Saturday, August 25, 2018

One visitor found space to discover her vocation. Another experienced the healing of a painful memory. These were just two of the many stories emerging from the 2018 Caux Forum, which continues to draw more than 1,500 people to this Swiss hillside town every European summer. 


Part conference, part retreat, the Caux Forum invites each visitor to bring 'the whole person' to discussions of broad societal issues - always starting with the possibilities for personal change. The Forum comprises a series of separate conferences addressing various themes, among them inclusive peace, just governance, land restoration and youth issues. 


Sally Burt, a historian of diplomacy who teaches at the Australian Defence Force Academy, went in July 2018 to the Caux conference on Just Governance for Human Security. She found that the conference gave her a better understanding of her ability to change her own environment. 'While at Caux, I heard a great deal about the importance of education for building on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),' she said. 'Each person who presented their story at Caux was working in their own way in their own community for change. I felt that I had been chasing something "big" while ignoring my ability to make big change in my own environment. I had thought about going to India to provide educational opportunities to the disadvantaged, while not looking at those same needs in my own community. Since returning to Australia I have sought out and taken up an opportunity to volunteer at a secondary school in a low socio-economic area, tutoring VCE students.'


For workshop facilitator Fiona Goggins, a turning point came during a preparatory retreat for women peace builders in April, in the lead-up to the 2018 Caux Forum, when she decided to take a leap of faith. 'As facilitator, I spoke about a personal instance of pain that had gone unresolved, and the consequences of not yet having fully dealt with what happened,' she said. 'Other group members began to share their own experiences of trauma and healing...and what it means when this pain goes unacknowledged, unresolved...It was a heavy but incredible experience. There is a certain magic when these gatherings are a safe space for the experience-sharing and trust-building of women.'


Mike Brown, Deputy Chair of Initiatives of Change Australia's Council of Management, and a veteran of the Caux conferences, played a role as 'key listener' in a conference on 'Addressing Europe's Unfinished Business.' Reporting back on the highlights, he noted, 'Diana Damsa's account of solidarity with a friend from the marginalised Roma community in Romania; Jo Berry's saga of reaching out to Paddy McGee, the IRA operative whose bomb killed her politican father at a Conservative conference in Brighton, UK; and the story of Peter, a former neo-Nazi skinhead who is reaching out to extremists in schools in Sweden.'


Pre-war winter scene when the Caux Palace-Hotel was a luxury venue for the elite of society.  The venue for these encounters, the Caux Palace-Hotel, was once a luxury establishment for the elite of society. In 1935, in the aftermath of the Second World War in a bitterly divided Europe, 100 Swiss families pooled their savings to buy the then-dilapidated building, and refurbished it with their own hands. In the immediate post-war period, the centre played an important role as a venue for peace processes, and has continued to serve as a base for the yearly conferences. 


Today, Caux provides many with time to reflect, space to share stories, and practice in community service through the daily tasks of sharing food and cleaning up. 


'We relished the stillness of community groups spread along the terrace having morning quiet time together,' Mike recalled. 'And we were heartened by the panorama of initiatives of building social cohesion among refugee and multi-faith communities.'


Clearly, Caux continues to work its quiet influence. - Delia Paul


To learn more about the Caux Forum, visit the Initiatives of Change Switzerland website and see the 2019 program