Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Alternatives to Violence - from

Intervention programmes have become increasingly popular in organisations, employed to help resolve conflict among staff and students and bring about a new sprirt or cooperation. The Alternatives to Violence project is one of the groups helping to bring about transformation through workshops. MICHAIL RASSOOL examines this new trend and its chances of success.
Organisations and companies the world over have recognised the increasingly stressful and tense environment inhabited by their workers. Diverse personalities and frayed tempers often lead to regrettable incidents. Many of these can be avoided with intervention programmes which aim to resolve conflict and encourage cooperation and mutual respect.The Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) is one such intervention programme. The project runs workshops promoting a culture of peace, trust, mutual cooperation and resolving conflict in organisations around the country. Driven by Cape Town Christian Brother Jerome McCarthy, the programme operates on the premise that each person has the inherent capacity to transform him- or herself and society, to get in touch with their inner power to bring about this transformation, and consequently, to promote peace both within the organisation and outside of it.In South Africa, organisational transformation and reconciliation have taken on a special meaning, linked as it is to the country’s transformation over the last ten years. Local intervention programmes must take these broader complexities into account and factor them into their attempts to foster organisational unity.The ideas promoted by AVP fully correspond with the theology of ubuntu promoted by Anglican Archbishop-emeritus and former chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Desmond Tutu. This uniquely African concept means community and all that that implies.It is impossible to isolate individuals from the community or society. Interdependence and reciprocity, not independence and self-sufficiency, are essential ideas here.Archbishop Tutu emphasises that the "enlightened self-interest" that underscores the typical western mindset is a direct contradiction to ubuntu in the 1997 book Reconciliation: The Ubuntu Theology of Desmond Tutu written by black American theologian Michael Battle."A self-sufficient human being is sub-human. I have gifts that you do not have, so consequently, I am unique–you have gifts that I do not have, so you are unique. God has made us so that we will need each other. We are made for a delicate network of interdependence," said Archbishop Tutu.The clash between these two worlds–western independence and African ubuntu and mutuality–is reflected in ethnic, racial, religious and economic conflicts over unequal distribution of power and resources. The effects of the fragmentation imposed by apartheid, for instance, can still be felt in virtually all spheres of engagement in South Africa, including the workplace.The legitimacy of violence has filtered through to almost all of society’s cultural spheres over time, and is supported by the media through, for example, violent cinema and television content, which informs mainstream cultural attitudes that are lived out in public life. Part of the Church’s role in modern times is to subvert these patterns, codes and mindsets, and foster a counter-culture of conciliation.The Church-based AVP programme, run jointly with the Johannesburg-based transformation-promoting organisation Phaphama Initiatives, attempts to embody these ideals in its workshops.Br McCarthy said it offers a new approach to groups taking part in the workshops, learning new skills that lead to fulfilling violence-free lives characterised by personal growth and change. The programme comprises basic and advanced workshops, the latter looking more deeply at violence, as well as one for training facilitators to make a difference in their organisations and communities."The core values of AVP recognise the worth of every individual and affirm the power of each person to use reason and co-operative skills in responding creatively in their interpersonal relationships."The advanced workshop, for instance, focuses on fear, anger, resentment, forgiveness, relationships, Aids and stress; only some of the tensions people deal with on an everyday basis.Training facilitators focuses on developing team building, leadership skills and methods, and group process skills; participants work in small groups, functioning as facilitators.The AVP programme has Quaker origins. It was first introduced to prisoners in the United States in 1975 before spreading to other spheres of life over the following few years.It then spread to other countries across the world including Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. In 1994 the United Nations sent AVP facilitators to work with youth in refugee camps. In Nicaragua, the national police force receives AVP training as part of its efforts to defuse violence in the country.In South Africa the programme has been flourishing in Gauteng since 1995 and was recently implemented in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. Br McCarthy said he was "excited" about the difference the programme is making in organisations across the board. "It augurs well for the ongoing development of a culture of peace in South African society."He said that recent workshops held at schools such as Guguletu Comprehensive Secondary in Cape Town and Ahatuto High school in Orange Farm, Gauteng, involving around 400 students, had been an enormous success. The principals of the schools have testified to a difference that can be felt at the schools, and learners are being trained to run the programme themselves.In 1999, addressing youth in the Paul VI Auditorium in the Vatican, Pope John Paul referred to his encyclical Tertio millennio adveniente released on the eve of Holy year 2000, in which he called for a new dispensation for the new millennium, characterised by peace and the reign of Christ-centred values."Life is all the attitudes, words, behaviour and thoughts that involve us and make us see ourselves for what we are."
The Southern Cross, July 14-20, 2004
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