The Carlington Summit

Imagine coming to Carleton University as a refugee and trying to concentrate on your studies while conflict in your homeland is taking the lives of your family.

For Jabril Abdulle this was reality.

Abdulle, BA/95, arrived in Canada as a refugee from Somalia in 1988. In 1990, his mother was killed in a civil war back home. One year later, he lost his father and more than a dozen close relatives. Abdulle says he was faced with two options. “I could do nothing, or I could use my education to do something constructive to ensure my parents' death wouldn't be in vain.”

His personal experiences became the basis for Abdulle's sociology honours thesis, which examined how different ethnic groups in Ottawa manage conflict. As a resident of Bellevue Manor, a low-income, multicultural neighbourhood in Ottawa's west end, Abdulle witnessed conflict in his own community. He realized members had few options when dealing with it. In most cases, hiring a lawyer was not economically feasible. So Abdulle introduced free, community-based conflict resolution, in which trained community members act as mediators and encourage both parties to agree on an issue before it escalates.

Some lawyers, police officers and community members were not initially sold on the idea, he says. Some professionals were convinced Abdulle was interfering with their work.

However, Cheryl Picard of the Carleton University Mediation Centre and one of Abdulle's thesis advisers, says she clearly saw the need for such a program and welcomed Carleton's chance to participate.

“It was an important opportunity for Carleton to learn how culture influences conflict,” says Picard. “A lot of conflict comes out of assumptions, fears and lack of information.”

Abdulle's perseverance and the support of the Trillium Foundation were enough to establish the Ottawa-Carleton Neighbourhood Coalition for Conflict Resolution (NCCR) in 1995. Six volunteers staff the NCCR. Last year, the program handled 52 cases per month, says Abdulle, the NCCR's executive director.

Picard says the demand for such a service isn't surprising. “As our society becomes more multicultural, the need for such a program increases. Conflict isn't going away.”

The program has generated international interest. Delegates from Sweden, Somalia and South Africa have visited the NCCR in an attempt to incorporate the program into their own communities. Abdulle has witnessed first-hand the success of the program. He recalls the story of a group of teenagers who committed a robbery. Through mediation, the youth recognized their mistakes and went on to become honours students. Abdulle takes pride in these success stories.

“Bringing peace brings so much pleasure,” he says.

Reprinted from the Carleton University Magazine, Winter 2000 edition. Erin Gaffney, BJ/98, is a master's student in Carleton's School of Journalism and Communication and a resident of Carlington.