The aim of this workshop was to provide participants with tools and practice in de-escalating conflict in the context of domestic partner relationships. 28 participants came and 26 completed the workshop.
The workshop began at 10am on Wednesday and participants agreed to end the day at 4pm; and for subsequent days to be from 8am to 3pm.
All participants were visibly nervous to be there; spouses did not sit or arrive together and their body language reflected a sense of shame and defeat.
Other people that were present for the start of the workshop were Therese and , the community representative. Francois is on hand to help; he is the Children’s Peace Library’s librarian.
After a song and a prayer, the group set safety rules and volunteers are taken for some other roles – cleaner of lunch areas, timekeeper and daily news reporter. We hear from the group why they are here.
‘what she is saying is not just true for her but all of us.’
Some participants are not here with their partners. One woman says that her husband is in prison; a man says that his wife is with sick child in hospital. A couple of other men come without their spouses.
Most people are sitting next to their partner now and are asked to use respectful language in addressing the other, such as ‘my wife’, instead of ‘the wife’ and to use eye contact and inclusive body language. Then, everyone takes an affirmation name for the duration of the workshop.
The first day includes activities that challenge the perceptions that participants hold of their partners and the power they exercise or not, such as in ‘Push and Pull’. Listening and speaking in pairs is also done, as well as a group exploration of their understandings of violence and peace. People are really willing to contribute what they know by this stage, which is following lunch. Games also add a necessary lightness to the process, giving people time to laugh and feel relaxed.
The concept of Transforming Power is introduced through story and one participant contributes her own story to show how she turned a situation of violence into one of peace and respect. This is powerful and paves the way for other participants to contribute for this workshop.
The lunch is catered to well; the facilities are known and easily accessible to all participants.
Participants go home at the end of the first day full of new ideas and a bit fatigued. They still seem worried, but a bit more relaxed despite the fact that they have to attend to farm and domestic duties when they get home.
The co-facilitators appear to be working well together and complement each other with their distinct strengths, making a formidable team. John Joseph is well-known to people as the local pastor and confidant. He is well-humoured, expressive and confident. Funny Francoise is grounded, strong on representing the womens’ perspectives and is positive, reflective and summarises the essence of activities well with the group. Inyangamugayo Xavier elicits knowledges from the participants without giving advice, encouraging them to participate and acknowledging the contributions they make as being as valid as anyone else’s. Faith Fiacre is doing an excellent job following the process and interpreting for Xavier and others.
An agreed recommendation in the workshop debrief is to ensure that only those participating in the workshop speak and contribute ideas. People not participating and outside the circle are not to do so, as this confuses the agreed rules of engagement contracted at the workshop’s beginning. Also, people are to contribute from a seated position and not give advice, as this would work against the principle of ‘we are all teachers and learners’.
All participants return on time. One couple comes and is turned away, as they have missed too much community building.
The second day begins with some testimonials showing that the workshop is assisting participants in their domestic lives.
‘People saw us walking here together this morning. They never see us walking together, so are very curious and intrigued.’
‘I want to bring myself from the position of rooster down to that of the chicken. Perhaps my wife would like to be the rooster sometimes.’
Today, activities include ‘Rumours’ and this proves popular. Everyone seems to be challenged by the effects of harmful rumours that circulate around their small village. Participants, especially men, begin to speak about what they can do to reduce the harms or the reasons for rumours to start in the first place. It is clear that miscommunication, or uncommunicated matters in the drifting of partners away from each other has only caused more distance and anguish.
Even games like ‘Stepping Stones’ give participants time to reflect on their practices of working together. It shows that people are quick to look after themselves and not to help or look out for others. This is shown in a light-hearted and non-blaming way and is a very suitable choice for this group.
Group work is engaged in today; participants look at ways to use the other elements of the AVP mandala and begin to organise in their role play groups. Groups are now fluid; people are no longer required to work with their partners, but as groups, to witness new and positive behaviors.
Another game that is new is ‘uri gukor iki?’ and people enjoy this one.
A storm hits before most participants can leave. They are now much more relaxed and sociable and stay for an hour or so to chat before the rain clears.
We co-facilitators are very pleased to see how people are participating honestly and working together. We are beginning to hear of incredible commitments, especially from the men.
Once again, all people are in the workshop space ready to start at 8am. They even seem keen to engage from the start. We hear about what has been happening.
‘last night my husband asked me to just take rest. I will look after things tonight. And he did; he fed and watered the cows, made dinner and washed up. We lay together and it felt really good. I am so happy with him.’
‘I haven’t been drinking and fighting with my family for the last 3 days. I have gone home straight after the workshop and helped. There is peace and it feels good.’
‘I went home. My wife got caught behind in the rain. I was upset that she hadn’t cooked for us. I calmed down and prepared everything.’
‘I noticed that money was gone from my wallet. I asked my wife what happened. ‘I spent it’, she said. I was mad! ‘What on!’ ‘On firewood’. I looked and saw that we needed it. It was a good thing to have done and I thanked her.’
‘My husband never fetches water for me. But last night, he said ‘stay here and I will go.’’
Participants take more time in their groups to prepare for and then carry out their role plays. Subjects include jealousy and coming home from work drunk. Fun and honesty are both present in the acting and debriefs, as well as reflections.
One topic that is discussed openly is the superstition of ‘the poison’ that will infect and destroy families if men do ‘women’s work’. But, the concept is challenged and men say that they only feel good for helping and will try to continue to do so. The women seem really impressed by this commitment by their partners.
It can be seen today that people are relaxed; couples begin to use terms of endearment (‘my dear husband’) and their body language and eye contact has smiles and tenderness.
The game ‘Satellites’ is done outside and people have fun, as it is absurd but they also solve the puzzle together.
We are nearing the end of the workshop and we hear from people about their commitments for the future.
‘I will humble myself to hear what is going on for my husband and not hassle him too much.’
‘I never buy things for her but could take the initiative to surprise her.’
Vestine, from TLC’s savings program explains the goal and participants all seem keen to join a savings group.
The workshop ends with an emotional summary by the community leader and a ‘Web’ exercise, whereby participants pass a string, connecting each other as they acknowledge something that they learned or appreciated from another person.
Participants stay in the workshop space some time after the workshop has ended, in good spirits.
As a guest facilitator (from AVP Tasmania in Australia), I learn so much about how AVP is adapted to a new context, yet am once again affirmed that the process is effective in providing safe and supportive space in which people can practice new skills for peaceful living.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to contribute to and learn from the team in Byumba and especially to the participants, who learned quickly to trust this mazungu! I am happy to hear that they felt comfortable with me and responded well to my way of working with them.
I really enjoyed working with Joseph and Francoise and thank them for their encouragement.
Fiacre did an excellent job as an interpreter and I believe that he would make a great facilitator if he wishes to.
I think that we should encourage participants to have a follow-up workshop in the next 6 months, whether a new Basic or an Advanced workshop. Other couples are and will be keen after this experience. It is important also that people in Byumba know that they can also become AVP facilitators if they wish and for the local group to look out for people who would make excellent facilitators in future. They may join training elsewhere to develop their skills.
Written by Xavier