In February, I traveled to Pati, Central Java, Indonesia to visit Peace Place, a center for education, peace, and discernment, and to participate in the annual International Training for Peace organized by Friends Peace Teams-Asia West Pacific.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to share in FPT-AWP and Peace Place’s amazing work and witness.
A few of my takeaways:
- When we meet and spend time with people who are different from us, our perspective expands and we become more open. This is such a simple and obvious statement, but it is also a powerful change-maker. During this experience, I felt that our group united beyond such differences: languages, countries, religions, and ages.
- Everyone in the training was working to improve their home community while facing difficult odds. Some participants expressed feeling isolated, and then pleasantly surprised to learn that others had similar feelings and were experiencing similar issues in their homes. Many shared stories and strategies of their work for peace and justice. This is motivating and strengthening.
- We were reminded that peace begins within ourselves and then in our closest relationships.
- Community can be built so quickly when there is intentionality—it was beautiful!
- We planted lots of seeds of peace and are spreading them right now as we travel home to our communities, share our stories, and begin to build new networks.
This is not an official report—it is my own reflection based on my notes, my memory, and interpretations. I am sharing some quotes and descriptions of experiences that I have gotten permission to use. So much of the intimacy and trust generated in these settings is rooted in the idea that the stories will only be shared with permission, credit, and appropriateness, and I am taking that to heart.
Thursday, February 9th
I left Los Angeles on Tuesday, February 7th and arrived in Jakarta on Thursday, February 9th after 24 hours in flight. What an unnatural experience to fly around the world!
At the airport, I met Joyce, one of the training participants. Joyce is an experienced traveler who works with the School for International Training in Washington, DC and has an interest in Friends Peace Teams’ (FPT) work. Nadine, co-coordinator of the FPT-Asia West Pacific Initiative, arrived next. Then I met Subhash, a peace educator, and Nari, a land rights advocate, both from Nepal. Together we flew on a short flight to Semarang where we met up with Ann, an Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) facilitator and FPT Council Member from Boise, Idaho, and Renee, a trained mediator from Portland, Oregon.
We traveled about two hours by van to Pati. The air was thick and humid. It was the rainy season; we passed overflowing rivers dotted with fishermen. The area felt industrial, populated, and heavily trafficked, but also rural as rice and cassava fields and lush palms dotting the scenery. It is human nature to compare and relate—don’t most new things remind you of something else? If they are unfamiliar, you still grab for a way to categorize and compartmentalize. Central Java, at first impression, seemed familiar in the way that other places in the Global South share an aesthetic. The main roads were lined with small storefronts made of concrete and decorated with hand-painted advertising. However, I didn’t see any U.S. chain stores; we seem out of the circle of influence of the U.S., yet I knew that sense was misleading knowing some of the history of U.S. intervention in the country.
We met Nanik and Petrus, our hosts and the founders of Peace Place. On meeting the couple, they immediately communicate a sense of competency and integrity. We were also greeted by Yehudah and Joanie, a pair from Oregon who were traveling and volunteering in the region and were staying at Peace Place for a few weeks.
Peace Place feels like it was carved from a different world—it is unique. The land is dominated by a large brick and wood building, which serves as the home of Nanik and Petrus and their two teenage sons. It is an unusual design compared to their neighbors and was a gift from a local community to the family for their help in saving the community’s land. Behind the main house is Joglo Preschool, a spacious and lovely schoolhouse built in the traditional “Joglo” design. Thanks to a recent purchase with support from FPT-AWP, the compound now includes a large piece of undeveloped land that is being used as a play area for the children. The neighborhood is quiet and relatively dense, with houses pressing up against the street. Real estate prices are rising as construction begins on a hospital across the street.
Friday, February 10
Joglo Preschool and Planning
We rose early for breakfast and then joined the young children and teachers at Joglo Preschool. We all sat in a circle to start the day with a few minutes of silence. Joanie led the children in a short yoga session. Joglo is a model school; it recently won recognition by local officials. The school’s teachers are both Christian and Muslim, which is a powerful statement in their mostly Muslim neighborhood. Religious violence is a serious issue in this community and in neighboring areas; religious acceptance and tolerance is one of reasons that Peace Place exists.
