Alternatives to Violence Project workshops in El Salvador, April 20 – May 10, 2016

Report to Farmington Scipio Regional Meeting,

Spring Gathering, 2016

Shirley Way (Ithaca MM) and Fazilee Buechel

It was Shirley’s fourth and Fazilee’s first visit to El Salvador.  Both have lived for extended periods in other countries in Latin America.

El Salvador is in a state of crisis.  People live in constant fear.  They are careful to not venture out after dark.  GanPLAPicture1ags (maras) are actively killing each other and those who refuse to join and family members of those who refuse to join.  There are other groups involved in organized crime (bandas) and narco-traffickers.   Anyone who takes a stand against any of it is at risk and there is very little trust between groups—even between groups with parallel missions.

So it is kind of amazing that anyone showed up for the Alternatives to Violence Project workshops that we offered.  Thankfully, some did, though our numbers were less than what we hoped for.

Salomon Medina is Friends Peace Teams Peacebuilding en Las America’s Coordinator for El Salvador.  He organized four full (15 hour minimum) workshops during our three week stay.

We began with a basic workshop with an evangelical church with the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination in Zacamil—a neighborhood in San Salvador, the capital.  Five completed the workshop including two of the church’s three pastors—Mario Gonzalez and his wife Mimi.  They are clearly powerful leaders in their community and are simultaneously enthusiastic and cauti
ous about pursuing AVP.

In 2014 Mara Komoska (Brooklyn Meeting) and Shirley along with Salomon facilitated a basic and an advanced with women and men from the organization CO-MADRES, the Committee of Mothers and Relatives of the Disappeared, Assassinated and Political Prisoners of El Salvador, organized by Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1977.  This group of 400 women has maintained a consistent voice of nonviolent resistance in El Salvador for 38 years.

In the two years since then, Salomon has held basic and advanced workshops with CO-MADRES so we were able to hold a third level—training for facilitators workshop—with seven from CO-MADRES in addition to Fazilee and Mario.

New research on trauma substantiates what we’d already known—that the AVP basic workshop can move trauma, releasing it from the body.  We offered tools—grounding techniques, transforming power—and all that AVP brings—opportunity to give and receive affirmation, to practice compassionate communication and cooperation, to build community based on honesty, respect and caring, to practice transforming conflict into win-win outcomes and to practice joy, levity and gratitude.  We hope that two or more of the newly trained CO-MADRE apprentice facilitators can work with Salomon in the rural communities of CO-MADRES.  We also hope to return to hold Trauma Resilience workshops with this and other groups.

PLAPicture3Our third workshop was a basic, held with teachers and staff at the Friends School in Soyapango (near San Salvador).  Mario and Fazilee served on-team along with Doris Guardado—an AVP facilitator and a teacher at the school.  This group of ten was reserved and cautious the first day but by the third they were raucous.   They had done the work of solidifying community, exploring the violence they carry and perpetuate and some were liberated to be fully themselves.

Our last workshop was a basic in Jardines de Colon in the province of La Libertad.  The organization FUNDAHMER facilitates the formation of sister community relationships between Salvadoran communities and communities in the U.S. and Canada.  Jardines is one of their communities and Mara and Shirley did a basic with men and women there in 2014.  This time, FUNDAHMER requested a basic with only women—providing a safe place for women to speak their truth.  Bandas live within this community now.  Some women are experiencing domestic violence and are not on solid-enough ground to be able to face it.  We began seven women; five completed.  Two are FUNDAHMER staff and two are strong women from Jardines.  Together, they could form a strong team of facilitators and carry AVP to the rural communities of Morazan province.  But that’s a ways off yet.

Shirley: I come back changed every time and that’s what is so compelling—the new understanding of what is and the re-imagining of what is possible—the gift of being invited in to witness the strength of the collective human spirit grounded in God—this work feeds and enlivens me and it feels necessary for my own humanity.

Fazilee: How could I not go through an experience like this one and come out changed? I am, even though I do not yet have the words to fully articulate it. I can only feel the strength of the spirit inside me that is moving me, shaping me, and speaking to me in a louder and louder voice- or perhaps I have just developed the capacity to hear it more clearly.

Nevertheless, I know that it is telling me what matters: That the root of nonviolence is in the brotherhood and the sisterhood of humanity, and that it can emerge only when we are present enough and patient enough to make space for it within ourselves.

PLAPicture2Financial support:

Farmington Scipio Regional Meeting granted us $2,250 to help cover expenses for this work.

We visited the beach one day (paid for transport and food from our own resources).

We were not able to cover the stipends ($10/day) for the Salvadoran facilitators.  Those costs were covered by Friends Peace Teams Peacebuilding en Las Americas Initiative.

With much gratitude, dear Friends, for support—financial and spiritual—and for walking with us.

Shirley Way and Fazilee Buechel                                    


A letter from the coordinator of PAV (Proyecto Alternativas a la Violencia) El Salvador:

Dear Friends of Farmington Scipio Regional Meeting,

We hope that the Light and the Peace of the Spirit of the Truth and Justice lights your walk in all that you do.

We wish, as the PAV El Salvador team, to express our most sincere gratitude for your unconditional support for the trip and stay of our dear friends Shirley and Fazilee who have been a great blessing for us and our beloved country, with whom we formed a team and carried out the following workshops:

  1. AVP Basic Workshop with leaders of Zacamil
  2. AVP Training for Facilitators Workshop with CO-MADRES in San Salvador
  3. AVP Basic Workshop with the staff of the Soyapango Friends (Quaker) School
  4. AVP Basic Workshop with women from the Jardines de Colon community

It is our prayer that our Father-Mother God continue guiding you in every sense to support your efforts that contribute to the construction of Peace.

For the PAV El Salvador Team,

Salomón Medina, Coordinator, PAV El Salvador