Sally Herzfeld, Western Australia Regional Meeting
At the end of a Help Increase the Peace Project (HIPP) workshop with a year 4 class in a primary school, I explained that the Alternatives to Violence Project runs programs all around the world in schools, communities and prisons. A nine year old boy asked with descriptive gestures and ghastly look on his face, “Do you do this with MURDERERS?!!”
“Yes,” I explained. “I was with some last week. The ones I know seem to be all nice men who wish they could take back that split second when they were drunk or on drugs and killed someone. They are very sorry.”
“Do they cry?” he asked , with an incredulous look on his face.
“They sure do!” I replied. “They do these same sort of exercises, games and discussions that you have done to help them rebuild self esteem, develop communication skills and discover ways to solve conflicts without fighting. They laugh a lot like you did and join in discussions about things that concern them just like you did.”
Being a facilitator for AVP can take you to many different countries and have you involved with a wide range of people of all ages. My older brother, as a Young Friend in 1951, was a conscientious objector to serving in the military under the National Service Scheme of those days. Later, after finishing a degree he went as a Volunteer Graduate to Indonesia. At that time, I remember posters advertising Volunteer Graduates Abroad with large letters saying, “How about some INTER national Service?” This is how I look on AVP – even if it’s a matter of “thinking globally but acting locally” we can help remove the causes of war.
Early in an AVP workshop we brainstorm the words Violence and Peace and then do a small group exercise on what are the main causes of violence. Racism, Intolerance, Fear, Revenge, Greed are nearly always mentioned. Then ways are recorded of how to counteract or overcome these strong roots of violence and help them to bear good fruits of sharing, tolerance and caring.
Some AVP facilitators are working in places where there is conflict e.g. Afghanistan and Kenya. In many communities around the world including Australia an AVP Advanced workshop is being aimed at Trauma Healing. Participants who have experienced or witnessed horrific acts of violence have found these helpful. We go to Aboriginal communities where family feuding and youth suicide are common. Imagine being able to help in these situations!
At a Friends Peace Centre in North Kenya I was one of a team conducting an AVP workshop about a year after electoral violence had torn districts apart. One man was trying to overcome his feelings of hate after seeing his sister have to decide whether she would jump into a fire or be slashed to death. AVP was helping him see the situation objectively from both sides. Fear and revenge were heavily involved. Friends Peace Teams and the African Great Lakes Initiative organise AVP workshops in many places like this.
During the last few months I have had an extremely interesting time being on teams to help participants discover strengths within themselves which will help them overcome conflict situations. – Primary school, tertiary institution, multicultural groups, remote Aboriginal community, with Aboriginal Pre-employment groups and professional community groups. Wouldn’t you like to be involved? Do you have the health, wealth and passion to be a volunteer?
[Sally Herzfeld will present the 2015 Backhouse Lecture.]