Thursday, May 18, 2017

A clinical psychologist and campaigner, Aberash (not his real name) fled his home in Burundi when his anti-corruption work brought death threats. At a Creators of Peace Circle in Sydney, he found a chance for healing.

Sydney peace circles storyAberash is now an asylum seeker in Australia and is waiting to hear the outcome of his application to stay. While he waits, he works as a workshop facilitator for a state government-supported community service, the Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS) in New South Wales. He found that the Creators of Peace Circle helped him to share his story with others in a particularly meaningful way.

In feedback to the organizers, he wrote, “As a clinical psychologist, I know the importance of expressing feelings and emotions. Though the seminar was not therapy, it was a healing opportunity especially for me - a former prisoner, a torture and trauma survivor, from a country where men are not allowed to cry!

“The powerful stories from other participants reminded me that everyone has got a story and that I am not alone. What helped me most was realizing that instead of trying to fix the world, it is better to focus on what I can change and influence…and secondly,       that forgiveness…helps both the offended and the offender.”

Another participant, commented in her feedback: “I will be forever grateful for the place of safety you provided, a place to be vulnerable, and for your love...I must tell you it was quite cathartic.”

Sydney Peace CirclesThe Creators of Peace Circle, facilitated by Shoshana Faire and Maria Moy, took place from 4-5 March 2017 and included 9 participants from eight different countries: Australia, Brazil, Burundi, France, Indonesia, Pakistan, Somalia and the US. Most were postgraduate students at Sydney University’s Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, and will have opportunity to apply the approaches learned through Creators of Peace in real-life work and personal situations.

Creators of Peace challenges people everywhere to build networks of forgiveness across racial, religious and social divides. Its Peace Circles are small community gatherings, usually of women, who work together through a curriculum designed to deepen their friendship and build understanding of their own peace-creating capabilities. The Peace Circles at Sydney University’s Department of Peace and Conflict Studies are unusual in that they include men, and take place in an academic setting.

“Our work at the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies began three years ago through the interest and support of its Deputy Director Wendy Lambourne, and her belief that students of peace studies would benefit from having the chance to explore themselves as peace builders, and to experience some practical peace buiding tools,” explained Shoshana. “What we offer is a personal journey through a body of practice, including story sharing, deep listening and forgiveness. Since the first circle, we have been asked to come back regularly as more and more people have wanted to participate in a Peace Circle.” The March circle was the fifth Creators of Peace Circle at the university, and a sixth took place there in April 2017.

Creators of Peace networks are active in many countries around the world, with those involved organizing peace circles, workshops, conferences and community-building activities. In Sydney, over 500 people are in touch through the network. Initiated in 1991 by Tanzanian politician Anna Abdullah Msekwa and further developed by Jean Brown of Initiatives of Change Australia, Creators of Peace marked its 25th anniversary in 2016 with a ‘Living Peace’ conference in Caux, Switzerland, at which there were 200 participants from 40 countries.

Commenting on the inclusion of men in the Creators of Peace Circles at the university, Shoshana said, “Most of our circles around the world are for women in order to create a safe and comfortable space for women and to empower women in their role as peace creators. In this university setting, though, where the students are already working together it was decided to include men in the invitation to participate.”

For Aberash, the Peace Circle has prompted further personal steps on the path to lasting peace. “I have made a resolution of letting go my resentments, and forgiving, always without forgetting to have more inner peace,” he wrote. “I am proud that Creators of Peace is…developing social capital through the wellbeing of responsible citizens and peaceful communities.” – Delia Paul 

Images by Shoshana Faire