PLA Initiative Coordinator Monica Maher joined PLA counterparts Mario González from El Salvador, Bibiana Duque and Yesid Campo from Colombia, Lorena Escobar from Guatemala, and Ondina Murillo from Honduras at the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) World Gathering in Kathmandu, Nepal from November 4-12, which drew together over 150 participants from 40 countries. Monica sums up her experience below:
It was an unforgettable week of listening to and sharing experiences about the successful transformation of violence in diverse contexts of armed conflict and other extremely challenging settings. A spirit of gratitude, creativity and wonder was present throughout our time together.
The setting itself added to the sense of awe, nestled within the panoramic Kathmandu Valley spotted with Buddhist temples and Hindu shrines offering an unmistakable sense of ancestral spirituality woven into everyday life. Our Nepalese hostesses and hosts were unwaveringly patient and kind, carrying out the organizational feat with profound grace and good-heartedness, and sharing with humility their own historical peace process from recent armed conflict.
The daily agenda included time in plenary, topic sessions, regional sessions and business meetings. Meals also became a great time for sharing and planning. Many noted how overwhelming it felt to be surrounded by so many interesting people during a week filled with so many stimulating activities. The schedule was demanding, beginning at 6:30am with breakfast and ending at 10 or 10:30pm.
Some of the most notable moments of unity were the evening events. We gathered to laugh and play together through a world of light n livelies, sing together in a candle-lit peace vigil around a campfire under the stars, enjoy a variety of Nepalese folk dance, and share artistic talent in a final cultural evening of rich global diversity.
It was very inspiring to see how the PLA representatives came alive in this setting, both deeply appreciating others as well as being received with great respect. Mario González from El Salvador, Bibiana Duque and Yesid Campo from Colombia, Lorena Escobar from Guatemala, and Ondina Murillo were also very happy to meet each other! The energy among them was palpable as they interacted, collaborated and planned, both within and outside the Regional Sessions.
Some of what stood out from their participation: Lorena’s co-facilitation with PLA Working Group Member, Saskia Schuitemaker, of an excellent morning plenary on sustainability of AVP groups, Mario’s showing post- plenary of a new video from El Salvador about work with Co-Madres and people living with disabilities, Bibiana and Yesid´s passionate presentation about AVP Colombia post-peace accord in a Topic Session on AVP in Conflict Areas, and Ondina´s sharing in plenary of moving poetry written by an AVP facilitator within the prison in Ceiba, Honduras.
Another source of unusual delight was the opportunity to meet face to face with the other Initiative Coordinators, Nadine Hoover and David Bucura, both during and after the Gathering. I co-facilitated with David a well-received Topic Session on Giving Effective Feedback In AVP, organized and led by Minga Claggett-Borne of Cambridge Friends.
Of course, it is impossible to sum up all that happened during the Gathering. What is clear is the deep connections that were forged, the mutual inspiration offered and the energy unleashed for transformation of violence on a global scale into the future.
Mario González, who represented AVP El Salvador in Nepal, asserts: I learned from the workshops on Diversity, Prisons, and Structural Violence to consider (AVP) as a way to allow universal love to flow within all of these contexts and all that this entails…upon returning I have committed to serve those in all of the settings around me…with respect and expecting the best in each case. Transforming Power can turn around violence starting from the most private and intimate spaces to achieve change even at planetary dimensions.
Yesid Campo, AVP Coordinator of the Western Region, and Bibiana Duque, AVP Coordinator of the Antioquia Region, returned to Colombia from Nepal with more enthusiasm than ever after presenting on their vital work with AVP in Conflict Areas and hearing the Nepali stories of reintegration of the Maoist guerrillas and the peace-building efforts of AVP Facilitators in conflict-torn Philippines and Sudan.
As Yesid states, It was a great experience to share with persons from around the world, with distinct languages and customs, but who all identify with the same cause, that is the work we all do to build peace and abandon violence. This intention is the common element that unites us in the midst of our diversity. To listen to the experiences of more than 150 people from throughout the world, to their way of working in distinct socio-cultural environments, generated a deeper desire to achieve the goals that unite us as AVPers.