The project “Building Bridges, Not Walls: Southern Voices, Northern Voices Advocating Better Conditions for Harmonious Coexistence and the Advent Of Democracy in Algeria”, coordinated by the International Committee for the Development of Peoples, brings together several associations working hand-in-hand with the Omar Khayam Cultural Centre, an NGO based in Brussels. This project, supported by the European Union, aims to contribute to “respecting individual freedoms through the promotion of harmonious coexistence in southern and northern Algeria”.
Algeria is like a continent within a country, and is made up of a variety of cultures. Associations consider it important for young people to understand that this cultural diversity is a real asset. “We wanted to create a project that would make young generations reach out to other cultures. Algeria is a vast country, and we realised that several regions don’t know much about each other. This can lead to issues such as denigration or dislike between peoples” explained Eveline Chevalier, head of the Algiers office of the International Committee for the Development of Peoples (in Italian: Comitato internazionale per lo sviluppo dei populi, CISP), an Italian NGO that arrived in Algeria in the 1980s. Southern Voices, Northern Voices aims to instil the values of “learning about one another” and “synergy” in young people in order to create the conditions needed to provide for more harmonious coexistence. Algerian associations from different regions of the country are involved in this project.
Going Beyond Folklore
One of the first projects was dedicated to female Tuareg artists in the Djanet region (2,100 kilometres south of Algiers). “We explored the topic of their rights and worked on giving their art more recognition, whether it was in their capacity as singers, musicians, or artisans” said Eveline Chevalier.
The associations’ representatives also organised a training session on copyright law and published a photobook “Women in the South and Their Bond of Sisterhood” (La sororité des femmes du Sud). “In this respect, we introduced cascading grants, which are micro-projects. They have allowed women to earn money from the recognition they gained as artists or artisans.” It bears noting that the representatives of the associations made part of the journey by bus. “This is a project that brings together multiple elements such as philosophy, history, and the topic of gender. The notion of distance is also very important. As such, we wanted for participants from northern Algeria to understand the travel difficulties the inhabitants of some southern cities are forced to cope with” the head of CISP explained.
The implementation and success of this project, which is scheduled to end in 2018, has required experienced management skills. According to Mehdi Lagoune El Ghali, responsible for Human Rights issues at CISP’s Algiers office and activities coordinator, the support provided by the European Union for the implementation of this project “is crucial”. “The EU’s support is more than just financial. Its involvement furthers the creation of social cohesion. This participation is part of the support given to intercultural education being provided to the people and not to institutions. It is a concept that deserves to be promoted in Algeria,” he said.
Learning Each Other’s Language
Southern Voices, Northern Voices has also taken on the task of promoting the culture of harmonious coexsitence in other regions of Algeria. This is the case for the university of Sidi-Bel-Abbès, a city in western Algeria. Brikci Mohamed Bachir, a member of the student organisation Le Banquet de Platon (Plato’s Symposium), talked about this experiment. “We noticed that, in our university, there were no real exchanges between local students and foreign students. This is what made the members of our organisation decide to work on creating bonds with Ivorian students at Sidi-Bel-Abbès. We opted for language learning sessions. During those sessions, each group has the opportunity to learn the language of the other” he said.
Mohamed Bachir feels that this experience “has been very enriching”. “Exchanging with students from another African country made it possible to put the notions of harmonious coexsitence and inter-culturalism into practice. We even plan to reorganise the same project in the next academic year and extend it to students from other countries,” he added.
Southern Voices, Northern Voices also features a philosophical and scientific project that is international in scope: The Extraordinary Journey of Zero (In French: Le voyage magique d’un certain Zéro). This project, created and coordinated by the philosopher Ahmad Aminian, president of the Omar Khayam Cultural Centre in Brussels, arrived in Algeria in October 2016. It hinges on a series of activities dealing with art, history, science, and harmonious coexsitence.
“I was fortunate enough to be able to take part in this extraordinary programme. I would never have imagined that a number as small as zero had had such an impact on history and humanity,” Lilia Beladjine explained. Members of the Seed of Peace association in Oran (450 kilometres west of Algiers), Lilia and her friends actively participate in the Algerian chapter in this project centred around the number zero.
“The number zero first appeared in India before reaching Asia and the Middle East. We found traces of it in Algeria and launched research campaigns in a number of Algerian cities,” she said. These cities are: Ouargla, Ghardaia, Tlemcen, Tindouf, Djanet, Tamanrasset, and Bejaia.
One Algerian city played a particularly important role in science and history: Bejaia, formerly Bougie, a seaside city in Kabylia. “Scientific data show that the number zero took shape in Bejaia. Between the 9th and 12th centuries, this city was ahead of its time in algebra and mathematics,” added Mehdi Lagoune El Ghali, in charge of the scientific aspects of The Extraordinary Journey of Zero.
There is also a significant artistic element to this project. The Omar Khayam Cultural Centre asked painters to imagine the role played by their country in forging the notion of “Zero”. Here again, traces of Algeria’s influence can be found. Painters such as Houari Bouchenak, Fethi Hadj Kacem, and Mouna Bennamani participated in an artist-in-residence program. In July, their paintings, as well as copies of the paintings exhibited at the Omar Khayam Cultural Centre, were displayed at the Racont-Arts festival, a travelling festival held every summer in a different Kabylia village.
Given the activities it organises and the broad scope of its actions, Southern Voices, Northern Voices is sure to play a major role in promoting the culture of harmonious coexsitence.