Peacebuilding en Las Américas – February 6, 2019

Peacebuilding en las Américas Gathering in Honduras
January 19-27

by Nancy Shippen 

Saturday – Arrival in San Pedro Sula

I was delighted to arrive Saturday with Shirley Way to join Lorena, Ondina, Salomón, Monica, Val, Allie, Charles and Harry in time for dinner and a Zoom call to the Asia West Pacific FPT gathering happening in Indonesia simultaneously. We were able to introduce ourselves, send best wishes for fruitful times together, and learn a singing/clapping game.

The Catholic retreat center where we stayed was simple in accomodation and food but rich in chances to sit together and share our lives and work.

I am so sorry I don’t speak Spanish and am hugely grateful for the simultaneous translation in all our sessions and when requested to speak individually to people. Unfortunately I did miss some general conversations happening around me and would have loved to have more understanding of the frequent laughter.

Sunday – Meeting with Country Coordinators and Working Group

On Sunday we had the first day of our encuentro (meeting). It was wonderful to hear from the country coordinators about the exciting work in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Monica presented updates for Colombia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador.

I was very interested in programs with indigenous women in remote villages in Guatemala where they have facilitated the first workshop in the Q’ekchi language; the Tolupan and Garifuna indigenous women in Honduras; and with Co-Madres (mothers of the disappeared) in El Salvador. These resilient women have all gained strength and wisdom to address the discrimination and land rights issues which they share. The work with youth at risk of being recruited into gangs in dangerous Red Zones in El Salvador and Guatemala is also inspiring. El Salvador and Honduras both have programs inside a prison which are going very well. We were able to go into the El Porvenir Prison in La Ceiba where there has been a program for four years. There are no officers inside the prison and things are run by appointed incarcerated men who carry sticks. They have been able to develop and share a new life style. In Guatemala there have been AVP and Trauma Resiliency workshops since 2017, training over 500 officers who deal with danger and death in a city which has around 100 violent deaths a week.

All this work is documented at: https://friendspeaceteams.org/pla/ with wonderful pictures and videos. I have loved following the development of these projects but it was a whole new level of excitement to be with these peacebuilders and visit their programs.

I led a session on fundraising to empower country programs to start to find funding to expand their programs. In most places there is the potential for huge growth. We will look for ways to provide the information on the costs of the workshops with their partners and explore how they can decrease and/or share them. We will also look for ways to provide information about bookkeeping and documentation required by many funders.

Monday – Visit to Mercy Dream Weavers in San Pedro Sula

On Monday we went to visit Nelly Delcid’s program Mercy Dream Weavers, which draws on feminist spirituality to advance women’s rights and eco-feminism. They have made AVP a fundamental part of their work on nonviolence and consciousness-building. Since 2010 they have completed 10 to 20 workshops a year with indigenous Tolupan women defending their territories against illegal mining and Garifuna women dealing with domestic violence and illegal tourist projects as well as female teachers in impoverished pre-schools, high school youth, men and women incarcerated in prison in Progresso and women’s groups across San Pedro Sula. It was wonderful to meet many of their facilitators. Several of them joined us for the mediation training later in the week and our visit to the Garifina women.

Tuesday – Visit to El Porvenir Prison in La Ceiba

Tuesday was our day to visit El Porvenir Prison near La Ceiba. Our bus ride took us past vast plantations of bananas, palm oil groves and fields of pineapples. The monoculture method and hard working conditions have a great impact on the lives of local people. Having heard about this program it was wonderful to meet the facilitators inside and share a couple of AVP exercises, lunch and personal reflections about AVP in our lives.

While the inside facilitators were as full of fun and dedicated to AVP as the men I work with here, the conditions inside were very different. There are no officers inside the prison. It is run by the men. Walking through the yard and taking a tour before we left it was clear that our facilitators are respected and having foreign visitors was not common. I have heard there is a great deal of violence, power struggles and manipulation but we didn’t see any indication. Many men were working on crafts such as making bouquets by cutting soft drink cans, making bead jewelry and carved wooden items. We were free to buy but I couldn’t find anything I thought I could pack. The cells have 18 or more bunks stacked 4 high, each with curtains that can be closed for a bit of privacy. Two men can pass between the bunks but there is no plane or room to sit. The men are in the cells from 6 pm until 6 am. Visitors come right into the courtyard and there are small rooms that can be rented for conjugal visits or just for a bit of privacy. There were lots of photos and video testimonies taken which I will share when they are posted. An older video is posted below. Some of the men in this video were with us.

Wednesday – Friday – Mediation from the Heart Workshop in San Pedro Sula

Wednesday – Friday we had a workshop on Mediation from the Heart with Anne Dusseau and Renee Bove. This training has been shared with Friends Peace Teams initiatives in Africa and Asia as well. Often the AVP and Trauma Resiliency work lead to becoming community leaders who are respected and asked to help solve problems. Mediation from the Heart is based on the idea that we can learn to support people in conflict to explore their needs, feelings and options in order to find their own mutually beneficial solutions and usually gain insight and develop a stronger relationship in the process. I have been thinking a lot about taking the time to focus on a person’s feelings, invite them to reflect and affirming them. In the training I learned how this helps the person slow down and move their reaction from the core brain which is easily triggered and reacts reflexively to their frontal area where they can process verbally and access a wider range of skills. The workshop gave me some good concepts which I plan to review frequently and see how I can build them until they become natural. Deep listening, respect and facilitating are just a few of the concepts in common with AVP.

Saturday – Mariposas Libre in Tornabe, Atlantída

Saturday was our trip to meet with Garifuna women’s collective Free Butterflies and to hear how AVP has brought them together for support and to address issues of domestic violence, drugs and illegal tourist development of their ancestral lands. We all enjoyed the AVP musical closing Weave Us Together in three languages. On our way home we Had a swim and then stopped in a village where a woman runs a bakery which grew out of the vision of an oven when she was taking a trauma workshop. She now employs several people and the rolls and cinnamon buns we bought were toasty right out of the oven. They were toasty hot smelled wonderful and tasted even better.

Saturday was also a time of goodbyes as we drove back to San Pedro Sula we left the La Ceiba team to go prepare for a trauma workshop at the prison to start Monday. In Progresso we left our Dream Weaver team and at bedtime said good bye to two who were leaving before dawn.

Sunday – Return Home

On Sunday we were reduced to 5. Although I had been walking up the mountain each morning I was feeling queezy and couldn’t venture out very far. Four of us went to the crafts market for an hour. I’m sorry I didn’t have more time. I left for the airport early to be careful. There had been riots predicted that would block the highway and I was flying into Leguardia. Even though the US government shut down had ended I hadn’t heard that flights were running smoothly again. Everything on the journey went smoothly except for a delay in Miami waiting for powerful thunder storms to clear. I was glad to spend the night with an AVP sister, Margaret Lechner, who had hosted me thenight before I left. We had a lovely walk before I left in the morning and I gave her a scrambled account of the trip. She has worked with PLA several times and knows several of our crew. I was very glad to arrive home in the afternoon but also filled with images, memories and desire to still be part of the work there.

It has taken me three more days to write down this slightly coherent account of the trip. I will read it over in the morning before sending it out to my community here. I want to thank all those of you who held me your hearts while I was gone. We are all just walking each other home.