Twenty-two students attend the school, ranging from three to eight years old. In the morning, the children make crafts and art, dance, read, sing together, and end in a closing circle. It reminded me of my Montessori preschool. The curriculum and daily rhythm are based on the Alternatives to Violence Project model. I joined Ninok, one of the teachers, and four students at a semi-circular table to participate in a lesson about airplanes. We made our own rockets out of straws and played with them. Later in the day, I saw that three of the young boys had moved some of the chairs to create their own airplane; they took turns being pilot and gave Nanik a ride. Nanik is the school’s driving force as founder and leader, and has recently transferred some of her responsibilities to be able to focus on training others and going back to school. Later in the week, I learned more about how all of these activities work with together to support child development and achieve basic literacy skills the children need.
More participants had arrived. Priskila and Siti arrived from West Papua. They are teachers from a very rural and isolated community and had one of the longest and most expensive journeys to reach Pati. Their first leg included travelling six hours by boat. Saring and Mislan came from Barak Induk, in Northern Sumatra. Tomi, a recent college graduate in Conflict Resolution and Mediation, travelled hours on his motorbike to get here. Rori, a community organizer, also came from Papua.
In the evening, the international travelers met for an introductory and planning session at Joglo. We planned the schedule for the week and talked about our expectations. Expressions of willingness, openness, and enthusiasm echoed through the room. Others recognized that this was a special and powerful experience. Many were enthusiastic about sharing their stories.
“We have that which makes us feel close, but it is the different perspectives that enrich our lives,” shared Nanik.
Nari added, “[I am interested in]…team building and mediation and taking them back to my community that works on land rights. Hope also to learn from some of you who have spent your lives doing this kind of peacework and learn how I can work myself.”
“Nonviolent living is a very extraordinary thing because it changes the very fiber of our being. This is an amazing things we are doing and that we can come together to do it. In the media we hear about conflict. I’m so grateful that we have people to talk about nonviolent living. We don’t hear about that, so it’s wonderful to have that lifted up instead of just the negative,” said Petrus.
Saturday, February 11
On Saturday morning, some of us went visited local sites and were welcomed into the home of some of Petrus’ family members who lived about 20 minutes up the road from Peace Place. We walked around the town and got to see a local market. It was definitely a rare event for the townspeople to see foreigners.
Nadine and Petrus had organized a visit to a Tondmulyo, a village with which they had been collaborating for years. Sun and his wife, Zumrotin, had initially faced rejection by their community for this collaboration. Their village is isolated, conservative, and Muslim. Sun, a religious community leader, and Zumrotin had started a preschool in their home using what they learned at Peace Place. Now a few years have passed and the community has seen the benefit of the work and has gained acceptance and recognition.
We took a van and drove in with the water coming up on both sides of the road, passing flooded rice fields, which meant the farmers would lose their rice crops.
We arrived at the complex, which included two schools and the mosque. Zumrotin greeted Nadine with a smile and the news that “Kids in 1st grade don’t get tired writing anymore.” This is thanks to implementing the knowledge and strategies gained from Nadine and the Joglo teachers about child development.
We were welcomed into Sun and Zumrotin’s home and sat in a circle and shared stories. We were from three countries and many faiths.
Sun was accompanied by the former imam’s right hand man, who shared: “Since Nadine has been bringing guests it has changed the color of our learning. It has brought many good changes with it.”
My heart filled with openness as I met these people working so hard for their pocket of peace, for justice in their homes.
They spoke of how they had begun the school in their home and since it has moved to a new more public building, it has received more positive visibility. Now their space serves a meeting spot for the older kids, who didn’t have the opportunity to do what the younger students are doing now when they were growing up.
Sun mentioned that there was lots of violence and cruelty among teenagers before the school: “We started building an elementary school to bring young people and households and families. It’s like a field: if you don’t tend the field, it goes away. Have to keep tending. Working together and tending overtime allows us to grow the peace among us.” They follow Joglo’s philosophy, which includes involving the parents in their own development: “Parents need to get rid of the violence so the kids can work.” They lament that it is difficult to raise money for the school.
Sun added, “Let’s try to find the path of God. The path of goodness and peace is the path of God and we can work on that together.”
They shared their sadness about the flooding, which caused serious destruction the last few years. It is a combination of environmental degradation, poor resource management, corporate greed, and climate change that has led to this severe problem. Last year’s floods caused the village to almost starve. They are praying their rice will be enough for this year.
