Immediately following the Council training workshop that Center for Council’s Director Jared Seide led for the NGO Dejusticia in August of 2017, Dejusticia staff traveled to southwest Colombia to hold a conference with human rights activists from around the world. Council practices and perspectives were incorporated into the conference, as Dejusticia’s Executive Director César Rodríguez Garavito shared in the email he sent to Center for Council, excerpted below.
We’re still recovering from the exhilarating workshop with 19 human rights activists from around the world last week. One of the first things I wanted to do post-workshop was to thank you kindly on behalf of the Dejusticia team and the community of fellow activists that was established last week, thanks in no small part to your teachings and generosity during the Council training.
As you both suggested, we went ahead and used Council in several of our end-of-the-day sessions, and it turned out to be a transformative experience, both for Dejusticia as a collective and for participants individually. Council provided the personal connection and ties of solidarity that we suspected the workshop could provide but hadn’t found a way to nourish. Several participants said that the Council component was their favorite part of the workshop, and we all were touched by how much we learned from and about each other in those sessions.
For the Dejusticia team, this was a very positive and encouraging first experience with Council facilitation, and we all left immensely encouraged to improve our facilitation skills as we plan for future trainings and events. So, we’ll definitely be picking up on your generous offer to talk with us about the lessons and the challenges that the workshop offered.
For now, as a small way to express our huge thanks, I wanted to share with you the group picture we took in Cali (Southwest Colombia). This was a couple days after our first Council session, and one day before our second one in Bogota. We opened the last day of the workshop with a final Council, also in Bogota. Most of the people in the group are young activists dealing with serious threats to their human rights work in countries ranging from Egypt to India, from Venezuela to Russia, from Kenya to Bosnia. The empty chair on the left is in memory of one of the instructors from Turkey, who could not make it because he was imprisoned last week for expressing criticism of the Erdogan government.
I very much look forward to having a chance to continue to learn from you both.
Center for Council Director Jared Seide recently traveled to Bogota, Colombia, to consult with and lead a Council training workshop for the human rights organization Dejusticia. Below is a reflection on his experience there, and the tremendous importance and applicability of Council in today's world.
Two days before our Bogotá Council Training began, FARC guerillas handed in their remaining guns. The historic Colombian peace accord, agreed to in the Fall of 2016, stipulated that all arms be surrendered between June and August of 2017. And while the peace process has been hailed as a success, some signs of trouble have appeared. In a referendum intended to demonstrate public support for the negotiated agreement, the vote was very close – with “NO” votes garnering slightly higher number than “YES” votes. Underlying this ambivalence were some profound cultural issues that may prove a real hindrance to a lasting reconciliation and peace. As coalitions mobilized to advocate for a political solution, issues of religion, economics, gender, as well as forgiveness and justice, were activated and in some ways played out just under the surface of the public relations campaign around the referendum. Cultural issues touching on “traditional values,” economic disparity, environmental degradation, and political corruption seem to have corollaries to the American political landscape.
Dejusticia is an organization based in Bogotá working at the intersection of justice, academia and community, devoted to research, legislative advocacy, and human rights. The organization plays an important role in the design, promotion and implementation of laws and policies that will shape Colombia’s future. Their scholarly publications, journalistic editorials, legislative work and community engagement has been focused on creating a more equitable, humane and harmonious civil society, and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples and the environment. While the legislative process surrounding the end of hostilities between the government and the so-called “rebels” has been successful, ostensibly, true reconciliation and unity remains elusive. Questions linger around the effectiveness of the justice process and whether the sentences for those found guilty of lawlessness and violence will be widely accepted. What happens next? Are communities ready to make peace, to forgive the deeds and transgressions of the past, once justice has been meted out? Are individuals ready to see one another as compatriots, to trust and rebuild communities that move beyond the antagonisms and resentments embedded in years of violent conflict?
The staff of Dejusticia is dynamic and eager; their intelligence, passion and commitment clearly evident. We found them to be candid, articulate and compassionate; the warm camaraderie between them was infectious. And the stress of working with deep and painful issues of violence, exploitation, resentment and extreme economic disparity is apparent. Staff we encountered seemed to have a profound commitment to justice and to advocating for those whose voices have been silenced. They seemed both energized and enervated by the urgency and complexity of the issues they are confronting. And they are navigating the personal impact of the trauma they are encountering and the effect that has on their health and wellbeing.
The recent introduction of staff “wellness support” (yoga, meditation, dance classes) was the idea of Dejusticia’s Director, César Rodriguez Garavito. César first encountered the practice of Council at a “Bearing Witness Retreat” to Auschwitz and he had the thought to explore how this practice might be of benefit to his staff and their self-care, and perhaps increase their engagement with each other and the diverse stakeholders they serve. César asked Center for Council to offer a workshop to core staff, in Bogotá, just prior to Dejusticia hosting an international conference of human rights workers.
Our Council training workshop began in a format this academically-inclined group was accustomed to: rows of chairs were arranged facing the front of the room. The trainers commanded the attention while participants sank into their chairs, ready to receive some value. Their expectations of us were high, but their sense of engagement, with the material and each other, was clearly on hold. After a few minutes of this, we asked them to “press pause” and reflect on this dynamic and the challenges it presents to true engagement. We then shifted the configuration to a circle, and offered a center; there was a palpable shift in energy, as if a new circuit was turned on, a new possibility emerging.
