Monday, September 11, 2006

Nancy Shippen reports on AVP International Gathering

Greetings All,
I am writing to let you all know about the International Conference of the Alternatives to Violence Project. I was blessed to be sent as the alternate delegate for the United States. I will always be incredibly grateful for this opportunity. I also send an invitation and strong encouragement to become involved in AVP in whatever way possible.
I returned home yesterday. Since my body is still on South African time, I am up and raring to be in touch with as many people as I possibly can to report on a fabulous, important experience. I can’t tell you how inspiring it was to be with peace activists from Sudan, Russia, Angola, Ukraine, Nigeria, India, South Africa, Ecuador, Rwanda, Australia, Burundi, New Zealand, Uganda, Hong Kong and more. I was silent and awed by accounts of working with genocide survivors and perpetrators, ex-combatants in Angola, youth in the slums of Johannesburg. What could I do but listen and resolve to support this work? Words cannot express my deep regard for so many who have faced personal challenges that I can barely imagine and who carry this work of communication, trust and peace to others whose lives have been assaulted in so many horrendous ways.
Much of my workshop time was spent supporting the development of a new legal entity for International AVP. The resulting organization will be incorporated as the AVP International Development and Resource Committee and will have a coordinated committee structure rather similar to AVP-USA. My own workshop was “AVP as a Way to Build a Civil Society”. This involved presenting the concepts of Social Capital, Civil Society and Open Society and beginning to gather accounts of ways AVP has demonstrated these ideas. The eventual resulting document will be available for introducing AVP in new areas and in seeking funding.
The conference planners wisely left large blocks of free time which was filled by second presentations of workshops that conflicted, short topic workshops such as Bias Awareness, Forgiveness and Manly Awareness, various meetings, local outings and of course sharing discussions of our work and lives. The conference sight was lovely with many spots to sit in small groups and enjoy sun, shade and views to mountains across the lake. There were also ten minute slots at our plenary sessions for the presentation of topics too short for a full session. At one of these, I read letters from some of the inmate facilitators who work with me at Shirley Prison. Their open expression of the impact of AVP on their lives and their desire to share this experience with others were quite moving to a many participants. There were a number of opportunities to remember all those who were not able to be with us. These inspired us to a deeper commitment to share our learning and perceptions when we returned home.
My second week was an equally wonderful opportunity to travel to Cape Town and facilitate an Advanced Workshop at Pollsmore Women’s Prison. Although some of the women preferred to speak in Africanns, almost all seemed to understand English well and all were deeply engaged in the workshop. Our team in turn felt closely connected to the inmates.
Since this was only the second workshop in the prison, there were no inmate facilitators. However, it was wonderful to form a facilitating team with a very experienced international facilitator, Teresa Tyson, an enormously dedicated Cape Town facilitator originally from Burundi, Mediatrico Barengayabo, and myself. The three of us spent hours planning each session, reveling in the opportunity to discuss all of our favorite exercises and ways to make the experience of each as deep as possible. We were able to support each other in leading new exercises and in stretching debriefing skills. Of course this led to overly ambitious agendas and the time crunch tactics provided us with opportunities to develop flexibility and humility. This was a true opportunity for experiential learning.
Outside the workshop hours we explored the vicinity including driving down the coast to the Cape of Good Hope. These towering promontories truly feel like the end of the world. Waves crashing on rocks and cliffs transported me back to Portuguese ships battling currents and winds to reach ever farther around the vast African continent. The unique finbos vegetation reminded me of tundra in its dense coverage and uniform height. However, I was amazed at its depth when a zebra stepped down off the road and disappeared.
Cape Town is a lovely city which wraps around the end of a mountain ridge. English and Dutch architecture, flooded with clear sunlight, against a backdrop of this ridge is just stunning. We were treated to a wonderful fish dinner by one of our local AVP host families and another evening they took me for a spectacular drive and a feast of fish and chips in the town of Hout Bay.
I stayed in the guest room at West Cape Friends Meeting. After the intense week at the conference and the intense days of planning, facilitating and exploring, it was lovely to come back to my quiet spot. A cup of Rooibos tea and my journal or James Mitchner’s book Covenant were perfect companions for the end of the day.

Below is the epistle of the conference. This is a Quaker practice which seeks to report the essence of a gathering.

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