Story and Photos by Campbell Plowden, Executive Director, Amazon Ecology
We went to Brillo Nuevo this time to host an Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) Training for Facilitators workshop. This session had 13 participants from 6 native communities in the Ampiyacu area and four facilitators. It was encouraging this many people who had completed the Basic and Advanced workshops wanted to become a facilitator.
SIMPLE PHRASES- PROFOUND IMPACT
Our lead team led the first morning that featured a typical intro session and each element’s purpose. These included a basic intro to AVP, an agenda preview, adjective name game, community agreements, listening exercise, “light and lively,” and evaluation.
A key feature of AVP are adjective names which include one’s first name and an adjective beginning with the first letter or sound of the name that is a positive quality that may be inspirational or aspirational. My common adjective names are Courageous Campbell (for workshops in English) and Campbell Creativo (for workshops in Spanish).
Community agreements are another foundation of AVP workshops. Our brainstorm produced many standards: “Respect oneself and others,” “Don’t speak bad about yourself or others,” “Be punctual,” “Don’t interrupt when someone else is speaking,” “Respect confidentiality,” “We all have the right to reserve or express our opinion,” “Don’t volunteer others,” “Participate, but don’t speak too often or too long.” They are common-sense phrases, but they have a profound impact on individual and group attitudes and behavior when faithfully applied.
During our first sample AVP workshop at Brillo Nuevo, several people starting crying just considering the implications of these agreements. They were so frustrated that their community meetings always started late and often included people yelling with little true listening or making well-considered decisions. Since our AVP program began here in late 2018, there has been a small increase in the civility of these gatherings.
Our opening session included the classic Concentric Circles exercise where people take turns sharing their response to a thoughtful question with a partner who just listens.
FACILITATOR TEAMS PREPARE THEIR PRACTICE SESSIONS
The core of an Alternatives to Violence Project Training for Facilitators workshop having small teams prepare and facilitate one typical workshop session and then do a team self-evaluation in front of the large group. Our lead team demonstrated each of these processes for the practice teams before they got down to their work.
One member of our lead team was assigned as an advisor to one of the four practice teams. Each team was given a skeleton agenda with one theme: Introduction to AVP, Violence and Transforming Power, Good communication, and Cooperation. It included one or two exercises that matched their theme, but they would need to prepare their own gathering question, “light and lively” game, and closing from the AVP Basic Manual or create their own.
The community president came to our house that evening to tell us they needed the main community meeting building the next day for an emergency meeting to decide how to deal with a woman who was buying many plant seedlings from the area without community permission. We would need to move our workshop to the “comedor” (community dining room) and proceed without Brito from our lead team since he needed to be at this meeting. We released him from our workshop with our blessings since his growing experience as a facilitator would help him inject positive energy into the other potentially heated gathering.
So on day 2, practice teams gathered around a small table with their manuals, markers and large sheets of paper to prepare their session. After deciding who was going to lead each activity, they prepared their materials and practiced how they were going to present each activity to the large group. The lead team coaches needed to help their practice teams understand their tasks without doing too much for them. This was challenging because it was hard for everyone to read and understand instructions in the manual and write legibly, and Spanish was a second language for older people who mostly speak Bora. They practiced all morning and left for lunch in a major rainstorm.
FACILITATOR PRACTICE SESSIONS – Part 1
On the second day of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) Training for Facilitators in Brillo Nuevo, practice teams began to lead their sessions. The first 3 groups focused on the themes: Introduction to AVP, Violence and Transforming Power, and Good Communication.
Practice team agendas featured many core exercises in a Basic AVP workshop. These included Concentric Circles (a listening activity in pairs), Feeling Faces (sharing an experience related to an emotion shown on a face drawing), “I” messages (communicating a concern to someone without blaming them for your feelings), brainstorm about the roots and fruits of violence and non-violence, and discussion of cores concepts like “think before you act,” “expect the best” in the Transforming Power mandala.
They also led some classic AVP “light and lively” games like the Big wind Blows, the Singers, and Armadillos and Holes – an Amazon forest adaptation of “Earthquake” that features tenants moving around between buildings – unless one collapses.
These practice sessions tested the nerves of many participants who had never had to digest written material and then clearly explain to a group what they wanted them to do. A few people who seemed well prepared in their small group rehearsals totally froze or gave incomprehensible instructions to the large group. The wonderful thing to observe was that when one person stumbled, one of their fellow facilitators usually stepped up to try and help their teammate get the activity back on track.
After each session, the practice team did an evaluation. While this process is normally done in private by a facilitation team, these practice teams did theirs in front of their coaches and participants.
Each member shared their thoughts on how the session went, what they did well and what they could do better as a facilitator, and something they thought each of their fellow facilitators had done well and suggestions for how they could improve.
People expressed a mixture of pride, disappointment and confidence that they would improve with practice. Group 4 was next.
PRACTICE TEAM FOUR IN SYNCH
There's a special energy one feels in an Alternatives to Violence Project workshop when a facilitation team is in synch and the participants connect with every activity. Such experiences are rare in a Training for Facilitator's workshop because new facilitators are usually challenged just to handle the basic mechanics.
The fourth practice group in our workshop, however, blew our minds in their session on Cooperation. They presented their exercises with clarity, led them with positive energy, and ended them with graceful transitions to the next activity. They corrected one misstep in midstream without participants even noticing. Much credit for this group's success was due to the confident leadership from Marianela - a young artisan from Amazonas who recently joined our team.
In Cooperative Construction, three groups used some paper, colored markers and tape to make a large tucunare (peacock bass), peccary, and a pair of feather headdresses using traditional Bora and Huitoto figures.
CHALLENGES TO FACILITATORS
After the practice AVP facilitator teams had each led their practice sessions, the lead team led one more session called “Advanced challenges in facilitating.” We put together condensed versions of each session and asked the practice teams to pick new people to lead these activities in this final session.
During this second round, one or two facilitators did something in the role of a participant that required a facilitator leading the activity respond in some constructive way. These included situations like: someone began telling a long winding story, two people kept chattering with each other when a facilitator was addressing the group, someone was overly competitive in a friendly game, someone began deeply sobbing when recounting a painful event, someone told the large group a traumatic story a partner had told them in private, two people starting yelling profane insults at each other in a simple role play, someone kept laughing during a serious activity.
While major disruptions are rare in workshops, facilitators frequently need to cope with minor disturbances by tactfully reminding people about the community agreements that require that people respect themselves and others in some way. If things go astray, facilitators are encouraged to pause the activity and consult with each other to decide how they wish to proceed.
I have to admit that I enjoyed playing the “bad boy” in this session because it gave me a chance to step out of usual role as the calm and thoughtful facilitator. Some people were genuinely shocked to see me acting roughly and spewing Spanish slang vulgarities. While these scenarios did pose genuine challenges for the inexperienced facilitators, they appreciated the chance to try and think through how they might handle such situations in an actual workshop.
THE DIVINE IN ME GREETS THE DIVINE IN YOU
The closing of our AVP Training for Facilitators included a round of Namaste where two people bow to each other. This customary greeting from India roughly means “the Divine in me greets the Divine in you.” AVP is not associated with any faith, but it is often a deeply spiritual experience.
Everyone shared positive comments for each other in the Affirmation posters as well as brief thoughts about the ways the workshop affected their head, heart and hand. One participant said she very much wanted to apply what she had learned to create more respectful dialogue in the general meetings in her community.
We all applauded when the graduates received their certificates. They were all then eligible to be invited to join a facilitation team in a future workshop as an apprentice.
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