AVP in Samoa – Creating Peaceful Pathways

The first Samoa Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops began with thirteen Samoans and one Palagi/Pakeha—(Generous) Graeme who travelled from Whakatane, New Zealand to complete his training in Samoa. Participants comprised: three women (one young woman in her 20’s); and eleven men who were Returnees, NGO representatives, Pastors, Director of a Trust and an international consultant from NZ.

In Samoa it began with an inspirational story. The SRCT (Samoa Returnees Charitable Trust) had heard of AVP through one of their most recent returnees— (United) Ueni Fonoti—a Samoan male in his mid-fifties who had been incarcerated in the USA for 31years. Ueni’s story: "I left Samoa for the states to study. A bad choice began a journey to prison. It lasted over three decades. Anger and resentment continued to plague me resulting in me going into solitary confinement. While in prison I got shot by a prison warden which resulted in one of my legs being amputated."

“I did numerous anger management courses and others including Twelve Steps and Restorative Justice Resource (RJR) which really didn’t do me much good. Then I did the AVP training and it was during the workshops that I felt this enormous change within me. I experienced, ‘transforming power’. I kept on with AVP and completed my training as a facilitator. Then when I was deported back to Samoa after finishing my time, I told my story to Fa’afetai Koria—the Director of SRCT and the Board members”. (Ueni Fonoti).

According to Fa’afetai Koria (Director of SRCT) he and the board were deeply moved and inspired by Ueni’s story and decided to do their own research into AVP. It would also be a way for them to establish partnerships within civil society” explained Fa’afetai. In December, 2017 he made contact with Esther Cowley-Malcolm and met with Esther, Ueni Fonoti and the Chair of the SRCT Rev Mauga, in Samoa to discuss plans for the first Samoa AVP workshops to take place.

The first level - Basic workshop started on the 22nd January 2018 and finished on the 24th January. Fourteen participants completed the Basic and moved on to the Advanced workshop from the 25th – 27th Jan and the Training for Facilitators (T4F) from the 28th – 30th. Participant feedback from the workshops were very positive: ‘awesome’, ‘fantastic’, ‘happy’, ‘empowering’, ‘super keen’, ‘incredible’—one could only surmise that they were experiencing changes within themselves! As facilitators, we too were expressing similar superlatives, but adding the noun ‘participants’ after the superlatives! We couldn’t have wished for a more committed and enthusiastic group of participants.

“I couldn’t believe it when Fa’afetai informed me the SRCT Board had agreed to hold the first AVP workshops in Samoa. Esther and David came over from New Zealand. The first time I met Esther was an amazing experience. We shared ideas and our insights on AVP. David Wicks arrived later and we met at Esther’s home for a preparation meeting. I was a bit anxious about working with facilitators from New Zealand as I had trained in the USA. But I needn’t have been! They had a great sense of humour! We had lots of laughs and fun together! It was like we had known each other for years. I drove back home very happy from our first prep meeting. It was great—‘to trust the process’ and we brought those positive attitudes to our nine days of AVP workshops— the first ever in Samoa. After David and Esther left for New Zealand, I continued to utilize some of our AVP exercises like ‘Gatherings’, ‘Concentric Circles’ and ‘Light and Livelies’ in my weekly counselling sessions with the youth, I also conducted a mini workshop with 3 apprentice facilitators in the prison. It was an amazing experience facilitating a prison workshop as a “non-prisoner” after doing it for so long as a prisoner in the USA prison I was held in! I am thankful to AVP – California, SRCT and the Steering Committee and Whakatane AVP for all their on-going support”.
(United) Ueni Fonoti.

“Team camaraderie was evident and real, where trust and caring for each other was at play and where there were no ‘mistakes’ but ‘learning’ points to ponder over, to discern and to move on, to greater heights with a clear understanding that we were all learners and teachers together and that we did indeed ‘trust the process’ and knowing that the best is what we expect – nothing less -nothing more. Graduates spoke of taking the AVP keys with them to ‘unlock their human potential to transform’.
This for us as facilitators was the greatest sign of success from the Samoa training. That great sense of community building! Together we had built this extraordinary community together in nine days. Seeing the minds and hearts of the participants open and enthusiastically embracing the tools to make changes for themselves before…as one participant so aptly said ‘before we can help others to do the same’, recognising that AVP is a journey and everyone was at different points in that journey. The stories—the magnificent funny, poignant, authentic hard-out stories—left us sometimes speechless, often in awe and sometimes in tears of sadness and other times stomach shaking hilarity. The sharing, the caring, the compassion, the rawness—these are what pulled the participants together. Their incredible stories of courage, pain, growth and love…they connected each of us in such a strong and loving way. It was such an honour and privilege to be part of such an amazing group of people…and yes… my people...in my homeland...their homeland…our Pacific Ocean…our world. So giving, so caring and so very kind.”
(Exciting) Esther Cowley-Malcolm

“For this AVP delivery to work it needed participants who were 100% committed to the nine days of workshops. It was humbling to see that commitment right throughout the nine days—certainly, a level of participation that I have seldom witnessed. The AVP phrase “We are all teachers and learners” was clearly brought home to me. I learnt so much, not only from my other experienced facilitators—Esther and Ueni, but also from the Samoan participants and their stories. My lasting memories will be of the fun, laughter, song and deep fellowship that these sessions provided. It was an honour to be among a group of very special people who had the common goal of making Samoa violence free.
In a perfect world I’m convinced this would be the way to run all AVP workshops. Samoa now has an immediate pool of competent apprentice facilitators. Under the guidance of Ueni and a watching brief by Esther, they can now spread the AVP message of Nonviolence to the people and villages of Samoa and perhaps beyond.”
(Dutiful) Dave Wicks

“I felt humbled to be part of the kindness that the participants extended to one another. A source of power for the group, is that everyone in the room was committed to working with other Samoans to create harmonious and peaceful communities. There is, I believe, potential for this ‘core’ team to provide inspiration not only to other Samoans, but to other Pacific Island communities that are looking for ways to re-integrate returnees into their communities. Perhaps they might also be a source of inspiration to Samoan-Kiwis, providing a reversal in the ‘traditional’ flow of knowledge”.
(Generous) Graeme Storer

The Rt Honourable Fiame Naomi Mataafa attended as our guest speaker and represented the Patron of SRCT who is also the Prime Minister (he was overseas). She gave a very uplifting and encouraging address to the new AVP graduate facilitators. (Busy) Ben—the Returnees representative on the SRCT Board and an AVP graduate—gave a very inspirational address of his experiences in the workshop, describing ‘aha’ moments with superb clarity. Since January 2018 Ueni and team have conducted mini-workshops in prison; a Civil Society Support Programme application has been successful to allow ten more workshops in the next two years; a Memorandum of Understanding with relevant Ministries and NGOs is progressing; translation of manuals and resource materials are near completion; and support for Samoa from Eastern Bay of Plenty AVP will continue with visits planned in midJuly to coincide with a basic workshop being held at that time. AVP – California where Ueni did his training has also sent support in the way of AVP materials and resources. Gratitude: To all who gave such great service to this incredible mahi/work—our heartfelt gratitude—fa’afetai , fa’afetai, fa’afetai tele lava.

Thank you, thank you, thank you very much.