I shared my gratitude for being welcomed into their community and shared that we were working to fight hatred and ignorance at home. Subhash shared a powerful testimony about his own decision to go against the traditions of his community by having a friendship with Nari, who is from the lowest caste system. “I’ve decided to break rules that my family and my society have set. It may not be easy, but I’ve decided to do that. I think that is the only way to see the change we want to see, the peace we want in society.” He reminds us, “Being from the majority, it brings even bigger responsibility to act.” Saring adds his wisdom: “God gives us al the same rights and God does that in order to share together in this abundance.”
Sunday, February 12, Monday, February 13th and Tuesday, February 14th
Alternatives to Violence Project Empowerment Workshop
On Sunday, we officially began the International Training for Peace. Petrus gave me the final count of participants: 36. Our group included seven people from the U.S., two Nepalis, two people from Barak Induk in North Sumatra, 3 people of Papua, 21 people from Pati, and 1 from Yogyakarta. We were a group of teachers, educators, neighbors, interested parties, and community organizers.
We began with a Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) empowerment workshop led by the local AVP team.
I often talk and write about the importance of AVP yet it isn’t until I am in a workshop that I feel it in my heart and in my body exactly how powerful, magical, and universal the program is. AVP is an experiential program that uses a series of interactive activities to help participants gain tools to live lives of nonviolence. I recommend that anyone who hasn’t participated in a basis AVP workshop look for one in their community (avp.international and avpusa.org).
Nadine interpreted between Indonesian and English for most of the workshop. There were enough English speakers to be able to communicate with each other when we broke out into small groups or pairs. Many of the activities, especially the “Light and Livelies” didn’t require language. I heard a few people comment on how remarkable it was to feel so close to so many people so quickly, even without a common language. Also, Indonesian is a second language for the Indonesians. The majority of the participants speak Javanese and each region has its own language.
Our AVP program included:
- Good Listening
- Affirmation in Pairs
- Concentric Circles
- Core Self
- Good Companions
- Story of violence
- Transforming Power
- Life Commitment
- Broken Squares
- I Messages
- Whisper Circle
Because the group was so big and multilingual, it felt especially meaningful to share our experiences. We spent a few hours going around the circle and sharing our stories of violence. It was a powerful testament to the pervasiveness of violence in our world and also to the great humanity found accompanying our companions on their own journeys. Bullying, harassment, war, abuse, financial ruin, environmental devastation, famine…together we learned about each other as we listed examples of violence and nonviolence in the world. We also defined transforming power by using our own stories of when we altered the course of a conflict nonviolently.
Wednesday, February 15
Break (Holiday for Voting)
Wednesday was Election Day, so we didn’t meet as a group. The group of out-of-town participants took advantage of the free time to visit a school run by one of the Training participants, Rubi, and go the beach.
We zipped along in the backseat of a small passenger van, weaving between scooter drivers, motorcycles, cars, and box trucks. We arrived in a downpour and were warmly greeted by Rubi, her family, and her fellow teachers. The school was spacious and quiet without the children, who also had a holiday.
Ruby gave us a tour and told us about her school and her vision. She shared that when she was pregnant, she had realized that there wasn’t a good enough school for her new family. She wanted a “positive education,” so she started her own school for young children. It became a school for “farmers’ children” with the goal of making the kids “feel at home” and “proud to be farmers.” She is proud of the farmers too, mentioning that the cassava we were eating was organic and locally grown. It is evident that Rubi shares the spirit and some of the lessons learned from Joglo’s model—the students start each day with drawing, so they have a way to express themselves and transition into the school setting. She also expressed that running a non-traditional school can be lonely.
We left the school and saw some of Central Java’s verdant countryside, passing through fields until we reached the shore. We shared in the joy as Nari’s face brightened to see the ocean for the first time.
Thursday, Feb 16
“A power for good that I have is…”
Nadine led us in a day-long introduction to trauma resiliency and healing using the structures and foundations of AVP combined with her decades of experience, insight, and research into the field of trauma.
We defined self-care and then reflected on how each of us was doing on a self-care spectrum of meeting our basic needs. We looked at the Trauma Healing Map; defined trauma, loss, grief, and mourning; reflected and learned about emotional discharge, practiced being good companions; and did a memory reprocessing activity to start to change how our brains understand and interpret our own trauma.
