The third Tools for Change conference at Caux (July 25 – August 1) opened with flags from more than 70 countries projected onto a screen. That spirit of welcome continued throughout what one participant called “the most integrated conference” he had ever attended. The faculty alone represented 15 countries, including Malaysia, France, Argentina and Australia. More than 50 percent of the 400 participants were under age 35.
At the core of the conference was a curriculum of 15 half-day workshops on subjects from conflict transformation and communications to dialogue and building diverse teams. Americans Tata Mbugua, Cricket White, Susan Corcoran and Shari Osborn were instrumental to pre-conference planning, while Rob Corcoran, Clementine Lue Clark, Matthew Freeman, David Campt and first-time participant Anjum Ali were among those serving as course faculty.
Ali described the conference as a place where “people from all parts of the world, with all different faiths, were [able] to share how they were trying to be the conscience of their own societies in the face of so much adversity and hardship.” It was also a place where those seeking to help others could turn their focus inward.
“I want so badly to be a part of the solution, but I need to start by ending my role as being part of the problem, no matter where I am,” Ali said. “How can I be an educator unless I practice what I truly believe?”
In addition to attending the afternoon workshops, conference participants gathered each morning to explore the core principles and practices of IofC. Among them was the “I too am wrong” moment, which Jean Brown from Australia and Selly Wane from Senegal delved into through a discussion of the activities of an international group visiting places associated with Buchman’s personal change experience and early work in Britain, Scandinavia and Germany. That moment, they said, is “always the start of something great.”
One highlight of the conference was the attendance of nearly 20 participants from Sierra Leone and a 12-person group of young Muslims from the UK, Sweden, France and Germany (UK participants were sponsored by the Prince’s Trust). The Muslim group hopes to bring an even larger delegation next year.
Another was the discussion of two formal apologies offered by the governments of Australia and Canada.
“The healing of history can be so simple,” said Mark Bin Bakar, a leading advocate for indigenous people in Australia. After participants viewed a DVD of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s full apology in February to the Aboriginal people, Bin Bakar described the apology as a good start for a “a great journey, together, to heal our nation, and to bring justice for all, in respect for diversity.”
Lewis Cardinal, of the Wood Cree Nation and a Co-chair of the Aboriginal Commission on Human Rights, also focused attention on the Canadian Parliament’s recent apology to that nation’s indigenous people for their use of residential schools. Cardinal, chairman of the Global Indigenous Dialogue (GID), spoke of both the trauma of the residential schools system set up to “take the Indian out of the child” and the emotions he felt while listening to the apology in the Parliament building. He said he felt the spirits of his family and relatives around him as he and other indigenous people listened, with all of them “united in grief and pain and unrecoverable loss.” But there was also “a spirit of determination, clarity, resolve and resilience” that signaled the start of a journey forward.
“We don’t want to be caught in our past,” Cardinal said. “It will take time. There will be denial and finger-pointing, but that is all part of the process. We are in a time of mourning. But healing wisdom and renewal lie beyond apology.”
The Caux lecture focused on “educating for change,” and was delivered by Gerald Pillay, the South-African born vice chancellor and rector of Liverpool Hope University in the UK. Pillay attacked “the dictatorship of self-interest and individual rights” in our societies and called for a reversal of the “commoditization” of education.
“Information is not knowledge, and knowledge is not wisdom,” Pillay said. “We need to nurture wisdom and a sense of judgment. We need to think beyond “cost” to “value” for transformational education.”
The full text of Pillay’s and other talks will be posted soon on the Tools for Change website.
The conference concluded with the largest fondue ever served at Caux and a bonfire to mark Switzerland’s national day.
“It was an incredible sight and perfect way to end an inspirational and mind-expanding week,” one participant said.