Spring Training with the Peace Brigades

By Janey Skinner

Can you really "train" someone in non-violence? Can training really prepare a person to protest nuclear weapons, Free Trade, or anything else? In the case of Peace Brigades International, will a week of roleplays, slide-shows, presentations and interactive games train a person to accompany human rights activists in a foreign setting, participate in skills exchanges, and even risk death?

Obviously, the simple answer is no, but the more complex (and we hope, more true) answer, is Yes.

In no way can any person assimilate all the information and knowledge in one week needed to confront any situation and certainly you can't acquire the commitment to nonviolent action in the same way you learn to drive. Even less so when we are talking about the life-changing experience of working with PBI, offering witness and alternatives in the context of bloody civil war. PBI training is not merely a curriculum or checklist of must-know facts.

Peace Brigades trainings use the interplay of new information (head) and challenging experiences (gut) to open up the self-examination that any serious nonviolent action requires. Along with all the specifics about PBI, conflict resolution and cultural sensitivity, the workshop offers ways to expand one's capacity to take risks, to understand oneself and the world, and to dream more boldly.

The roleplays and games give participants a chance to explore their personal relationship to violence and resistance. I constantly hear in trainings the comment: "I didn't know I'd react this way. " Neil Jeffery, soon to be a member of the PBI team in El Salvador, described his response to the training in January of this year: "At times, the whole experience was quite disturbing, not just because of the physical violence that we talked about and role-played, but because it pushed me to really examine and to reexamine my views in many areas."

Even for the trainers, it can be a deep learning process. The trainers use real experiences from PBI teams to create the roleplays. For me, the chance to play the team member who doesn't understand, the military interrogator, the nosy reporter, the unionist whose life is at risk, is a way to further understand my own experiences in Guatemala in 1989.

There is a lot of new information provided at a PBI training in a week. The ten point quiz: Recap the political history of three countries and the acronyms for all opposition groups in twenty minutes or less.) But the trainings are a vital part of the dialogue between new volunteers and the organization. PBI actively looks for candidates with some background in nonviolence, with tested commitment to social change, and with some knowledge of the regions where we work, so that the dialogue can be that much richer.

Some people who come to a PBI training decide that they don't want to continue on to work on a PBI team, despite the obvious appeal of accompanying Guatemalan refugees, mostly Mayan Indians, on their return home after 11 years of exile. Some people decline the opportunity to assist the peace process in El Salvador, where a negotiated revolution is keeping the entire hemisphere watching. There the PBI team is offering peace education workshops to strengthen the cooperative and communicative abilities of nonviolent organizations. Some people decide that the tumult of Sri Lanka is not their cup of tea, despite the moving stories of PBI experiences alongside the Mothers of the Disappeared. And still, they find the PBI training experience useful to them for providing insight into their role as "First World" people, or for examining their role in a group through a new lens.

The training will be held at the beautiful Kimbercote Farm on Georgian Bay, near Collingwood, Ontario from Saturday, June 20, to Friday, June 26, 1992. It will provide the same information and the chance to ask PBI returned volunteers as many questions as you can fit into a week.

Special emphasis in this training will be given to cultural awareness, analytical methods, and group skills for cooperation and decision making. The team of trainers will include PBI trainers from Europe, New Zealand, Canada, and the U.S., most of them former volunteers on one of PBI's three teams. We do try to earn the International in our name.

Registration deadline is May 20, 1992. Training for potential PBI volunteers begins Saturday, June 20 and continues through to Friday morning, June 26, but those interested can attend just the weekend orientation, which includes discussion, audiovisuals, and roleplays. The training will be in Spanish for the Central America project, in English for the Sri Lanka project. Costs are:

Orientation only: $60.00. Deposit:$25.00. Whole Training: $180.00 Deposit: $50.00

For more information please contact the PBI-Toronto office, 192 Spadina Ave. #304 Toronto, Ontario M5T 2C2 Phone (416) 594-0429 Fax (416) 594-0430

Janet Skinner is the PBI Trainings Coordinator for North America, based in San Francisco. Janet worked on the PBJ Guatemala team in 1989.

Peace Magazine May-Jun 1992

Peace Magazine May-Jun 1992, page 5. Some rights reserved.

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