Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sakartvelo 2011 - last day

It's a gray, chilly day here in Tbilisi; drizzling off and on.  Our time here in Sakartvello has been full of many joys, times of intense discussion and learning, and definitely blessings. 

Our time doing AVP workshops, working with facilitators here as well as during the youth forum fills my heart with joy and hope for the future.  There is still a huge amount of work to be done; particularly, new facilitators to be trained so that there will be enough who can dedicate time during the week when the younger facilitators are either at their jobs or at University.

I had been looking at meeting with representatives at the US Embassy as simply a courtesy call but was pleasantly surprised to find their willingness to connect us to NGO partners and to be available to us as we move AVP forward.

Our meeting with other Georgian officials were warm and cordial but it's apparant that it will take a great deal more work to show them that AVP is important to add to their offerings.  My personal feeling is that until there are more AVP facilitators to do the work, a delay may be well. 

We continue to search for funding to translate the balance of the AVP basic manual and the remaining three manuals into Georgian.

My Elder and co-facilitator on this trip has shown an amazing capacity for language!  She has learned the Georgian alphabet and frequently sounds out words on various signs along the way.  Because Georgian is written  purely by sound, she is also able to write some words.  I am now challenged to step up my own work - beyond the many words that I have learned to at least semi-fluent level before our return.  Having Turtle traveling with me is definitely one of the blessings of this trip.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Near the Diplomat Hotel in Tbilisi, Site of the Youth Forum
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Sakartvelo – Sunday, October 23, 2011

Today was the last day of the Youth Forum.  On Wednesday, we were present at the forum but did not have an active facilitating role.  Yesterday we did one exercise in the morning and today, was the final day.  When we agreed to be part of this gathering I had some concerns around the focus because of its subtitle “Intercultural and Inter-Religious Dialogue as a Tool for Combating Hate Speech and Hate Accidents (we learned this was meant to be “Incidents”) in Europe”.  As we moved into the work it was clear to Turtle and me that part of our role at the forum was to open way for questions about using a term such as “Hate Speech” and what happens when we create “the other”.  In the closing today there was talk of needing to find a term that came from a positive place – looking at, and talking about using our positive energy to combat that which is negative; acknowledging that negative energy cannot overcome negative energy.  There were times when I almost heard Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words in the room.  It felt good to know that our presence was part of what moved this conversation forward.

In our time at the Forum, we built a warm and wonderful relationship with Natia Giorgidze, the primary facilitator of the Youth Forum who, it turned out was a former AVP facilitator and friend of Maia’s with whom she had lost contact.  They swore that they would not loose track of one another again!

It appears that what is left of our time in Sakartvelo will be a bit quieter than we’d expected.  Tomorrow morning we will go to Maia’s daughter, Natulie’s home so that Maia will have access to a piano and be able to teach us a Georgian song.  From there we’ll travel on for a meeting at the US Embassy at 2:00.  The following day we’ll do a training workshop for AVP facilitators.  Wednesday we’re promised a day of sightseeing.  I’m really looking forward to being out in this beautiful country.  I suspect that we may go to places that I’ve seen before like the first capital, Mtskheta.  It feels like I just can’t get enough!  On the other hand, my bed, and Max the cat, are beginning to call to me.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sakartvelo - First day at the Youth Forum

Today was the first day of the Youth Forum.  The day was devoted to using AVP exercises to bring people into community; to understand violence as a means of beginning to understand how to work toward non-violence; and to practice using the skills that we'd built during the day.  Maia and Turtle and I worked together to facilitate the day.  Feed back at the end of the day was quite positive with the great majority sharing that they had moved past a place of national identity to a place of seeing one another as human beings and friends.  Many of the participants are from countries where they are traditionally at odds with one another so this was wonderful feedback to receive.

Tomorrow we will return to the conference as participants for the day - being available to talk and share our experiences.  The following day we will do an exercise called "Building a New Society" in the morning and our part will be complete.  The coordinators of this conference are very young, predominantly women who have done a fantastic job of bringing together, in 25 participants, an incredibly diverse group and a program that leads them to, and through the problems of hate speech, hate actions, and discrimination.  I am very impressed!

Both Turtle and I are working to keep colds at bay so earlier nights than we have had are welcome! 

