I was born in Kenya in the middle of the Mau Mau freedom struggle, in the 1950s. Many years later, I was back in Kenya to share my story and I told of the draconian clampdown by the British at that time. Whole communities, if suspected of harbouring Mau Mau, were put in internment camps. My friend and co-facilitator turned to me and said quietly: 'My family was put in one of those camps.' It moved me that 50 years later, here we were facilitating a Creators of Peace (CoP) circle together. It proves that we need not be trapped in the cycle of hate and fear. We can and must tell a new story.
My Kenyan friend was about to return home to visit her 80-year old mother, and I felt led to write a letter for her to take to her mother saying how sorry I was for her family’s experience. The following year, this intrepid 80-year old got on a plane for the first time and flew to Sydney to visit her daughter and, in due course, to visit me. It was only afternoon tea, but she was a deeply religious woman and asked to say a blessing before we ate. She went on for some time in her own language and then I served tea. As they were leaving, my friend told me what her Mum had prayed. 'She said the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary prayer and then asked a blessing on my home "because many people do the wrong thing, but not many people say sorry".' That blessing touched me deeply.
Many people and experiences shape our lives. In 2004, our neighbour the Solomon Islands was coming out of a period euphemistically referred to as 'the tensions'. Actually, it was a civil war on the island of Guadalcanal which houses the capital, Honiara. My late husband, David, and I were invited to go there to help with a conference on peace-making, focussing on healing the past, tackling corruption, and encouraging good governance. From then on, we began visiting regularly.
I began doing CoP circles with a wonderful local lady called Susan Kukiti. One of the CoP circles we facilitated together was with the National Council of Women. I remember the first session because a very fierce-looking woman joined us and didn’t come to the second session. Then she turned up at the third session looking completely transformed and bursting to tell us what had happened to her. She said when she heard the women of the circle would share their stories, she was determined not to do so as she had spent many years in a terrible marriage and didn’t speak to her husband anymore.
However, in that first session she had heard the words, 'Change starts with me,' and couldn’t get them out of her head. So, for the first time in a long while, she started to speak nicely to her husband. She invited him to the table for meals and thanked him whenever she could. That Sunday she got up to go to church (she was a pillar of her church) and to her amazement, found him dressed and waiting to go with her. She couldn’t believe her eyes at this change.
Another who attended the CoP conference was Mahboba Rawi, an outstanding Afghan lady who heads the charity, Mahboba’s Promise. She was so enthusiastic about what she had experienced that she wanted to bring two young Afghans from every tribe together for this training in peacemaking. CoP women from across Australia got behind this idea and began to raise money so that two by two, young Afghans selected by Mahboba, could join the intern programme at the IofC Centre in India, Asia Plateau.
Here they were part of an international and interfaith community. They learned conflict resolution and leadership skills, how to listen to the inner voice, and to work as a team.
By this year (2017), the eighth year of this programme, 13 young Afghans had been through this intern programme. Right now, two sisters, Mezhgan and Parwana Samarqandi from Northern Afghanistan are at Asia Plateau. Amid great hardship, they have both attained university degrees and are bravely tackling social issues in their community.
Previous interns now lead CoP circles in Afghanistan, mentor young people at Mahboba’s orphanage in Kabul, have found employment, and have put right family relationships. And many Australians have supported this ongoing initiative financially. Thank you!
In 2013, I moved out of Sydney to a small seaside village called Gerringong. The only thing I miss about Sydney is that most people in Gerringong look rather like me – how boring is that! Some while ago, I saw an item in the local paper inviting people to an Open Day at a mosque between Gerringong and Wollongong. I was curious and went along, to discover it was an old Uniting Church now made into a prayer and community centre for Shellharbour.
It was a wonderful, open-hearted occasion with the police and the neighbours all being invited to join the barbecue. I met some delightful women there and invited them for morning tea along with some Gerringong women as well. We had such a good time that we began meeting regularly in various homes and early this year decided to follow the programme of a CoP circle. Having always done a once-a-week or full weekend programme, this circle has been once a month and it has been very nice.
In our busy lives, everyone can take time out once a month, and it also means the same group stays together for a longer stretch of time. One young professional woman who has joined us discovered CoP on the web and emailed to ask if there were any such programmes in the Illawarra. After just two sessions, she emailed me this evaluation: 'You have created an environment where a diverse group of women has a voice, you have placed importance and given value to women spending time with each other in a meaningful way. The group is able to listen with empathy because you have created the conditions that allow us to speak from a place of vulnerability, belonging, and peace even though there are differences in us. Thank you.'
This is a fresh description of what we all feel when we work with the CoP programme. And I will finish with a quote from Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher born in 604 BCE:
If there is to be peace in the world there must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home there must be peace in the heart.