PROJECT PLANET PEACE

Project Planet Peace is a series of workshops we offer to school communities that encourages participants to explore inter-personal relationships, create bonds among themselves and accept one another. Project Planet Peace focuses on providing workshops that will help participants model a better way of walking in the world, of providing leadership in tension-filled situations, and inspiration to others who want to find the path of non-violence. These workshops are participatory and transformative educational experiences. Groups are self-selected, and participation in any activity is voluntary, empowering participants in all of our workshops. We host from 12 to 20 participants in the three and four day workshops. We like to host our workshops outside of the school environment, to encourage community-building. We have offered these workshops to youth and adults aged 10 years and up; for younger children we have developed a series of ˝ day workshops on specific themes.

Project Planet Peace I is the first in this series of workshops. Some activities have the goal of improving communication and cooperation, and through the course of the three or four day workshop, participants will have the opportunity to practice resolving simple conflicts.

Project Planet Peace II workshops follow the same format as PPPI workshops, and are offered to people who have completed PPPI and wish to explore in greater depth the Planet Peace experience. A major component of PPPII workshops are an in-depth exploration of how groups make decisions, democratic processes and an introduction to consensus-based decision-making.

Project Planet Peace III is a workshop designed for people who have completed the first two workshops in the series and who wish to further their involvement through facilitation. PPPIII is a hands-on workshop where participants form teams, plan and facilitate a PPPI session and some key elements of PPP such as a Creative Power presentation and role plays. An apprenticeship period is required before one becomes a full-fledged facilitator.

PROJECT PLANET PEACE EVALUATION

Project Context and Objectives.

Deep Humanity Institute’s Project Planet Peace (PPP) is one of several provincial “violence prevention” initiatives designed to respond to conflicts, bullying, and violence in schools and communities. Organizations that have developed prevention programs vary in the degree to which they introduce themes that engage with the root social issues of conflict, and also vary in the learning models employed.

While most prevention programs focus on violence and crime itself and instruct teachers and students to appeal to existing authority structures, PPP asks teachers and students to investigate the deeper issues that underpin social relationships through experiential interactions. The program implicitly acknowledges that the public school system and its larger social context is controlled by vested interests and powers that employ educational models to reinforce their positions of dominance. It is my view that systemic repression is at least partially responsible for producing frustrated, resentful, fearful, and despairing individuals that reproduce a cycle of violence in their communities. The ultimate goal of Project Planet Peace is to equip students and teachers with critical thinking tools and participatory techniques to help them transform structures and relationships toward a more democratic, safe, and just school and community environment.

Project Values and Philosophy.

The format of PPP workshops offers participants an empowering learning opportunity by means of “experiences designed to stimulate questioning, discussion and change” using “affirmation, deep dialogue, and conflict transformation”. Project Planet Peace is based on the philosophy of the Alternatives to Violence Project:

One of the major purposes of any AVP workshop is to empower the participants, and to teach them to share power in community for the benefit of all…All people need, for survival, a measure of power over their own lives and over their environment. It is also true that all people have a certain amount of power within them, which can be repressed and alienated but cannot really be destroyed. If people are deprived of the legitimate use of their necessary power, they will use what power they have destructively, and with violence. It is therefore the business of every AVP workshop to affirm the existence and legitimacy of personal power and to give participants the experience of shared power exercised cooperatively, responsibly, and well. (Flanders et al, 1986)

Project Planet Peace offers three sessions to students. Project Planet Peace I explores such topics as affirming self and others, community building, communication skills, exploring the nature of violence, conflict and transformation, conflict resolution, identity and choices, and imagining a better school/class. Project Planet Peace II is designed for students who have attended PPP I. It builds on the first session by exploring group decision-making skills and allows participants to choose the focus for the workshop. Possible themes include bullying, power and control, authority, conflict transformation, victims and victimization, anger, racism, fear, and forgiveness.

These topics are simple and yet subversive. They closely and consciously follow famed Brazilian educator Paulo Friere’s techniques of education for liberation, going beyond discussions of “victims”, “offenders”, “criminals” and “crime” to explore personal exploitation of power and feelings of powerlessness. These topics also encourage participants to examine power relationships in society. DHI’s educational techniques mirror Friere’s conscientization—“the process in which [people], not as recipients, but as knowing subjects achieve a deepening awareness both of the sociocultural reality which shapes their lives, and of their capacity to transform that reality through action upon it” (Freire cited in Elias 1994, 123).

Learning Model.

Project Planet Peace workshops take place within a democratic framework. The agenda of the three-day workshop is characterized by a fluid movement from participants’ own experiences to an analysis of these experiences, and finally encourages collective and personal action to change oppressive structures—external and internal to the self. Facilitators invite participants to create a circle of sharing, in which everyone is encouraged to learn and to teach by sharing their personal experiences, frustrations, doubts, and disagreement. This level of sharing takes courage from the facilitators and the students. As DHI co-founder Meredith Egan says, “If you open up a safe space, you’d better be prepared to listen—and listen in a way that is helpful for the student.” It was my experience that over the three day workshops, many students were able to share both positive and painful experiences in an atmosphere of acceptance.

Each day of the workshop brings participants and facilitators into a relationship of mutual learning in a spiraling process of increased trust and cooperation. The first exercise involves the participatory creation of an agreement or contract of respectful and productive behavior for the duration of the workshop, including what should happen if someone breaks the agreement. In my experience, this is a useful tool for gently reminding participants that they were not abiding by the agreement—an agreement they had contributed to creating. The model of gathering in a circle and sharing stories from personal experience grounds the process in equality and sharing, and creates a space where participants can explore their feelings after each activity. The activities are designed to be fun—and may be frustrating—since they emphasize cooperation, sharing, and group decision-making skills. “Brain boosters”—cooperation games—are used to liven the pace and get participants moving. Through group activities such as building participatory creations using puzzles and construction toys in silence, and solving sentence puzzles about feeling-based “I statements”, participants learn the value of risking immediate personal gain for a collective solution. Creative work with glitter, paper, words and pictures invites participants to affirm their identities. Participants learn about the Creative Power Circle, a specific way of thinking about a nonviolent relationship between the self and community.

By encouraging choice, free thinking, and creating opportunities for practical experience of the benefits of collective over isolated action, Project Planet Peace affirms the power of each individual to respect him or herself and care for his or her community. While co-facilitating a Project Planet Peace I workshop, I personally observed how important an extended period of time together was to allow participants to cooperate, conflict, and confront real issues, real questions and doubts, and to realize genuine trust and pleasure in community. Given an environment where participants are not punished for acting out or being different—some perhaps for the first time—some students pushed and tested boundaries for the first day. When they realized that acceptance and a fair hearing that questioned their underlying reasons for misbehavior would not be withdrawn for any reason, the students settled in to serious learning and cooperation for the remainder of the workshop. Other students took time adapting to a different learning model that asked for creative thinking rather than rote memorization. One of the most visible indicators of the effectiveness of the project was the increased depth of relationship among participants at the close of a workshop.

Finally, the experience in education and justice and personal integrity which Marc Forget and Meredith Egan bring to the classroom and to their educational partnership speaks loudly to the success of their approach in bringing conflict to light and dealing with it nonviolently. Each recognizes his or her own skills and celebrates the skills of the other. Together, they plan creatively through dialogue, and give each other feedback with respect and tenderness. They included me as a facilitator in a Planet Project Peace project with respect and openness, and gave me the opportunity to contribute freely. Finally, both are passionate and committed to what they do. They recognize that it is hard work to engage honestly with issues of power, to feel the fear of change, but what exultation to embrace the stirrings of freedom, integrity, and creative power from deep within the heart!

Project Evaluation.

Finally, Deep Humanity Institute (DHI) is committed to engaging community support in reflecting on and evaluating its own process. DHI makes its principles and process transparent and transferable to those who choose to become involved. Informal evaluation is built into the learning structure, to ensure that learning objectives arise organically from the participants’ needs and interests. Facilitators seek to understand through circle dialogue how the participants respond to the learning activities. The program is also formally evaluated by the students, the facilitators, and Simon Fraser University’s Criminology Department. The student component of the evaluation consists of a 3 page questionnaire given to students before the workshop begins, with a follow up questionnaire administered in class several months following the workshop to see how resilient the concepts have been over time.

Sustainability of concepts and processes of conflict resolution are important goals of Deep Humanity Institute. DHI hopes to see parents and teachers assume the long-term responsibility for Project Planet Peace so that workshops may continue independently within the School District. To this end, school staff (teachers, counselors, and playground monitors) and community members are invited to join the workshops on a voluntary basis. As well, DHI has built into the program 3-day training workshops for facilitators, single day workshops for educators on restorative justice in schools during professional development days, and consultation with parents through school and district Parent Advisory Councils. Training in peacemaking/conferencing approaches to conflict resolution and ‘corridor conferencing’ techniques for playground monitors are also aspects of the program. Meredith Egan describes herself as a farmer, sowing seeds of a different way of doing things, expecting that personal and social change takes time.

