Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Caux Scholars Program (CSP) is a three-week residential program of Initiatives of Change, offering a multi-disciplinary approach to conflict transformation, transitional justice, and principled leadership. Participants are young people aged 20 to 30 who are interested in public or community service and the ethical dimensions of international affairs, and who are open to a multi-cultural learning experience. Fiona Goggins from Sydney was one of the 20 young people selected for the 2017-2018 CSP at Asia Plateau. She reflects on her experience.

As the bus pulled into the gates at the MRA centre in Asia Plateau, a day of travel from Mumbai behind us, I took a deep breath. Three weeks of living, working and learning with fellow scholars from all over the world lay ahead. I didn’t exactly know what to expect.

‘Peace building and conflict transformation’ were terms with which I was familiar, as I had volunteered for some time with the Caux Forum’s Just Governance for Human Security event in Switzerland. But I had always been on the other side of proceedings – trying to ensure the smooth running of sessions and promotion of the event.

Since that time, I had experienced some rough years, both personally and professionally. I was finally coming back to some semblance of health after my most recent bout of glandular fever, and was still in many ways dealing with the fallout of a broken marriage. Career-wise, I was in flux. It was a vulnerable, if exciting, place to be. The opportunity to attend the Caux Scholars Programme at Asia Plateau (CSP-AP) couldn’t have come at a better time.

Our studies

We were thrown right in from the get-go and over the course of the next three weeks found ourselves discussing identity theory, conflict analysis, intercultural communications theory, sustainable development, traditional versus innovative development paradigms, the “do no harm” approach, cycles of aggression and victimhood, trauma and healing, restorative justice, change management, human rights and self-care. Stories from the faculty of their experiences on the front lines of peace-building, development and conflict transformation brought home the reality of the circumstances in which peace-builders are forced to operate. Simulations and field visits allowed us to both play out and directly observe the scenarios that we may one day face. I learned a great deal about the nuanced ways in which interactions can play out, how group dynamics can be effected by so many factors – and how misinformation and misinterpretation can escalate situations dramatically.

In visiting a nearby village, we gained an invaluable insight into a real-world resource conflict. Jakhangaon is a small farming community a few hours from Panchgani, Maharashtra, where severe water security issues had previously caused considerable tension. The citizens of the town had worked together to resolve their differences and the issues associated with water scarcity, taking on a firm sense of ownership towards conservation and sustainability projects which have greatly improved the wealth of and quality of life in the village. The home-grown nature of this resolution struck me as being key to its success. It was humbling to be able to speak directly with the villagers about what they had achieved and what they planned to do next.

Inner listening, quiet time and self-care

While I had always understood at a surface level the importance of personal growth and change in order to effectively bring about global change, I had not taken this on board in any real sense. The program allowed me to explore this link, gaining a better understanding of my responsibilities to myself. These responsibilities include, in addition to self-care and forgiveness, the pursuit of change and personal development. I feel I have gained a much greater understanding of the interconnectedness which categorizes this ‘personal to global’ dynamic.

All my previous attempts at meditative practice had been with the end-goal of sleep in mind - quieting the noise of the day in order to rest, as opposed to channeling my thoughts towards clarity of purpose. But the quiet time sessions at Panchgani, conducted early in the morning, showed me the importance of actively tuning in, and that there isn’t just one way of being still and undertaking inner listening. We had reflections from a variety of different elders on their own quiet time practices. I genuinely felt the impact of this practice, and it is something I have taken on board and am trying to prioritize in my daily routine.

Caux Scholars in traditional khata - Tibetan ceremonial scarves symbolising purity and compassion.
Back to ‘real life’

Now that I have returned to ‘real life,’ I am already seeing the effects of this change, both in the voluntary work I’m doing and on a personal level. The understanding of power dynamics and the multiple perspectives gained through the simulations and direct experiences of miscommunication, have meant I have tried to employ greater levels of patience and empathy. I find myself considering situations from multiple angles, trying to determine how best to contribute, and how to empower others to make change.

Before leaving for CSP at Asia Plateau I was hopeful that I would build friendships and find like-minded allies, but I could never have anticipated such a supportive, engaging, incredible group of individuals. We became a tight-knit family unit, the kind where I could pick up tomorrow and go to stay with any one of them in any of their respective corners of the globe. There were some very intense sessions which exposed a lot of raw emotion for all, and the support that each of us found in one other is unparalleled in my experience with any other organization or encounter.

‘We have each made a commitment to continue checking in with one another and have group chats on a number of different digital platforms. I feel that this fellowship will be integral to my change-making, peace-building journey.’

Read more about Fiona Goggin’s Caux Scholar experience on the Womanscape website, a platform for supporting ‘provocative reflection’ by and for women in their personal growth: