Valerie Joy, Queensland Regional Meeting
My search in the outer world of the intellect via mass communications would not sustain me for long unless thinkers like Michael Leunig were there to challenge and comfort me. He has a powerful message conveyed through an attractive set of symbols: flowers, stars, teapots, people with large noses, ducks and prayers are some of his tools to communicate with the spirit of this time. We learn that a duck represents a person searching for their soul – the inner dimensions where love, creativity, and one’s will to live emerge. His cartoons comment on many forms of violence, but they leave me not with despair, but with a smile.
I am presently in the Philippines surrounded by brave people who are seeking alternatives to violence. This is my fifth visit and I’ve learned through their history, the negative and sometimes positive effects of Spanish and American colonisation; the Christian/Muslim divide, especially in the south; of powerful warlords who maintain their own militias; of extra-judicial killings by the police and the military; of extreme poverty and enormous wealth; the lack of employment and low wages for those in work. There is much to be sad about here. Images prey on my mind before I fall asleep of the children outside sleeping on the footpath – who awake each day to beg, perhaps steal or maybe to earn a few pesos for jobs like sorting rubbish. Bonds of family, community and faith must suffice for those who have nothing.
My parent body Friends Peace Teams-Asia West Pacific (FPT-AWP) helped put in place an AVP program in Bohol one year ago. After a terrible earthquake our original venue was smashed, so we ran the program in a Women’s Crisis Centre. We started the work amidst after-shocks and cries of fear, but the results were heartening – 13 new facilitators, 7 of whom are continuing with AVP, and one is still a resident of the Crisis Centre – a very young woman who has proved to be an excellent facilitator.
In April this year, FPT-AWP invited Esther Cowley-Malcolm, a lead AVP facilitator and a Quaker in Aotearoa/New Zealand, to Bohol to continue the program. Esther is of Samoan background, and this proved to be an excellent “fit” culturally. Mostly teachers were provided with the Basic level of training. I arrived in early October to be part of a facilitation team in a Catholic Retreat Centre near Manila, in a University in Cebu and also in Bohol.
All workshops have reached a deep level, which has led participants to hope and gain strength to deal with their personal violence and that which surrounds them. We have had as participants student leaders, a judge, school principals, nurse educators, police trainers, several professors and a dean, all of whom have recognised that most violence comes from within. We learn violence at a very young age and it gnaws away subconsciously, exacting revenge or pay-back for earlier hurts. Facebook entries from participants here attest they are already putting into place insights gained in the workshops and are living changed lives.
How does this change come about? We use comparatively simple tools of affirmation, effective communication- using “I messages” which can be less threatening in a conflict situation. When they are ready, participants delve into the aspects of Transforming Power – the power of goodness that dwells within us all and will change a conflict into a positive outcome. We all love this evolving process as we journey together – it feels like “Ahhhhh”!
Since I started my personal journey with AVP in 1992, I have learned so much. In the Philippines particular, but in all the workshops, I discover so much about myself – what goes on under the surface, the sources of my personal traumas and accompanying emotions. I’ve learned to communicate more clearly and to confidently lead discussions on values, beliefs and accompanying emotions that affect my and everybody’s daily actions. And I feel LIGHT! Being in such a positive and affirming environment for days with fellow seekers, I personally shed lots of rubbish. AVP says “there is a force within the universe that can burn away the crud”. In a recent Brisbane workshop, people liked this statement so well that it kept re-appearing in statements and drawings until the end and is probably still with them.
Participants in the five workshops conducted this month in the Philippines have been very appreciative and speak about changed lives. This gives me hope. One participant has commented:
Ever since I got involved in AVP my perspective about the world has changed and made me realise the human capacity to embrace positive change despite of enormous challenges. AVP helped me to develop conflict resolution skills by listening, seeking common ground with others and building consensus in a critical situation. I recommend it to anyone who is seeking peace and change because its real, it’s transforming and it works! Thanks to all our inspiring facilitators! Cheers!
So as long as I am useful in this work and I am led to continue by God, I carry this source of personal hope that good will overcome anger, fear, tyranny, exploitation and I can remain a part of this process. This is a life-time’s work with small actions of the heart overriding the intellect. To shake hands, to smile, to hug, to listen attentively, to offer a tissue when someone cries – then the garden is watered and beautiful blooms spring forth.
I have to finish with two of Leunig’s simple prayers:
Love is born with a dark and troubled face
When hope is dead
And in the most unlikely place, love is born
Love is always born
God help us to change; to change ourselves and to change our world.
To know the need for it.
To feel the joy of it.
To undertake the journey without understanding the destination. The art of gentle revolution. Amen
I give deep thanks that God has called me to be a worker in the garden of this planet.