The sustainability/resilience focus of DHI resonates with Paulo Freire’s views on social equality and true generosity. He writes, “true generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the ‘rejects of life’, to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands—whether of individuals or entire peoples—need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work, and, working, transform the world” (2001, 45). Satisfying relationships and deep peace are built on the foundations of true equality, meaningful communication, and productive cooperation.

Respectfully submitted by:

Barb Everdene,

University British Columbia, MA Student (Community and Regional Planning) (as written for a graduate course)

PARTICIPANTS’ COMMENTS FROM PROJECT PLANET PEACE AND BECOMING CIRCLEKEEPERS

At the end of every workshop we ask participants to fill out a small index card. On one side we ask that they write what they would tell a friend about the workshop, and on the other side we ask for their comments to the facilitators. We tell the participants that they may fill these cards anonymously, but that if they wish to they can also identify themselves. Inevitably many comments are very similar; we’ve compiled some comments here that represent a cross section of all those we’ve received over the past few years facilitating Project Planet Peace and Becoming CircleKeepers workshops.

What I would tell the facilitators:

What I would tell a friend about the workshop:
  • That this place is kool if you get into it, and you really wanna’ do this and participate. This is what makes it fun.
  • It makes you more aware of the people you live with. It makes you more aware of who you are and what’s really important to you. Conflict prevention and resolution.
  • That they should try out this workshop and it’s really fun so they should join it.
  • The workshop was a great learning experience and I would recommend it to anyone that wants to learn something new.
  • That it is an all right workshop. It is fun.
  • Come and learn more about who you are and learn how much you share with people – even ones you think you have little in common with.
  • I will definitely recommend this workshop to friends. It was a lot of fun.
  • I am going to tell my friends that the PPP (Project Planet Peace) is an awesome experience and they will love it.
  • It helps one to learn how to communicate better and peacefully. To slow down and be self-aware.
  • I would definitely recommend this workshop to a friend. It was fun and a great learning experience.
  • I would tell my friends that it is worth the time and the things you can learn you can use through life.
  • Insightful. Provides reminders that we are in control of self. Take responsibility. Refreshing in that it is positive.
  • If you are concerned about what’s happening in the world and want to do something about it then you would enjoy Planet Peace.
  • Planet Peace is a workshop that has games, conversations and activities that make you aware of life, yourself, and your community.
  • That I learned a lot in this workshop about how to solve problems without violence.
  • I would tell a friend that Project Planet Peace is a wonderful way to learn about peace and solving conflicts in a harmless way.
  • That it was fun so you should try it some time, because it has activities and stuff to talk about.
A number of high school students in Mission took part in all three levels of Project Planet Peace (and a few of these also trained as CircleKeepers). We asked these students what they would tell school personnel (teachers, principal, superintendent, etc.) about their experience of the project.
  • That everyone should do this workshop. It really helped me.
  • I believe that this is the best learning experience that has been offered to students. I think it is a great way to improve the school environment and teachers should also be involved.
  • The school trustees, and administrators should take this workshop. They would come to understand us better.
  • I had an awesome time. It helps you learn a lot about others and yourself to work around problems.
  • I enjoyed this program. It helped me to understand people and why they act like they do. It will definitely benefit me in the future.
  • You should advertise this more at school; it is cool! The same group of students also gave us, the facilitators, this feedback:
    • Very interesting. Fun games. Relates well to my recovery. Interesting to see the class from a normal person’s point of view. Good bonding in the class. I would do it again in a second. Getting in touch with my inner child. Fun getting to know everybody. Good job!
    • I learned about peace! About how the world would be a better place if everyone tried to be a valuable person for society.
    • This workshop I enjoyed very much. There actually aren’t really any suggestions that I can make except that just like this group it was better if there aren’t too many people because then you get to know each person better.
    • Great learning experience. Found out much about myself. Learned about others’ feelings and ideas. Positive ways to solve conflicts which can really help me in my life today. Had so much fun being playful, comfortable and real with the group. Gained new problem-solving tools. Understand more on communication. How to be a more positive, outgoing person. This was a good challenge, something I want to continue. Anybody of any age can participate.



    |Project Planet Peace|Becoming Peacemakers|Rethinking School|


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