There is no question about it, over the years, we have seen some incredible outcomes from the peace education FPT and its partners provide. Our Peacebuilding en las Américas (PLA) Initiative provided us with a terrific, succinct account of why AVP-based Peace Education workshops work so well and produce outcomes beyond the primary goals of peacebuilding and trauma healing.
These workshops often have a very personal impact on participants by providing a safe space to talk, laugh, cry, and reflect on their experiences.
Everyone is invited to participate in the workshops, including: at-risk youth, students, teachers, prisoners, Afro-descendant and indigenous communities, displaced people, former guerrilla fighters, former paramilitary members, former FARC members, police officers, members of the LGBT community, and people with disabilities.
With a diverse base of attendees, the workshops draw on shared experiences. Using interactive exercises, discussions, games and role-plays we examine the ways we respond to situations where injustice, prejudice, frustration and anger can lead to violence.
The lessons learned from the workshops do not just stay with participants, but they improve other areas of their lives at homes, churches, schools, and workplaces. Lorena Escobar, Coordinator of AVP Guatemala, shares:
“I feel that it functions first in us and later projects where you live, study and in your family. You start to see a change in families. When a mother takes a workshop, she brings this home to her family and it is reflected in the way she deals with her husband and her kids.”
A Workshop Becomes a Community
A sense of community is created within the diverse backgrounds and experiences of participants. This challenges discrimination rooted in difference that has often given rise to social conflicts.
“When we talk about respect and taking care of our neighbor, we are also talking about acceptance,” explains Escobar. “You can be indigenous, rich, poor, Garifuna [of mixed African and indigenous descent], tall, short, fat, or skinny. We are all distinct. This is something that is important in AVP. The emphasis is on respect and caring for others whether that be the Garifuna who is here with me or the indigenous here at my side.”
Val Liveoak, founder of PLA, elaborated, “The AVP workshops provide ways to work together as a community that help prevent common difficulties of working together that include all types of disunity, competition and exerting power over one or another in all kinds of situations.”
Building a Sense of Self-Worth
When people start believing that they have self-worth, it can help them to better analyze their reality and start thinking of a better future. Many participants leave workshops with greater self- respect and the confidence that they have the power inside themselves to live better lives.This has been the case for many women who have taken the workshops. Says Saskia Schuitemaker, country contact for AVP Guatemala:
“Women live in a patriarchal society. Workshops allow them the ability to start reclaiming space for themselves. So few women think of themselves as having needs and a purpose other than being a mother and wife. The fact that we can create ￼a space that allows people to visualize dreams for the future is huge. What do you want? These actions give them value and a sense that they have a path in life and can make decisions. The personal right and ability to be assertive is very powerful for women. They see that if they change their own communication style, they can change their relationships and learn how to deescalate situations.”
That brings us back to the “community” focus of our workshops. In many cases, the communities built from our workshops have served as on-going places of support for participants and facilitators alike. As the workshops progress, exercises go beyond individual focus to community building, compassionate listening, and respect.
“The AVP experience is very useful in building community among participants and that spills over into broader communities,” says Paul Stucky, who was instrumental in bringing AVP to Colombia. “Community helps reaffirm personal dignity and contributes to how people relate to others’ dignity. This is so significant in a country where the basic message of violence is that other person’s life doesn’t matter.”
By Allie Prescott, Communication Specialist, Peacebuilding en las Américas
This article is featured in the Fall-Winter edition of PeaceWays. Click here to read more.