the friend online
05 January 2007

International edition: Helping young people to deal with the past
We have had a long-standing friendship and working relationship with Goran Bozicevic, the Quaker Peace & Social Witness repres entative in Croatia. QPSW has a programme in former Yugoslavia which focuses on 'dealing with the past'. It was Goran who introduced us nine years ago to the Bosnian project Sezam, which originally worked with war-traumatised children, broadened out into peace education, and now works with teachers from the divided schools of their country, teaching skills in non-violent communication. He recently evaluated the first children's embassy in the world — Megjashi, in Skopje, Makedonia, whose specific objectives include the prevention of violence through teaching constructive conflict resolution in multiethnic clubs and schools; and establishing a network of teachers trained for non-violent resolution of conflict, as well as raising public awareness.

Goran had the idea of bringing together these two organisations, and some of the teachers with whom they work, for a seminar in Groznjan in Istria (north-west Croatia) on dealing with the past in work with young people, at school and elsewhere. He asked us to lead it, with inputs from Sezam, Megjashi, his wife Ana and himself. The programme also allowed plentiful time for these over-stressed teachers and project workers to talk among themselves and relax in a beautiful setting. We devoted the first day largely to exchanging experiences with one another, specially recalling the occasions when the shadow of the past had appeared unexpectedly (for instance in a lesson) and how we responded.

We had had two such experiences ourselves when working with Bosnian children on previous visits. Once, when a group of ten-year olds were working in pairs, a boy found himself unable to speak to his partner. Trying to explain he said, 'She looked like a dead person.' It was probable that the face of the girl, whom he had not met before, reminded him of something he had witnessed. We could not find a way to handle this in the context of a group session. Another time we were using the idea developed by our Friend Tom Leimdorfer of groups of children telling fairy stories from the 'baddie's' point of view. When we came to The Sleeping Beauty, the Wicked Fairy stood up and simply said: 'I put her to sleep for a hundred years so she wouldn't see the war'. We were all stunned. For the participants at Groznjan, their own feelings and experiences of the war often got in the way of an appropriate response to the children at such moments. So the first day ended with an examination of how to do their own inner work in order to handle them better.

On the second day, we gave more specific training in games and exercises dealing with issues of blame, resentment, anger, and being stereotyped. In one exercise, people grouped as 'teachers', 'women', 'Makedonians' or 'NGO workers, and presented a list of things they wanted people to stop saying about their group. For example, NGO workers in Croatia have often been called 'traitors' or 'American spies'. Later we offered an introduction to mediation and showed how it could embrace issues with an element of ethnic conflict. By the end of this session, everyone had been involved in two practice mediations, the second of these being over an incident where a teenager had been the target of ugly and prejudiced abuse.

On the third day we offered an exercise called 'Finding Common Ground'. In this the group chooses a question which divides them into two camps. After two speakers have articulated the two positions (and repeated accurately what the other said) the rest of the group collects statements they can both assent to, building a basis of common ground on which they could begin to construct an accomm odation. The day also included a presentation by Sezam on Marshall Rosenberg's methods of teaching non-violent communication, and a presentation by Megjashi of their work. On the last day we visited two nearby schools to see the education provided for the Italian-speaking minority in the area; the generous provision by the Croatian Ministry of Education greatly impressed the visitors from the other two countries.

The Seminar met the needs of the participants, judging by their comments and enthusiastic evaluations. They were impressed by the aptness and simplicity of the methods which they had been given. Afterwards Megjashi discussed with us the possibility of coming to Skopje next year to teach mediation to their associates. For us it was a privilege to join in QPSW's programme in former Yugoslavia and make a contribution to it. The task of dealing with the past is unending, and this can have a disempowering effect on peacebuilders. They would agree with William Faulkner, who wrote, 'The past isn't dead and gone; it isn't even past'. What gives hope and power is to feel one has the capacity to take effective steps to build peace one brick at a time.

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Diana & John Lampen


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International Edition: Researching Quaker ancestors
Michael Hargreave
International edition: Helping young people to deal with the past
Diana & John Lampen
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