In November and December 2007, ICVoluntaris-Barcelona mobilized over 60 volunteer interpreters to facilitate dialogue linked to Africa. The topics were exciting and relevant for the world today, but nothing easy. How to strengthen links and improve cooperation between Africa and the West? How to establish new means for dialogue and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians? The conclusions of the two events provide some elements to what is needed to create a successful event and ultimately dialogue beyond nice words and pretty speeches.
The Congreso Internacional Ãfrica y Occidente, held in Huelva, Andalucia, from 14 to 16 November 2007 had among its participants the Co-President of the Alliance of Civilizations of the United Nations, Federico Mayor Zaragoza, the Political Scientist and Scientific Director of the Instituto de Estudios e InvestigaciÃ³n de la Europa MediterrÃ¡nea, Sami NÃ¤ir, writer and former European deputy and important promoter of co-development, and the former Minister of Culture and Tourism of Mali, Representative of the World Social Forum in Nairobi and University Professor Aminata TraorÃ©, among others.
According to the organizers, the aim of the Congress was to establish new forms of communication with Africa, "in order for dialogue to be horizontal, thus enabling Africans to actively take part in discussions and allowing them to influence the process of change and development, since they are the ones who best know the issues at hand."
During her opening speech, Aminata TraerÃ© shared her vision of Africa lead by those who are ready to assume responsibility, a young Africa with millions of possibilities. TraorÃ© is one of the strong intellectual voices pleading for an alternative Africa in opposition to wild globalization. She believes in power based on spreading of good examples: "micro-resistance versus macro-domination."
Another strong moment was the electric speech by Omali Yeshitela, President of African Socialist International, who has been fighting for many years for - One Africa! One Nation!
Two sessions of workshops offered a platform of dialogue related to communication between two cultures, two physical spaces. The workshops showed that dialogue, even if possible, with concrete conclusions and results, is not easy.
"In order for dialogue to truly exist, there needs to be two parties," pointed out Maria Vila, Coordinator of ICVoluntari(o)s-Barcelona. "From my point of view, the Congress appropriately represented the African side, with important figures and some participation. However, the Western side was under-represented. Indeed, speakers, very busy, seemed to have come to give their own presentation and did not stay on to hear others speak. The students seemed somewhat passive, maybe mistakenly giving the impression that they were waiting for the end of each session in order to collect course credits."
Vila questioned: "is the Congress a reflection of the present African and Western dialogue? Because if this is the case, Africa is alive, its representatives woke up the Europeans and gave them a push to widen their perspective beyond the immediate horizon."
One of the major questions stemming from the Conference is therefore: How it is possible to cultivate dialogue beyond good intentions? An exchange characterized by concrete action? And this is where the central question remains on how to create opportunities for young Africans who would like to remain in their countries and would like to see their continent develop its own economic and cultural identity, an Africa that already exists because the speakers and guests of the Congress already see it and believe in it.
As to the volunteer team, this is how John Moorhead, interpreter, perceived the experience: "It was a real privilege and a pleasure to work with fellow volunteer interpreters who had come from Spain and all over Europe to provide interpretation into English, French and Spanish for this important event. A special thanks to Maria Vila who worked very hard to try to accommodate the interpreters' needs despite the infrastructure which was not always suited to interpretation into three languages. I also appreciated the hospitality and warmth of the organizers and participants who thanked us profusely for the interpretation we provided so that they could communicate with one another in their respective languages".
The Foro por una Paz Justa en Oriente PrÃ³ximo, prepared in Madrid and planned from 14 to 16 December 2007 was intended as a space for dialogue for civil society that would seek to cultivate the creation of a movement towards peace in the Middle East. Supported by the Ayuntamiento de AlcorcÃ³n, Fuenlabrada, Getafe, LeganÃ©s, Paria, the Social Forum of Madrid, as well as civil society organizations from Palestine, Israel, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries, the idea behind the Forum was to constitute a political fact in itself by materializing an alternative vision for a peace based on multilateralism, International Law and the right of peoples to self-determination.
However, the days prior to the Forum were tense, with constant program changes and many difficulties with all respects. During the preparations of the event, the ICV team focused on the arrival of interpreters and left aside the political differences, in which it could have little influence.
Friday the 14th of December was a hard day. The Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian delegations cancelled their participation. In the end, due to last minute pressure, all official delegations decided not to endorse the final agenda, a decision which lead the Forum to be cancelled by the organizer, Social Forum of Madrid.
Some delegations decided to go ahead, in an alternative way, with the planned workshops in the space provided by the AsociaciÃ³n HaydÃ©e SantamarÃa, in LeganÃ©s.
The majority of the 54 volunteer interpreters mobilized by ICVolontarios-Barcelona who came to communicate, to help make peace a possibility were sorry to see the challenges at hand.
However, as much as our interpreters tried, as much as they were keen to have an alternative Forum in Mostoles, there is no peace if there is no dialogue, nor dialogue without someone to talk to. As Maria Vila put it, the first condition for peace is to listen to opposing camp's points of view.
She concluded: "Considering that this was a civil society initiative, we all went home with the feeling that peace was very far and will not be easy to reach".