Barbara Lawler, on behalf of our organising team of Meena Sharma, Serena Rix Tripathee and Vinitika Lal writes about Creators of Peace Regional Gathering at Panchgani, India, in February 2020.
More than 20 Creators of Peace women came together in Asia Plateau, Panchgani, India for a Regional Gathering, the very first in this part of the world. Participants included groups from India (Delhi, Mumbai, Ladakh and Nagaland), one from Malysia, a Tibetan refugee from India and Sri Lanka. An amazing, courageous and compassionate group of women with skilled facilitation skills turned the gathering into something worthwhile and a little different than expected (due to funding constraints the event was smaller than anticipated). When we get together and share experiences, we are somehow very much more productive than if we work only online. There is a magic in realising that a Malaysian who speaks Tamil can help to facilitate programs in Sri Lanka. The synergies seem to get traction quickly.
In her opening, Amina Dikedi-Ajakaiye (Nigeria/UK), President of Creators of Peace, acknowledged those we missed such as Kate Monkhouse, Executive Director, Jean Brown, founder of Creators of Peace Circles, Vijayalakshmi Subramanian, Creators of Peace Elder, Elizabeth Laskar, Event Support, and others to appreciate their immense contribution. Amina also presented a vision of CoP in Asia: if it took off, the impact would be massive. And it would mean each one committing to make it work.
Introductions to the planning team included Meena Sharma (Nepal), CoP Asia Regional Co-ordinator, Vinitika Lal (India), National Coordinator / CoP International Committee, Serena Rix Tripathee (Nepal / Australia), CoP International Committee. Participants included groups from India (Delhi, Mumbai and Ladak) and Nepal (where 44 CoP Circles have been held), three from Sri Lanka, one from Malaysia, one from Tibet, one from Nagaland, one from Australia …
Meena expressed that we were all gathered because we have chosen to be a peacebuilder and what that means. Serena noted the power of the gathering because working as a changemaker can be a lonely place: 'We may not be decision-makers, but we have made a decision to make a difference.' She gave an example of the power of women in a South American community where there was a cultural tradition that when men went to war, the women decided when they should stop – that is the power we need to claim.
Wimarshana Ranasinghe (Sri Lanka) brought well wishes from the International Council of which she is a member. She shared that CoP gave her faith, courage and hope because it is so practical. Initiatives of Change with its three main thrusts of Ethical Leadership, Trustbuilding and Sustainability has CoP as a programme. She felt that building the regional CoP fellowship would improve the work in Sri Lanka. She articulated: 'Courage and friendship helps me not to give up with all the challenges of Sri Lanka'.
Leena Khatri (India) welcomed CoP delegates to Asia Plateau and expressed her deep respect for those with the vision to carry CoP forward, by building strong teamwork with the trust and peace so badly needed everywhere. Leena expressed the vision that a lot would come out of the conference and that it did not depend on numbers.
Daphrose Ntaratze Barampama, CoP Ambassador and immediate past President of CoP, was a guest speaker who shared her adventures with Creators of Peace in her home country, Burundi, which has now experienced 60 years of war. She said it is a wounded country with wounded people and wounded memories. Though the challenges are great, there have been many breakthroughs of healing in the lives of participants and in the funding and support for CoP, and many learnings we could draw.
The structure of the days in India for the Regional Gathering were to have three groups: one for those participating in a Creators of Peace Circle for the first time, a second group for training new facilitators and a third group where experienced facilitators could discuss and progress deeper challenges such as ways to bring healing and generate financial support.
The first day began with reflections in the Mami Room. Other reflections were in the beautiful gardens of the Asia Plateau centre. One of my readings during these times was: 'Compassion is found at the meeting point of my heart and the hurts of the world, moving me past solving problems into the realm of oneness. As I ground myself in simply being, I become a healing force for good. I then take any needed action that naturally arises from my inner stillness and peace.'
The first plenary was facilitated by Vinitika on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, noting there had not been enough movement in gender equality in the Asia Pacific region. Vinitika herself ran a Creators of Peace Circle in a women’s prison around Delhi – an inspiring work that has seen some deep transformation in the women. In this session, we covered a range of issues including the need for healthy emotional development for men as well as women i.e. men ready to weep when provoked; men ready to be nurturers, to be househusbands if that is what suits the circumstances of a couple. Men valuing the gifts of women and having a vision for them comes out of no longer feeling threatened by women wanting equality. Women need to learn to be strategic. A story was told about how an African mother with many children – daughters with the youngest child a boy - taught him to be independent (to cook, to wash etc) without any fuss or speeches about him needing to be as self-reliant as his sisters.
In the first Deepening session, we heard updates from different regions, such as from Sri Lanka, where life is very challenging especially since the bombing of a Church in Easter 2019. Language came up as an issue locally for delivering Peace Circles as well as participation across genders. Sometimes the CoP rule of not paying facilitators has proved problematic and needs to be negotiated in some circumstances. Fundraising for resources might include food or support with travel, as well as discipline in report writing. Discussions around the fundamental aim in most places is to heal history; and also how to make the most of tools available such as Peace Focus Gatherings, Advocates for a New Story and network building.
Some important points were: Creators of Peace is not a job but a calling; the strength of CoP lies in the courage it takes to share your story and it can be what starts us on our healing journey; the risk of forgiveness becoming transactional, plus the need for going beyond personal pain where individual forgiveness can move into communities; the value of facilitators learning to share their own experience; appreciating countries is possible to create bridges for meeting depending on visa restrictions; and collaboration between national teams was discussed.
The feedback session with new facilitators was very well done and was a learning curve for those giving feedback on questions such as “What would you do differently?”, “What is your learning edge?”, “What is your greatest area for growth?”, “What capacity do you really want to develop?”. The emphasis was on feedback at the being level, not just the doing.
Comments from participants included:
'I wanted to meet and listen to the experience of other countries. This was space to share and listen as well.'
'I enjoyed the celebration of women as peace practitioners.'
'The spirit of participants’ positivity, spirit of victory and overcoming, from very challenging circumstances.'
'I expected it would give me some clarity and it did.'
'The power of silence and self-reflection.'
'The idea of collective effort for addressing sensitive issues, a platform to share stories and address our issues.'
'I learnt anyone can be a peace creator and it is an essential tool for community building and trust.'
'I learnt Creators of Peace is a journey, I learnt how I can help to make a difference in the life of one individual, how unheard suffering can be heard and healed.'
'I got idea and tools, and made friends from different parts of the world.'
'The inclusiveness, the honesty and attentiveness of the organisers.'
'Thank you for the eco-system at Panchgani. The experience has felt like home. A safe place for body, mind and soul.'
'Creators of Peace is a growing network of women changemakers, starting with themselves.'
'A movement of women worldwide who come together to explore their roles in society, home and lives, a space for listening, healing and accompanying.'
Following on from this event, Creators of Peace will launch a new regional capacity-building programme to strengthen our outreach, training materials and evaluation resources. Moving forward, Meena underlines why this work is so needed:
'For me running a Peace Circle with women from different divides, I feel this is a collective healing journey for all of us. After our civil conflict, the monetary compensation from the government can fulfil some of the basic necessities but being a part of the Peace Circle nourishes the heart and soul. Running Peace Circle means, creating a safe space for women and young people to share the turning point of their life, then empowering them in creative discourse to take the lead of the community peacebuilding processes.'