Next week, our last here, is beginning to fill up with a visit to the American Embassy to talk about AVP and to attempt to elicit their support, will take place on Monday afternoon, and a meeting with facilitators to work on their skills will happen on Wednesday evening.  Still to be scheduled a meeting with the Abkhazian High Council in Exile and a full day mini-workshop for the South Ossetians.  It seems we will be busy until the very end!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sakartvelo: October 19, 2011

The last two days have been a whirlwind of activity.  We began Monday  with a meeting with Elguja Gvazava, Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia (now in exile),  and another member of the Supreme Council to speak about AVP.  Both men seemed quite enthusiastic and asked if we would meet with the full Supreme Council which we will do next week.  I was presented with a book about Abkhazian artists which Elguja Gvazava inscribed for me.

Next we met with Dmitri Sanakoev, President in exile of South Ossetia.  I had met with him on my first visit to Sakartvelo in 2009.  He remembered our visit and our discussion about the Alternatives to Violence Project and asked if we would be able to do a workshop for Ossetians during this visit.  We decided to do a full day mini-workshop during our last week here.

Our hosts treated us to dinner out - Kinghali,  some filled with meat and others filled with cheese; Megrulian Katchapuri, baked mushrooms, Shishkabob (a fire roasted meat with salt and herbs), and Georgia's own Kesbegi Beer.  Then, back to the flat to collapse into bed.

We rose early yesterday morning (Tuesday) to prepare for our meeting with Alexandra Kalatozishvili, Director of Youth Union or Public Movement Multinational Georgia, one of her coleagues and Natia Giorgidze, a Board Member and Trainer for the Non-Formal Education Youth Center.  We were surprised and delighted to find that Natia had been an AVP facilitator and so was familiar and very supportive of our work.  We reviewed time slots and scheduling and were clear that it would not be possible to actually do a full workshop and so, on the first day we will do a series of exercises and light and livelies including an introduction of ourselves and AVP and the transforming power talk.  We will then have a day when we do not present  and the third day of the Youth Forum we will do one more exercise "Building a New Society".  The Youth Forum runs for four days total and we have been asked to attend all four days - The full (very long) title of this conference is "We Do Not Have Time for Silence: Inter-Cultural and Inter-Religious Dialogue as a Tool for Combating Hate Speech and Hate Accidents in Europe".  The organizers have limited the number of participants to 25.  Those 25 will come from Ukraine, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, the UK, Russia, Italy, Romania, Hungary, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Georgia.

Today we asked out hosts to please not schedule meetings for us.  Instead we took the day to rest and to prepare for the Youth Forum.  I worked on the schedule and timing and Turtle created the Mandala in English.  It's been decided that I will do the cooking when we eat in the flat, so I prepared a local winter squash stuffed with rice, onion, cheese, and dill, cooked in a mushroom broth and spinach sauted with garlic and butter.  We have been invited out to dinner again tonight but won't leave until 8:30PM or so.

I find myself wondering about how AVP Georgia will survive without more support than my yearly to 18 month apart visits.  Many, many more facilitators need to be trained here and Georgian facilitators need to reach the point where they feel competent to do that training.  They need translations of the full manuals (they now only have part of the basic manual).  They need to experience and be able to lead advanced workshops. 

Before I came to Georgia this year I had begun questioning if this year would be my last, or perhaps next year.  I have health concerns and I know that the lack of sleep and the fast pace while I am here create physical stresses for me.

Each morning for 45 minutes to an hour, Turtle and I spend time in silent worship.  As I sat in prayer yesterday morning asking for guidance it came to me that I am one person: a person who for years, in prayer, has said to God "All that I am and all that I have you have given to me.  I give it all back to you to dispose of according to your good will......."  I realized that I have dedicated what remains of my life to the work of peace making as I believe God has called me to do.  How then can I say no to the work that I am given?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

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Theotokos is a word that has lived in some remote area of my mind for quite some time.  Long enough that I had forgotten it and it’s meaning until a Friend reminded me.  Theotokos: God-carrier.  I was further reminded me that this term applies to all humanity.  As Quakers this is part of our core belief – that there is that of God within each of us.  We say this easily; almost matter of factly without stopping to grasp the immense magnitude of what we are saying.

We are God-carriers.  What incredible trust the Divine has to allow we humans to carry even a bit of the precious Light within, knowing that some will not value that fact, some will not acknowledge it, some will simply not care, and some will do their best to extinguish it.  Yet, God is infinite in ways far beyond our understanding – infinitely wise, infinitely loving, all knowing but even these descriptions cannot describe that which beyond human ken: unknowable, unnamable, indescribable. 

There are tears in my eyes as I write – tears of wonderment, of joy, of humility, of unworthiness, of thanksgiving, of gratitude.  What could be more amazing?

