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.
When I received the invitation to participate and make a presentation on my AVP work within the prison settings in Kenya at a United Nations Commission on Social Development side event at the United Nations Headquarters, New York, in February 2019, I was not sure if I would be privileged to meet anyone from the AVP family in the US during my UN event visit. I, therefore, embarked on reaching out to the few friends from the US whom I had met at the AVP International World Gathering in Nepal 2017, with the intention of sharing with them my strong desire to facilitate, at least, a workshop at the famous birth place of AVP, Green Haven Prison (Correctional Institution) in New York before I returned back home. I was very fortunate since the first message I sent out opened all avenues and created amazing networks and connections which finally made it possible for this desire (of doing a workshop at Green Haven) to be achieved.
I owe huge loads of gratitude to Mystic Margaret, Learning Leah, Contagious CC, Easy Ed, Funny Valentine, Natural Nancy, Faithful Fred, Curious Kevin, Magic Margie, and many other friends that were directly or indirectly involved with making sure the right paperwork was in place for me to realize this dream. I am equally very grateful for the marvelous hospitality and very remarkable hosting that I was accorded by the teams in New York and Connecticut. The team provided the desirable family support and made sure I stayed warm in the thick of the chilly Winter weather conditions. By the way I experienced snowfall for the first time in my life while in the US (In Mombasa we see snow only on TV footage). The sacrifices made to provide housing and hospitality will never escape my memory as long as I shall be alive. I remain very grateful to Mystic Margaret who was, particularly, on top of things coordinating my affairs and managing my diary besides arranging for the airport pick ups and drop offs and offering me rides to the other places I had interest of visiting. Through her efforts I was able to do some workshops with college students and former gang members in the Bronx County of New York State.
Since this was my very first ever visit to the United States, it is my firm belief that I greatly benefited from this trip more than I had earlier imagined and I believe I am among the very few AVP facilitators from the African continent to visit both Green Haven and Sing Sing Correctional Institutions for the sole purpose of facilitating AVP workshops. This was indeed a very humbling experience for me. I learnt so much from both the inside facilitators as well as the teams from outside in both institutions. Yes, it is true that both prisons I visited are maximum security facilities with very strong and active AVP presence. I noticed that in the larger New York State there is a clear monthly calendar of prison AVP workshops (mostly three workshops per month) and the program is properly packaged during publicity which makes it very appealing to potential community workshop attendees who often pay a good workshop fees of between USD 40 and USD 100 per participant per workshop.
The benefits of traveling as an AVP facilitator are so many. Apart from the opportunity to interact with existing friends and bond further, there exists another opportunity to meet new friends and learn from them. There is also greater connectedness when we acquaint ourselves with understanding of the different cultural aspects of our lives vis a viz those things we have in common and learn from our different approaches whenever doing a workshop.
It is my greater hope that, occasionally, AVP International can support visiting facilitators to the US from the developing economies in order to support their movement from the different states where they may develop interest in learning from the US teams through workshop facilitation..
Finally, I would love to state it that I am always ready to make visits to any AVP teams around the world as long as the visit for a workshop will positively impact my life and that of my local team here in Kenya.
Best regards to all.
Below are pictures from my US trip.
With Faithful Fred and Learning Leah at the UN Headquarters, New York.
With TNT Haywood and Mystic Margaret at the Osborne Association, the Bronx, NY after a workshop.
With Gentle Joe, Curious Kevin, Affectionate Anne, Madelein, Laurie, Susan King, Bill Leicht and other friends at the Aikido of Columbus, after a Body and Mind awareness (an AikiAVP) training in Columbus, Ohio .
After a workshop with Prof. David Fletcher at the Lehman College, City University of New York, in the Bronx.
In the months of February and March, invited by the NGO PLAN International - Paraguay, AVP workshops were held with people who work in the same organization, and who mostly carry out activities with children and adolescents in the country.
AVP was introduced by facilitators from Mexico and Brazil.
In total, there were 4 basic workshops, 2 second level workshops and a training for facilitators. More than 80 people participated and in the end 18 people did the training. 3 of them already participated as apprentices.
There is a lot of desire on the part of the apprentices to continue the process in Paraguay and they have already started planning to continue the process.
Experienced facilitators will be needed and eager to help build that beautiful process in Paraguay!
Dear AVP-International Community,
In April of 2018, AVP-California held our first-ever large-scale public fundraiser: A Hero’s Journey 5K Run/Walk (HJR). Hosting an event of this scale required a lot more preparation and promotion than the small workshops so many of us are familiar with planning, and there were many ups and downs along the way. We worried about sponsors, sign-ups, permits, and a million other small details. When race day came, however, our fears were laid to rest: 300 runners showed up, and we raised enough money to cover our costs and then some.
Due to the success of the first HJR, we’ve decided to bring our fundraiser back for another year, in what will hopefully become a yearly tradition. On April 20th, 2019, AVP-California will be hosting our 2nd Hero’s Journey Run, now with a slight tweak on the theme: this year, we’ll be focusing on peace heroes. In support of AVP’s mission to build more peaceful communities, we are asking our runners to show up channeling those heroes that historically have fought for peace worldwide.
We’re inviting the global AVP community to participate in our event. Don’t live in California? No problem! You can support our work online by becoming a virtual runner here: https://register.chronotrack.com/r/42760
Please share our information with your friends and family in California, or consider joining us virtually if in person is too far away.
Hope to see you there,