Valerie Joy, Queensland Regional Meeting
Many Friends are familiar with the Alternatives to Violence Project, which has proven its effectiveness in prisons, primary and secondary schools, community groups, universities and TAFES. In Brisbane, facilitators have developed programs which are flexible enough to reach into the damage suffered by people who were institutionalised and abused as children.
We have developed a special program at a school for troubled teenagers, which is now recognised as part of their curriculum. The basic workshop was carefully adjusted to meet the needs of the participants. The point of these workshops was to get some student leaders into the facilitating team. When students see their peers facilitating, the program feels more relatable.
Mental health is a priority. We need to be aware that inclusion is difficult at times because of the emotional vulnerability of some students. While the school ethos and practices are inclusive, and even when many of the students are accepting of difference, it is still apparent that some students find it very difficult to risk vulnerability. Some students have hair-trigger sensitivity, some students go from zero to 100 with no graduating levels in between. For some, self-esteem is so low that they feel irrelevant, despite school practices.
The most significant factor in our workshops was that the students were all boys who have difficulty with social skills for a variety of reasons. Problematic relationships, difficulties with holding conversations and maintaining friendships, paying attention, being still and those kinds of personal and interpersonal abilities and qualities are probably amongst the reasons for them being at this alternative school. All of them “lose it”, occasionally. Some have diagnosed and verified learning disabilities or emotional disorders.
As a result we had to slow right down. The students needed to learn to not interrupt each other, the facilitators and participants, and to a certain extent, that was happening. Affirming and communicating were the key focus areas of the AVP agenda, and students went canoeing together before the workshop started and then did a ropes course on the last day in the time when we would normally do trust exercises. That was perfect. All participants loved it. Parents and other adults commented on significant behaviour changes following these workshops.
Following a workshop, a student said, “Because of their experience at other schools, a lot of kids at our school think they are useless, dumb, the bad kids, but really we are all just different.”
Another program we have developed is called “Peace Leadership” targeted at the Forgotten Australians. The Forgotten Australians are now a recognised group, who were formerly in Children’s Homes, or were part of a child migration program from the UK.
The most recent apology to this cohort was made nationally by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in November 2009. One victim is quoted saying “I need this apology today to release me from the pains of my past and to help assist me out of victimhood that I still get when having any dealings with any government official”.
This program was run at Lotus Place, a dedicated support service centre for forgotten Australians and former child migrants. The workshop format was an experiment. It was set up as six sessions, each session to be held on successive Wednesdays. The idea was to lessen the strain on participants who were and continue to be traumatised by events in their childhood. The AVP process is challenging and often tiring for people unused to such activities, particularly if the process brings up traumatic memories.
Lotus Place management are happy to offer AVP to their clients, both for its potentially intrinsic value, and to encourage their clients to successfully commit to attending the six weekly sessions.
We were innovative and adapted exercises and stretched out debriefing as long as we felt the group needed and benefitted from the input – this was one of the keys to success. It was also necessary to adapt exercises to suit the particular background of the participants, and to meet needs that became apparent during the process. The facilitators were able to trust each other to make such changes on the spur of the moment with only a “clinic” for consultation.
All AVP programs are rigorously evaluated. The following quotes are taken from these reports.
From a participant: Getting to know Alternatives to Violence brings me peace inside; Listening to others; Discovering how impatient I (still) can be and allowing myself the freedom and power of being patient; I hope I have changed on the inside – it seems other people can see it, so it must be so. I feel great that I came all the Wednesdays. I am happy with myself; I loved Role play – so I can see what others see in different situations; Remembering to connect with the Transforming Power within.
From a facilitator: What impresses me is the interest and enthusiasm participants have in processing the exercises – probing really deeply into their own experience. In our own feedback session, we see that we still need to be mindful of slowing down the pace and ensuring that all have had an opportunity to share. Silence is OK.
I hope readers not familiar with AVP can develop understanding of the program through these two examples. Other States report on similar adjustments they have made to the program, whilst keeping true to AVP’s philosophy. Please give any support you can to this entirely voluntary program, which is bringing peaceful change to lives of people damaged by early trauma.
Valerie Joy is President of AVPQ Inc