Since its founding in 2002, Peacebuilding en Las Américas has initiated ten Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) programs in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Colombia. Facilitators from these programs have completed over 900 workshops in communities, hospitals, schools, NGOs, churches, and prisons, impacting over 4,000 participants.
In the El Porvenir Prison in La Ceiba, Honduras, one participant shared his testimony about how AVP turned his attitude around. He had led a protest against the guards in his former prison and had 80 men following him with AK-47s and other weapons. The protest went on all day and all night. He was then considered one of the most dangerous men in Honduras. He was transferred to El Porvenir, where he took the AVP workshops. He reflects:
AVP changed my life. It made me learn about things in my life that I was doing and things I was doing badly. AVP also helped me heal myself internally. It is beneficial for all of the people who have an ego inside. The internal ego is me, me, me. I can do everything. When one has this, they trick themselves. One sees from a different point of view. And now, thanks to God, I am seeing from another point of view. We can change. We have the will to change…The truth is AVP has served me a lot. …I only have help from two places: the first is God and the second is AVP. Yes, you can change. I have two things: before and now.
During a Trauma Healing Workshop with Garifuna women in Tornabe, Honduras, one woman who had suffered greatly from domestic abuse was able to visualize a better future. She dreamed of creating a huge adobe oven to make bread to sell. After a year, facilitators went back to Tornabe and saw a huge brick oven; her dream had become a reality.
At a Basic workshop in Colombia, one participant had been a paramilitary commander and another had been a FARC member. The paramilitary and FARC had fought each other for 60 years. In the workshop, they laughed together, cried together and ultimately were able to see each other as human.
A workshop in Guatemala brought together Evangelicals and Catholics. Unfortunately, many Evangelical churches teach that you shouldn’t even talk to Catholics. It’s a big issue in Guatemala. “[For] Catholics to go to an Evangelical church is alone impressive.” says Lorena Escobar, Coordinator of AVP Guatemala. “By being in the workshop, they began to respect each other.”
After doing workshops with churches, El Salvador coordinator Salomon Medina saw how pastors began to promote and teach the principles of Transforming Power to their congregations.
In Guatemala, many students come from broken homes and live in environments with excessive bullying, drug consumption, extortion, and gang violence. One location is Comunidad La Esperanza, a free middle school where PLA facilitates both formal and weekly mini-workshops. Comunidad director Hilda Vasquez describes some of the effects the school has seen from AVP:
A nice experience was in a class where we had a very difficult student. He did everything possible to upset us: lifting the girls’ skirts, recording videos under their skirts, bothering the other classmates, organizing fights among the youth. He recorded videos and sold them. After the first workshop, where in one of the activities all the classmates told him what they thought of what he did, he reflected a lot. Everyone reflected a lot about his behavior because many of them had rejected him due to his actions, and they isolated him. So, maybe that had provoked more aggressive behavior on his part. During this activity when he understood what they really thought of him, he said, ‘I’m going to change. Now I’m not going to do this or that, or any of the things the students mentioned.’ The youth apologized to him, too, for sometimes isolating him and discriminating against him to a certain point. Since then, there has been a lot of harmony in this class and a lot of behavior change.
In effect, the workshop raised awareness about issues of violence against girls, created a safer space for all students to learn, and affirmed students’ dignity. Ultimately, the learning environment improved. Students have shown more interest in school and leave wanting to continue their education.
By Allie Prescott, PLA Communications Specialist
This article is featured in the Fall-Winter edition of PeaceWays. Click here to read more.