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SUMMER, 2001: Volume 6, Issue 2

Ghana: Young Friend Leads AVP, Using FPT Model
by Rachel Avery Harrison

Friends Peace Teams has assisted people in Rwanda and Uganda to develop use of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) in their communities. Additionally, AVP organizations function independently in South Africa and Nigeria. Many of the people who have helped bring AVP to new places have long-standing connections to that place, which help them plan and lead effective workshops. I, on the other hand, at age 22, having never been to Africa, agreed to organize the introduction of AVP to Ghana.

In August 2000, three experienced AVP facilitators with experience in Ghana and I led a series of AVP workshops including all three levels. Nineteen Ghanaians completed the Training for Trainers and are now preparing to apprentice their first workshops.


 

Rachel Harrison and Marcel Kitissou at
Baltimore-Washington International Airport
about to depart for Ghana.


How was Friends Peace Teams helpful? When I first agreed to organize the introduction of AVP to Ghana, I worried about how ill-prepared I was. I agreed to do it because I knew AVP could be helpful to people, I knew I could learn a lot through the experience, and I knew that I had the resources to do a good job even though it didn’t feel that way.

I knew I would have help. Nana Fosu Randall (originally from Ghana) and her husband John Randall (of Scarsdale Meeting) asked me to organize the project for their school in Nana’s home city of Kumasi. Founded 4 years ago, John William Montessori School is a primary school, which has just expanded to include junior secondary school. Nana and John wanted to use AVP as an in-service enrichment for their teachers, and to build community between teachers and parents. Their enthusiasm for my using the project as a learning experience enabled me to ask questions and work without pretending I had to know everything. They also stayed in Ghana for part of my trip to be a resource to all four of the international team members.

The Friends Peace Teams African Great Lakes Initiative was a resource for information about how to organize a project well. I had already been to some FPT Coordinating Committee meetings and seen a glimmer of how much work it took to organize AGLI projects. More helpful, though, were the role models I observed by going to the Coordinating Committee. They had helped me envision myself in the work before I was asked to organize the project.

I tried to remember that my goal was not to be ‘prepared’ in the way I sometimes confused it to be. I didn’t have to decide ahead of time what my response would be to every situation. Many of the things I had to learn about the town of Tanoso were things I would have to learn if I was organizing a project in an American city I had never visited. My goal for learning before the trip was to know enough about the culture so that I could communicate with people, and then keep learning along the way. The inability to be prepared is a gift, for if we could prepare for any situation and did not have to keep taking in what we saw and thinking along the way, we might do things perfectly, but the experience itself would hold little interest.

Why is AVP effective in Ghana? Ghanaians are doing very well considering the oppression that has interfered with their lives. But like every culture I have learned about, some subjects are taboo; relationships do not always involve complete respect or good communication; people believe that violence is outside themselves and have difficulty looking at inner demons or early experiences that have shaped them. AVP helps create a space to examine themselves without dictating or predicting the subjects that will come up in a particular exercise. AVP communication techniques also work flexibly to assist people to own their feelings and communicate them in their own words.

In AVP workshops, it is clear that the mere presence of people from different backgrounds can help create a space to speak honestly from inside oneself rather than through a shared cultural norm. When I participate in or facilitate AVP workshops in a men’s prison, I can use the art of the ‘dumb question.’ As an outsider to a culture, I can ask why things are done a certain way. They can do the same for me. Though in an all-Quaker group, the answer might be “That’s polite” or “We always do it that way,” an honest question gets past these to more meaningful examinations. Designed by a ‘multicultural’ group, Quakers and inmates working together, AVP works best when it involves more than one community or culture.

Nana and John let me ask dumb questions. Any person can be helpful to someone from another culture in an AVP workshop by asking a dumb question to spark a new level of honesty. But Westerners can also be helpful to other Westerners by allowing them to ask dumb questions; help them become more familiar with Ghanaian culture and overcome the timidity that keeps people from learning well when information is available.

What’s Next? Since August, the Ghanaians who completed the Training for Facilitators have been meeting monthly to practice facilitation skills. This summer, another international team will co-lead five or six AVP workshops with Ghanaian apprentices. The team will include two people who were part of last year’s delegation (myself and Marcel Kitissou). We will assist the Ghanaians to evaluate the past year’s system of monthly meetings and develop a plan for AVP for the 2001-2002 school year during which they will lead workshops without international assistance.

I predict they will hold a total of 2-5 workshops in the 2001-2002 school year, planned under the supervision of their own chosen organizers. AVP workshops can be held for minimal costs, particularly since this group has free use of classrooms and the service of school staff. The workshops may be paid for by money left over from this project if possible. The Ghanaians have also been seeking funding within their country, which they will eventually need to run an independent AVP organization.

You Can Be Helpful Too. Please use me to learn more about whatever curiosity this article has sparked in you. To ask me questions or request a copy of our budget for this summer’s delegation, send e-mail to me at rachelavery@yahoo.com. For more information about AVP/USA, see www.avpusa.org. You can link from there to AVP International. For more information about John William Montessori School, see the school’s website at http://jwms.org

 

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