Friday, July 15, 2011

Transforming Conflict Workshop

It may seem like using a thimble to put out a forest fire, but this week I facilitated a workshop on conflict transformation in the aldea of Cementera in the municipality of Lepaera in the department of Lempira.

Honduras is a country of conflicts, a society divided, where a 2009 coup d’état revealed a deep rift in a society where political and economic elites thrive while the poor continue to suffer.

But I went because the Caritas staff working there had noted the presence of several serious internal conflicts that have hampered the community’s ability to work together.

Cementera and two other aldeas are part of a project Community-Based Management of the Reduction of Natural Disasters, which helps communities develop their own plans and projects to deal with a wide range of disasters.

What I like about the project is that the paid workers are facilitators of a process in which the community analyzes its situation, plans what can be done, and holds government and other organizations responsible for what they fail to do. It holds the potential to empower communities. The style of education is thus very participative.

So on Thursday morning I left with two Caritas workers, Ismael and Francisco, for the community. We started late; we picked up two bags of fertilizer for a leader form another community, and then met a leader of Cementera in Lepaera. So we were behind schedule – nothing new here.

But the most serious obstacle was in front of us.

The road up the mountain is not too bad, though four wheel drive is necessary. But a bridge below the community had washed out because of the recent torrential rains. The only way up was through a steep, rocky and gutted road. A few times I thought we wouldn’t make it even in first gear in low four wheel drive. But we made it. La Bestia [the beast], my pickup, is powerful, my companions noted.

We got there and started about two hours later than we had planned, but the day went well with the participation of 22 leaders of different organizations in Cementera.

I’ve recently been able to participate in a few training sessions on conflict transformation.

Most recently I attended a week-end workshop by the Alternatives to Violence Project here in Central America which started in the US as a Quaker-led program in New York state prisons. I especially appreciate their very dynamic and participative process that works very well with campesinos and workers. They speak of the transformative power of persons to deal with conflict.

Last year I attended two of the three week-long workshops that Caritas Honduras sponsored for Caritas workers in the country. It was led by Caritas Colombia and used the work of John Paul Lederach who has worked in Colombia and other conflict areas, often with Caritas. A Mennonite he has academic posts at both Notre Dame University and Eastern Mennonite University.

In both the emphasis is not on resolving conflicts as much as transforming the conflicts so that there is not just peace but justice and real reconciliation. I mixed material from both sources for the workshop.

I tried throughout the day to encourage participation – but for the most part the participants are leaders who eagerly entered the process.

We started out, as almost always here, with prayer. Then I led a few exercises to held us recognize our dignity and the worth of our input into the community.

Using a series of exercise we talked about conflict, stages of conflicts, roles people assume in conflict situations, and more. I began by asking them what they thought or felt about conflict. Not surprisingly all the inputs revealed a negative view. But when I asked them if conflicts were ever helpful, they admitted there was positive aspects and could give examples.

After lunch I began with several activities to encourage them to use their imaginations. In a society where much of the education is rote memorization, this is sorely needed.

Finally we did an analysis of a conflict. Ismael and I had thought that a recent conflict over the preservation of a reserve on a nearby mountain would work to help them analyze the people, the problem, and the process of a conflict. But we were wrong. Finally they came up with a conflict in the community from the late 1990s. 

The conflict – not unexpectedly about land ownership - did not turn out well for the community. Yet, using it and probing the memories of some of the participants helped them see the importance of careful analysis.

I offered to come back for a second workshop so that we might work on some of the conflicts in the community.

I closed my participation with a passage from one of Paul’s letters, Romans 12: 9-13, which seemed most appropriate:

Let love be sincere.
Hate what is evil and hold to whatever is good.
Love one another and be considerate.
Outdo one another in mutual respect.
Be zealous in fulfilling your duties.
Be fervent in the Spirit and serve God.
Have hope and be cheerful.
Be patient in trials and pray constantly.
Share with other Christians in need.
With those passing by, be ready to receive them.

I left as they cleaned up the church where we had met and went to find Ismael who was leaving with me. I had a deep sense of peace waiting in the truck, looking out at a incredible view of the nearby mountains and valleys.

I found myself grateful for the day, for the beauty of the countryside, and for the beauty of the people.

A side note. I talked with Josué, a kid in the community who took my picture when I came to the community for a video festival in May. It’s a picture that I love, because it captures me at my best – enjoying life and the people in communities like Cementera.

At my best

Josué, the photographer

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