Peacebuilding en Las Américas

AVP Workshops in Peace Schools of Guatemala (Oct. 2019-Oct. 2020)

by Lorena Escobar, Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) Guatemala National Coordinator
Translated by Monica Maher

In the educational centers in Amatitlán and Villa Nueva, we focused on Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops with students between 13 and 25 years-old. These youth have limited economic resources, and have been exposed to domestic violence, conflicts in the educational centers, and integration into criminal gangs.  The schools are located in dangerous areas commonly referred to as a Red Zone due to the high crime rate.  Family disintegration is a factor affecting many children and adolescents. For all these reasons, students often arrive at school with a lot of anger. Violent conflicts are common in school because students do not know how to solve problems peacefully, so they often get into physical fights and altercations.  

We have also facilitated AVP workshops with the teaching staff of The New Life Mixed Educational Project of the Dominican Sisters of the Rosary. The Sisters house 296 children, ages 5 to 12, in the Terminal Market area (zone 8 and 9 of the capital). The boys and girls are from low-income families whose parents earn a living as street vendors, porters, servers, tortilla makers, or food sellers. The children go to work before school, starting at 3:00am, and after school for the rest of the day selling with their parents. Their living conditions are terribly overcrowded, and there is absolutely no privacy. 

The Terminal Market is not a healthy place for children. They are exposed to drugs, pornography, prostitution, gambling machines, and intra and extra familial violence. It is against this harsh panorama that the Educational Project aims to provide a space for comprehensive training so these children see that it is possible to live in respect, solidarity, and unity. The aim is for them to learn to listen to each other, and to know that they are important and a gift for humanity. All of the work of teachers and staff revolves around this purpose.

The teaching staff is preparing to replicate the AVP workshops with their students in the classrooms. In this way, the staff hope to sow the seeds of the AVP philosophy in the lives of the children, and through the children, in the lives of their parents.

In this workshop, I found myself. I could reconnect with myself and see how important and valuable I am. I was also able to close conflicts that I could not and did not want to close before. I am leaving very fortified, very full of positive experiences, full of peace. I am very motivated also to be able to help my family and those around me. I found the organization of the workshop very good, and the support of the facilitators was ideal. It was obvious that there was a lot of communication and trust. I am encouraged to be an AVP facilitator. Thank you!

Youth Participant

In the workshop I realized that I can have wounds in my heart, and if these do not heal, they will not allow me to live fully. I can recognize in my colleagues their availability to listen to me and support me. When someone in my family, colleagues, or someone else needs me, I have the tools to help and serve. I feel a lot of peace. I regained joy.  I feel very grateful and feel a lot of encouragement to take a different direction in my life. I am in the process. 

Youth Participant

I learned to be a collaborative person and to work as a team. I am a person who likes to learn from others. I feel that I am capable of becoming a facilitator.   Because I like to listen and learn, I like to share with the people who need it the most. 

Youth Participant

I learned that, just like I have my own reasons to live, others have their own reasons and motivations. I learned that a book should not be judged by its cover. I want to be a facilitator because I want to express my thoughts with other people and not judge them by their attitude. It is important to not let anger control our thoughts, to remember our virtues and to be a better person. 

Youth Participant

I learned very nice and positive things with the people I shared. To be an AVP facilitator, it is important to listen and be heard.

Youth Participant

I learned in the AVP training that I have to be respectful, kind and collaborative with people. It is important to share AVP with colleagues who are going through hard processes with their family, and to support and encourage them by telling them that they are valuable.

Youth Participant

* Receiving the AVP workshop made me think about what I can see within my colleagues’ behaviors; sometimes they are the way they are because of the hard life they have at home. Now, my thinking is that I must be respectful and patient and always try to understand.

* I learned to share, and through the process discovered that we have so much in common. Differences were erased, and the unity and enthusiasm were noticeably seen by sharing this experience. It left me with values ​​that I am going to put into practice and share with others, so that YOU can also know the power that transforms!! 

* A teacher at the AVP workshop: We are very grateful because people, without knowing us, have loved us and have come this far to give us their love through AVP workshops, food, and materials. Thank you for those people who have donated so that this purposeful activity for young people is a reality in our school.

* All the activities were great, incredible, because in each exercise, I felt that I was someone special in life, that the ugly things they say about me are not true. I was able to vent the feelings I have in my heart. I felt free, and for the first time, happy. I had the opportunity to have my dad, in front of me, talking to me and feeling his caresses, telling me that he loved me and that I was everything to him.

* I learned to heal my heart in order to forgive. This workshop helped me express my feelings, which I was very afraid to do, but today I am able to express myself. I learned that I must work more often as part of a team and apply these new values. I learned we are all very valuable.

 I learned from this workshop that I had not lived my time of mourning correctly. Thanks to the exercises received in this workshop, I managed to start my time of mourning, and thus achieve my time of healing. I also managed to start a personal project towards the future, valuing my past and present. I developed stronger ties of love, affection, and patience with my coworkers. I learned about the different types of stress and techniques to cope with them. 

Youth Participant, AVP Guatemala

I learned that I have rights and that I can value myself as a woman and as a human being. I became stronger.  I also learned to say no to things I don’t like and to dedicate more time to myself and my family. With the tools of AVP, I can eradicate violence and promote peace and the rights to life, love, and freedom.  Above all, I value myself. I learned to give each person their place regardless of their ethnicity, religion or way of being. I learned to approach conversations with patience and responsibility, valuing the opinion of every person and above all,  respecting their way of thinking and acting. 

Youth Participant, AVP Guatemala

A wonderful experience. Thank you very much Sisters, for always caring about our personal growth. Thank you to the AVP Facilitators, especially Lorena and her colleagues, for this special and enriching experience that impacted us not only individually, but as an entire team. This will be used and reflected in our mission with children and families. A thousand thanks. 

Youth Participant, AVP Guatemala

Upon receiving this AVP workshop, I realized that hatred and resentment have governed my life. I also realized, however, that I still have the opportunity to change my life and the lives of the people I love the most. Also, the people who know me are not to blame for what I have suffered. I must accompany those who need it and not be selfish thinking only of my pain. I want to be different. I want to be happy, positive, and trust myself and others. I must not allow the bad experiences of my past to continue to govern my life. I have the right to be happy and I have the ability to help other people be happy. I can change my way of life and show other people that they can too. This will be of benefit for our families and our community 

Youth Participant, AVP Guatemala

REFLECTIONS

Both women and youth with whom we offer workshops are immersed in different cycles of violence, resulting in their own violent reactions, low self-esteem and lack of discipline. AVP, through its exercises, shares important tools and allows for a transformation in the participants’ lives to begin. It is like a jewel that reveals the light of their inner being to themselves and others. AVP workshops become a balm to heal wounds, and allow for people to learn to assert and value themselves as people. People recognize that they can change and improve their lives.   Women and youth realize that they can be transformed and renewed.

I will share an example about one student.  While facilitating an AVP Advanced workshop at the School of Peace in Pedregal, Amatitlán, a teacher commented that a young man, after receiving the AVP Basic workshop, started to improve his grades.  Before the workshop, he  was one of the most undisciplined students with very low grades.  This change filled my heart with satisfaction and joy, knowing that we are on the right track. As I always say, AVP works.

The tools of AVP continue to be sown, watered, and flourished in the lives of women and youth, within whom are written words of guidance as if on a blank sheet:  you can be better every day, think before acting, seek non-violent solutions, love and value yourself, love and care for others.  I am sure these tools will echo at every stage of their lives ahead.