girls embracing each other as they parted, with a student from St. Clare’s having joked: “I’m switching schools so that I can stay here with my new friends.”
It’s not often that a small group of children can break down concrete walls standing so much taller than themselves.
This day, it seems, they really did.