“Nothing you can say or do will make your life more valuable that it is right now. “ -Nadine
Friday, Feb 17 & Saturday, Feb 18
Transformative Mediation Practicum
“A good mediator or facilitator follows so fast they look like the are leading.” -Renee
”Usually we focus on the issue and forget about the needs behind the feelings.” -Tomi
“This is of tremendous use. We will take this and plant it and spread it in our communities.” -Saring
Renee and Ann took the lead on Friday with an introduction to transformative mediation. We each had a copy of their written guide, “Peace It Together: The Art of Communication” (In English and Indonesian!). They reminded us of the tenants of transforming power and explained that what we have learned so far in the training are key mediation tools.
The plan was to learn a bit about informal and formal mediation, but we spent the day practicing our core communication skills and didn’t get to the actual “mediation.”
Ann and Renee, with Joyce’s help, acted out scenes to show the power of mediation. We talked about what truth means in the context of conflict. They emphasized the importance of prioritizing peace and cooperation over figuring out whose “truth is the right one.” We analyzed communication styles and discussed our own.
We practiced using the “curiosity shovel:” asking open-ended questions, clarifying, reframing, normalizing, summarizing, reflecting, encouraging, and validating feelings, by using real situations.
On Saturday night, we visited a local activist café where the shop owner and Petrus shared with us their insight into Javanese history and social movements. A few of the international travelers shared about activism and struggle in their communities. We talked about the power of international solidarity and creating networks that help remind us that we are not alone in the struggle.
Sunday, Feb 19
Transformative Mediation Practicum/Teacher Training
On Sunday, some of the group continued to learn more about mediation with Ann and Renee at a nearby school.
The other group, mostly teachers and educators, stayed at Joglo. We were joined by 20 more teachers, so the room was filled with mostly young women who worked with children.
Nadine and team of teachers at Joglo (Nanik, Erni, and Ninok) had set up the classroom into dozens of activity stations, where the new teachers had a chance to play with Joglo’s toys: beads, blocks, costumes, books, Legos, dolls, Play-Do, drawing, painting… Each toy in the classroom contributes in some way to helping the children’s key developmental skills, like differentiating, sequencing, observing, and making patterns. We learned how to greet the students, a key move to help them transition from home to school each morning. Joglo teachers shared their experiences and answered questions about their style and their classroom, which looks very different from most Indonesian classrooms. Nadine shared about how to use the wooden blocks, which FPT-AWP had commissioned. We all practiced naming and describing the blocks.
I hardly knew anything about early childhood development and learned a lot. I was impressed by the intentionality of Joglo and its teachers, who shared so much knowledge with the visiting teachers. It was evident that Joglo was revolutionary in their minds and definitely subverted common ideas of what a preschool is. I had seen the children in the classroom a week before and now I understood how all the pieces fit together.
In the evening, the international and long-distance visitors gathered to reflect on our experience. Everyone said the training had a serious impact on them. “Life-changing” was a common phrase. “One of the most important things that has every happened to me.” Again, the sentiment is difficult to capture here because so much of what we did throughout the week was “self work.” It was about transforming ourselves to be change-makers that follow a path of peace. Each activity built upon the one before to create a sturdy foundation for us to go out and do work in the world. I felt melancholy to have to leave the comfort and intimacy of the group, which we had created together in a beautiful way.
Monday, February 20th – Wednesday, February 23
The next few days were a chance for me to get to know Nanik and Petrus better, learn about Peace Place’s upcoming projects and dreams, conspire with Nadine, and make a few more visits in the community.
Nadine and the Joglo team had been invited to a local school after one of the participants faced resistance from the school’s administration when she tried to implement some of what she learned at the training. With a large room full of dozens of teachers and student-teachers, Nadine, Nanik, and Erni gave a brief introduction of their teaching philosophy and played a few games to showcase some of Joglo’s style. Again, their ideas seemed totally new to the other teachers. Something that had come up during the week and then again on this day was how difficult it was for the traditional teachers to not yell at the students. After the training, we went to visit a nearby school in the same town so the teachers could hear some feedback from Nadine and Nanik. Nadine and Nanik wanted the teachers to reflect on what they were doing well and tried to emphasize all of the resources available to them.
Thursday, February 24
I traveled back to Semarang, Jakarta, and then back to Los Angeles. What an incredible, transformative experience. Thank you.