Sally Hertzfeld, Western Australia Regional Meeting

Sally HerzfeldAVP has been conducting workshops in Western Australia since 1995.  One of our first workshops was done with Aboriginal Social workers. The facilitators were worried that they might make cultural mistakes and specifically asked if they’d said or done anything inappropriate. They asked for honest feedback and were only told positives such as how much they liked the circles involved. We sit in a circle, our diagram that represents ways to transform a violent situation into a peaceful one is made up of two concentric circles with “Transforming Power” written in the centre, and for an exercise we do on communication, we sit facing a partner in a double circle to practice speaking and listening. They appreciated the inclusive story-based format and that there was no lecturing or teaching. The team was obviously learning along with the participants. The conclusion was, “Don’t change anything!”

A few years later, we did another workshop with Aboriginal Social workers in the Metropolitan area. This time we had a young Aboriginal woman on our team. This made a great difference and it has become very important to us to have an Aboriginal presence in workshops with indigenous people. Our team member was such an asset because participants appreciated her leadership skills and knew what it had taken for her to get to the point of being a facilitator. We now have several Aboriginal facilitators both in prisons and in the community. We train inmates to become facilitators.

Of course every group of participants is different. In a workshop with six Aboriginal participants in South West Australia there was a range of abilities from intellectually disadvantaged to highly intelligent, and illiterate to well educated. There are the employed who live in good houses in towns, there are the homeless and there are those who live in outback communities still acting according to original cultural laws. As you can tell, it would be very hard to generalise. However, domestic violence, substance abuse, lack of employment and family loyalties do cause problems.

Our first Kimberley (north-west of Western Australia) workshop was in Broome prison with all indigenous participants. Those who were illiterate were helped by those who could read and write. For most, English was not their first language, but there was lots of laughter and shyness gradually disappeared. More than the usual tea breaks were included. The workshop was held on a verandah next to red soil, so diagrams to illustrate AVP philosophy were drawn on the ground. Substance abuse in that region was a big problem and probably the main reason why these men were in prison. When this was being discussed, the participants asked the white facilitators about their relationship with alcohol and drugs. That was a bit of a challenge! It was surprising how easily the group acted in role plays, even reversing gender roles.

My experiences with prison workshops in Broome, Derby and Darwin have been very encouraging. In the West Kimberley Regional Prison (Derby) we trained the first women inmate facilitators last year and this year we trained the first men. In both sections these people are now on the facilitation teams. This gives more hope to the participants. They see what the program has done for people who are in the same situation as themselves. To me, there is often a difference between the men and the women. The men speak more softly and less, and often seem reticent about looking to be superior to their mates by leading workshops, and are generally not as well educated. The women are more confident, more literate and don’t mind leading. A beneficial scenario for a role play is “You are just being released, family members have come to welcome you and then they try to persuade you to celebrate with drink and drugs”.  This is one of the areas in which family loyalties cause a problem.

Elizabeth Kwan has managed to initiate AVP in the new Darwin prison. After running the three levels, Basic, Advanced and Training for facilitators, she and I recently ran the first workshop with trained inmate facilitators.  The prison Administration is so pleased with the results that they want us to run one workshop every month. In the lunch room, an officer told us that we had made their job so much easier. One reason for this, is that our workshops had proved that men who were at mixed security levels could work safely together in a program.

Imagine the satisfaction a facilitator would feel when a man says, “I used Transforming Power with an officer last week, and although I had to go back a level in security rating, it worked! I kept my temper and my self respect!” Another touching moment for me was when I told a young man who had been in the news lately, that he was the same age and looked just like my grandson. He answered, “I wish you were my grandma.” We often invite inmate facilitators to write their story. This is a quote from one in Darwin. He had been in prison for 7 years and in solitary confinement  – again – just three weeks before:   “ I was lucky enough to find myself in the first ever AVP workshop in Darwin prison. It was fun and a chance for me to get out of the block. I laughed and I made friends, but just as importantly, I saw and held words in my hands that held within them a peaceful path I could follow – the beginning of a journey. I remember walking back to my block after the final day of the first Basic workshop. I remember feeling happy I had finished something. I remember thinking with a smile across my face, perhaps words can save a life.” (He gave us his whole story for publication.)

We have also run workshops in schools.  In a community school near Perth there is a fair proportion of Aboriginal as well as New Zealand students. Here, the school psychologist and school chaplain were AVP facilitators so it was easier to organise youth workshops. They were usually conducted away from the school in a camp situation. The initial idea was to build community amongst the Aboriginal students who didn’t know each other and help them to develop leadership qualities. Having only indigenous students in a workshop enabled them to explore their own backgrounds in a safe place, away from other students who might not have to face the same intergenerational problems of violence, poverty and abuse etc.

At that school, the program ran successfully for 5 years and trained some students who became adult facilitators. The AVP Youth programme became an endorsed subject for the WA Certificate of Education (yr 12). Other youth workshops with Aboriginal students have been run with mixed success, but we are learning every time – include music breaks, use practical and relevant examples, be prepared to change the agenda often to address the emotional needs of the group, have plenty of activities ready to use while waiting for late comers AND, as I stated before, always have Aboriginal adults either as team members or participants.

 In addition, several Basic workshops have been held successfully in remote communities. These are limited because of the expense of travel and accommodation. The aim, of course, is to train facilitators in the communities. In the town of Broome, we have conducted series of workshops with social workers from groups like Anglicare, Dept of Corrective Services, Men’s Outreach and Alive and Kicking Goals. These groups allow their employees to do our program as Professional Development and mostly pay them to facilitate in work time because the mission of the organisation is similar to that of AVP. The Aboriginal facilitators trained through these workshops have been necessary and very important members of our teams when working in the schools or prisons. Part of the world-wide philosophy of AVP is that we are all volunteers, but young people need money and young people are good facilitators. It is very hard to get AVP going if we have to depend on volunteers in country areas.

Are there any Quakers who would like to train to be facilitators and help us spread our peaceful conflict resolution ideas?  Active retirees are especially welcome!

Thank you to Jim Thom, Olwyn Maddock and Jo Vallentine from AVP WA for information I have used in this article.

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