Bond’s Street woman, Christine Hart, says a peace-building project that has allowed marginalised working-class women air their ‘unheard’ stories of the Troubles has had a transformative effect and warns pulling the funding carpet from underneath these kinds of initiatives risks sending us back to the 1970s and 1980s.
Christine, is one of 1,500 local women who have engaged in ‘Unheard Voices,’ an International Fund for Ireland (IFI) project run out of the Ráth Mór centre in Creggan, which is designed to allow the women of the Troubles, tell their lost stories of pain and survival.
A new anthology of stories told by women, who as project coordinator, Carol Cunningham, says “held the fabric of society together”during those chaotic years, will be launched in the city on International Women’s Day.
‘Beyond the Silence’ is the first publication to focus exclusively on the experiences of women who have suffered through the conflict but have been forgotten in the peace process.
Christine has spoken of the importance of the ‘Unheard Voices’ project and the need for these initiatives to continue.
“This town has went through thirty-odd years of troubles as we all know and everybody has suffered in one way or another and it’s needed to bring communities back together,” she says.
“The changes I’ve seen since last year, totally unbelievable. I think the whole project is absolutely magnificent and long may it continue. I would like to continue it,” adds Christine.
Ms Cunningham explains the project’s purpose.
“The aim of the project is to engage marginalised women, mainly from the Creggan area, but also from Protestant, Unionist, Loyalist areas.
“They all have very limited community development and peace-building experience and they are coming together for a series of training programmes.”
She says the project focuses on people who helped hold society together when the Troubles were tearing it apart.
“Women have held the fabric of society together through the conflict and through the Troubles. Most of these women come from very working-class areas. They are very marginalised and they don’t have the confidence to go out and start engaging with their own communities.”
Christine says it’s vital such projects continue to be funded to help bring people together, build connections, and bring new insights back to their own heartlands.
“If there’s no funding this is not going to happen and people are going to go back to the 1970s and 1980s and we don’t want that. We certainly don’t want it here in our community.
“I found myself moving on, I’ve left the bitterness behind me and to me that was a massive achievement and it never would have happened if it hadn’t been for ‘Unheard Voices.’
Conal McFeely, of Creggan Enterprises, says the project is important as Londonderry continues to recover from the recent Troubles.
“It’s crucial in terms of peace-building, it’s crucial in terms of community engagement and it’s also crucial in cementing the peace process,” he says.
Ms Cunningham concurs: “The IFI is a very unique funder. They encourage you, they have the experience, but they also allow you the flexibility to be a little bit more creative. They are very, very supportive and they are allowing us to reach right into the heart of the communities and to access these extremely hard to reach women. This funding is of vital importance.”