PO Box 10372
Preparing Peace Teams for Reconciliation by Rosa Covington Packard
Since 1993, I have been working with peace teams going on missions of reconciliation through Project: Hearts and Minds Inc. Project: Hearts and Minds Inc. is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that seeks to foster reconciliation between the people of the United States and people in countries where the United States has been or is currently involved in war. Veterans play a key role in the process—by joining teams that provide material aid to charitable, educational and scientific organizations in areas where they had once been part of the hostilities and horror of war.
To date, our work focuses on Southeast Asia. Before our separate incorporation in December l994, teams went to Vietnam under the auspices of Veterans for Peace in October l994, July l993, and the Spring of l991. Regional committees meet in the New York City area, in Philadelphia, Lancaster, and State College, Pa., and in the Schenectady-Albany area for raising money for group expenses and collecting material to take as luggage. Since 1995, teams have gone to Vietnam once or twice a year.
Team members apply to a selection committee appointed by the board of directors. We provide the team with a facilitated weekend retreat so that they can work together with increased clarity and sensitivity to each other and to the culture that they are visiting. On their return they attend and enrich our planning and educational meetings and share their experience through their own professional networks and referrals.
In 1995, Witness Coordinating Committee of New York Yearly Meeting funded a weekend facilitated by George Lakey for a Project: Hearts and Minds Team going on a reconciliation mission to Vietnam. Since then, each team that has gone to Vietnam has attended a retreat weekend in preparation for the work. The teams consist of four to seven members. A board committee selects applicants from volunteers known to us who have been working with the project for a while.
The team meets in my home, spending Friday and Saturday nights and eating all meals together. I serve as lead facilitator. The Sunday morning session is conducted by the team member chosen by the team to facilitate their daily trip meetings. Written notes for this meeting are taken by the team member chosen by the team to take notes during team meetings on the trip. The agenda adapts, of course, to the needs and experience of particular participants. Costs are minimal and several former team members and board members contribute resources and co-facilitation. The retreat experience is designed to build trust and cooperation within the team through affirmation, active listening and creative problem solving experiences. It also sometimes identifies needs that should be addressed to prevent difficulties. After the team is selected, we send a letter explaining the purpose and plan for the retreat and asking that particular concerns be identified. We send participants written material before the retreat on trip concerns, including an article by Lady Borton of the AFSC office in Vietnam, ‘Learning To Work In Vietnam;’ a bibliography and a summary of our policies. We provide handouts during the retreat, including recent articles, medical and travel advice, queries, and recommendations from prior trips. Written material may be misplaced or not fully integrated in an individual's mind but it does serve as a confirmation and reminder of matters agreed upon and experienced.
I have worked both alone and in a team facilitating the retreat. Naturally team facilitating is particularly valuable when a major purpose of the retreat is team building. Facilitators share tasks according to their gifts, meet before and after sessions to discuss perceptions and decide on adjustments. Our approach is informed by experience with Alternatives to Violence Project Inc. methods as well as other nonviolence training approaches. The experience of the retreat is evaluated by both participants and facilitators.
The retreats build team cooperation, identify roles for the trip, and bring to awareness typical challenges and various cultural differences. The team explores their common responses to these matters. They also make practical preparations for travel, health, formalities, and the gathering of humanitarian supplies. Within the framework of existing policies, decisions are made by consensus. We expect both a group report and individual reports on the team’s return.
Cultural and reentry shock and responding to post traumatic stress are on-going concerns that are introduced in the retreat and tend to be addressed privately with the support of trusted individuals. More attention to these matters is needed.
Back home, team members are teaching in public schools with a large population of Vietnamese immigrants, teaching South Asian history in colleges, and working with veterans groups, student exchange programs in both college and medical school settings, and with medical programs serving Vietnamese immigrants and refugees.
This project has provided healing and reconciliation through service for both conscientious objectors and veterans. My own commitment to working with both groups has been deepened by my participation in it.
A board member of Project: Hearts and Minds Inc., Rosa Packard is a member of Purchase Friends Meeting and is New York Yearly Meeting’s representative to Friends Peace Teams Project Coordinating Council. She is appointed by Purchase Meeting to “counsel those troubled in conscience by participation in war.” She has been an Alternatives to Violence Project Inc. facilitator and a member of various Montessori teacher education courses.
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To learn more visit Project: Hearts and Minds website.