Peacebuilding en Las Américas

Accompaniment: Supporting Local Leaders Who Make Peace Possible

Interview with Shirley Way, Ithaca Friends Meeting, New York Yearly Meeting

This article can be found in the Fall 2019 PeaceWays 

Shirley way with AVP Honduras Facilitators during a Trauma Resiliency Workshop

As a Quaker, why are you passionate about this work of accompanying?
I have traveled to El Salvador or Honduras for three to four weeks each year for five of the past eight years.

In 2017, when I planned a trip to El Salvador, my clearness committee can tell you that in discerning around the trip, I was clearly called to continue the work — I could not not go. I have built relationships with that team and know the power of the work that flows through me and the team.

And I really was not keen on going. There was a fear and a dread that I’ve not experienced before. It stemmed from witnessing the effects of the gang violence and knowing we were not safe the year before. A newspaper headline in 2016 was, “Only twenty-one killed yesterday in the country.”

And I knew I could not not go.

Thankfully, the social climate was much improved. People openly laughed and greeted one another on the street. Gang violence had lessened, we were told, because gang leaders had either been imprisoned or killed.

What support do you receive for this work?
Farmington-Scipio Regional Meeting and New York Yearly Meeting have funded my travel and work in El Salvador and Honduras. The funding is essential. I could not go without it. And the spiritual accompaniment of Friends, who I know will be holding me and the work, is also essential. I could not go without it. I always travel with another North American. We serve as companions, security and elders for each other.

What do you do while there?
Salomon Medina (El Salvador) and Ondina Murillo (Honduras) pack the three to four weeks that we are there with as many Alternatives to Violence Project workshops as they can—usually three to four. In recent years, the second-level Trauma Awareness and Resilience workshop has been the most popular because the need is so great.

We are there to facilitate workshops, but mostly we are there to listen and to uphold the transformative work that is being done. The work of coordinating and facilitating workshops with people who have experienced and are still experiencing severe trauma can be overwhelming and may cause secondary or vicarious trauma.

Why do you stay involved?
This work is the most meaningful I have ever experienced. Visiting offers real and tangible support in a way that Skype and Whatsapp cannot. And it’s that realness that keeps me engaged and coming back for more.

What can others do who want to be involved?
I invite anyone who is interested in knowing more or getting involved to please contact me by e-mail.

Shirley Way (left) at a Trauma Resiliency Workshop in Honduras

Shirley Way at an Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) Workshop with CoMadres (committee of mothers and relatives of prisoners, the disappeared and the politically assassinated of El Salvador) in El Salvador