Sakartvelo: AVP Graduation

Today we graduated our first AVP workshop of this year’s stay in Sakartvelo. There were 15 participants in all – I think more men then women.  The group was made up of college students and young professionals: a very bright and challenging group.  It’s often difficult to get people who are curious to learn, and possibly replicate exercises to become fully invested as participants.  We were pleased that by our graduation today almost all of the participants had become full vested as participants and opened to the message of transforming power within each of us.  They had come to understood that they had actually tapped into their own skills to solve problems non-violently.  Many had come looking for a way to help others find a way to non-violent behavior without considering the violence in there own lives.

My personal leading to work for Peace is to help bring others to the understanding that the road to world Peace begins within each individual and radiates outward to our families, communities, countries, etc.  I believe that before we can speak with integrity to others about making peace, we must begin to walk that path ourselves.

Minorities of Georgia AVP Workshop Graduation

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Friday, October 14, 2011

A good and faithful servant.........

I am in Sakartvelo with Friend Turtle MacDermott who is serving as my Elder and is also an AVP facilitator helping with workshops here.  Today was the first day of our first AVP workshop.  The workshop is comprised of young professional men and women from Georgian minorities - a challenging group who would like nothing better than to analyzse each phase of the AVP process.  I implored them to wait until our third day since each step builds upon the next.  So far so good........

I am always grateful for the gifts of an AVP workshop.  For those times when I get to reach deep within for experiences that may have brought me joy, or pain, or happiness:  To understand my own failings and how the cycle of violence effects my life and those that I love.  Yes, there is a certain selfishness that keeps my doing the work but it is also a huge gift to help others open to their own understanding and journey.

I once had someone tell me that what I call my journey to God is really that at all:  That it's really just working to try to understand myself.  What I've come to realize is that listening to and learning from and about that which is indwelling is one in the same with learning about God, for God is to be found in all times and in all places - including in us unworthy human beings.  And so, my journey to God is an inward journey - a path through my fears, beyond my hopes and dreams to a place where the Light of God's Love Lights my way and informs the path upon which my feet walk.  In those times when I listen well I there is the clear sense of God walking beside me on the path, and for that moment, I am the good and faithful servant filled with a Joy that passes human understanding.  In those moments, I know why I would give all to do God's bidding.

Thursday in Sakartvelo

It's Thursday in Sakartvelo.  It feels like home to be here connecting with so many friends made over the previous two trips.  Catching up with the joys and sorrows of each friends lives.  Over the last two nights we've been treated to dinner out - Kinghali and Megrulian Kachapuri and Lobio with corn bread with Georgian wine and Borjomi water.  My minimal Georgian language skills are rejuvenating.  Life is good!

Last night we began preparation for our first Alternatives to Violence workshop with a team building and planning session.  This morning we begin the workshop with members of an organization of minorities in Georgia.  We are told that there will be 17 or 18 participants and our team is made up of five facilitators and one helper.  Time is short so I'll say good bye for now and hope to add some reflections later.  AVP workshops draw me deeper into reflections of who I am and draw me deeper, further into relationships with God and mankind.  There is always much to learn.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Children of the Light

I am filled to overflowing with the grief: overwhelmed with a deep and incredible pain - struggling to find the words to express it. I am not grieving for any individual in particular but for many who call themselves Children of the Light; members of the Religious Society of Friends.

There is a Spirit that can so fill us; so enrich our lives and bring us incredible Joy. I yearn for everyone to know that Spirit. For most of us it does not happen without both yearning and an openness - without faith. Without the understanding that we must be willing to give of ourselves - to commit ourselves to walk in the Light. Receiving also means being willing to give of ourselves.

I know all of this sounds very vague - "What on earth is she talking about?" I'm talking about the core of our faith that so many Friends seem to have somehow lost sight of - lost faith in. I'm talking about "divine unmediated revelation" (Rufus Jones). That belief that God can and will speak directly to us and through us. That when we are able to say "Yes!", to give over our will to God/Spirit/All/That which is Unknowable/The Divine, than we become God's eyes, ears, hands, and voice in the world. Our will is given over to God's Will. How utterly amazing! How completely joy filled! I have had this experience. I say this not because it makes me any more but so that everyone knows that they too can have this experience. There have been occasions in my life when I have said "yes" to God's clear voice. I believe it is what we are all called to. I will not say it has always been easy but for each time I say "yes" it gets easier the next time. I now know that God will walk with me guiding me every step of the way and that there is nothing on earth to compare with the Joy and the Peace which passes all understanding that I experience. So how can I not grieve when I know what so many are missing?

Many of today's Children of the Light have yet to experience this Joy. Indeed they do not accept that it is possible - for them, I weep.