Participants remarked that it felt like something unique and interesting was happening, one observed that she sensed “magic” in the circle, another asked if we were all going to cry. As Council was introduced and invited, participants dropped quickly into the practice and shared elements of their personal narratives and aspects of themselves rarely seen at work. Many remarked on how exciting it was to find out things about colleagues they’d worked with for a long time and had never really known. All were grateful for the opportunity to open more of themselves in this “container.”
As Day Two of the training commenced, César admitted he’d had some trepidation about introducing Council to his staff. While he had a strong sense of the power and the value of the practice, he was unsure that the organizational culture at Dejusticia would be conducive to the vulnerability and open-hearted communication that Council invites. He was pleasantly surprised, he said, by how enthusiastically his staff embraced the work and how quickly they understood its value to staff-culture, as well as to the work they do. They began to riff on how Council might be used internally at Dejusticia, how to introduce it to staff that had not been able to attend the workshop, and how it might be incorporated into their upcoming human rights conference.
Conversations also emerged around the inflection points in the peace process that were in great need of spaces for real human connection and sharing. In particular, their work with judges and legislators – who seldom have the opportunity to reflect on the impact of the work they do on themselves and others – and the communities struggling to implement reconciliation at the grass-roots level – where sensitive conversations and having important stories told and heard seems a critical step in rebuilding effective and lasting relationships and a solid sense of community.
Post-training, we were grateful for some time to reflect with our hosts on what had been accomplished and what our time together exploring the practice of Council might support, moving forward. Issues of fear, distrust, resentment and inequality are undeniable, alongside real optimism at the prospect of stepping into a fruitful and cooperative chapter in the life of a country that has known much discord and strife, a history of colonialization, oppression and exploitation of natural resources.
The smart, eager, passionate staff of Dejusticia are an indication of tremendous potential and commitment. Their recognition and embrace of the importance of self-care, and the integration of their compassionate hearts, as well as their impressive minds, bodes well. Gandhi’s words resonated as we ended the workshop: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.” May the practice of Council provide nourishment and resources to these dynamic agents of change, both in their personal lives and the critical work they are doing to promote social justice and human rights in Colombia and the Global South.
Center for Council Director Jared Seide recently traveled to Auschwitz to coordinate daily Council circles at the annual Bearing Witness Retreat in partnership with Zen Peacemakers.
Read a detailed description of this incredible, invaluable, and powerful work.
Center for Council Director Jared Seide with Bernie Glassman
and Ann Murray, in Krakow, Poland en route to Auschwitz.
Center for Council, in partnership with Zen Peacemakers, offered a Council training workshop in Sarajevo for a group of Croat, Serb and Bosniak peacemakers, organized by two dynamic Imams.
Three participants in last year’s Zen Peacemakers Bearing Witness Retreat to Auschwitz had come from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). They arrived in Poland with some trepidation about just what the plunge would be like. They left shaken and pretty raw. When Jozo and I met them this month in Sarajevo, they were eager and energized. “I’ve missed you guys so much,” Boris said, “and, seeing you here, I’m starting to realize what the trip to Auschwitz was really about and why I’ve been feeling so unsettled these past months.”
Turning toward suffering can take many forms. As a practice, it can seem counterintuitive and, to be wholesome, it demands skillful means, deep fortitude and compassion. The suffering of the Bosnian people is deep and profound and the events of twenty years ago are still tender and uncomfortable. Even now, excruciating memories are triggered by certain sites, uncorked stories, even turns of phrase. Despite the notorious “Bosnian humor,” an off-color and surprising proclivity for diffusing tension with dark jokes, there seems to be a longing for a real encounter with our common experience of suffering. So much there has gone unaddressed, unrestored, unmet… and a deep and embodied experience of coming together to grieve, release, celebrate feels emergent.
Or so we imagined, as we designed a 4-day Council Training with an assortment of peaceworkers engaged in the complex and challenging work of rebuilding. The Zen Peacemakers Order is deeply committed to building relationships and bearing witness in BiH. Last year, the ZP team visited BiH with Vahidin Omanovic and Mevludin Rahmanovic, two Imams who have created the Center for Peacebuilding (CIM), based in Saski Most, BiH. Their inspiring work is devoted to fostering reconciliation between Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. As their website states: “The legacy of violence, particularly the heavy toll it took on civilians, informs the present climate of distrust. Bosnia’s social fabric which, previously embraced diversity and multiculturalism, must be rebuilt by individuals and their respective communities. CIM’s mission is to empower people to work through their trauma and transform the society’s conflict.”
The Zen Peacemakers administration decided to postpone the Bearing Witness retreat there to 2017, and to focus on deepening relationships and building capacity. One offering was to help CIM train a cohort of its members in the practice of council. The thought was that council could be a useful tool for CIM’s work throughout the region, as well as a way to equip a local team to co-lead council circles throughout the Bearing Witness Retreat next year. Both Mevludin and Vahidin had experienced council in Auschwitz but, like Boris, they were curious about its relevance and applicability to a culture that had created, and was recovering from, historic unrest.
As with Rwanda, I was moved and honored to accept the charge of dropping into the field and introducing the practice, in partnership with a group of folks who had lived through genocide and were committed to healing their country and its diverse communities. As with Rwanda, I set forth with a strong intention to share this practice of council, tempered by awareness of my profound ignorance of the culture, conditions, relationships and language. I was blessed with an extraordinary partner in Jozo Novak, who has been studying council for several years and had grown up in the region, immersed in the culture and speaking the language. Jozo has navigated a profound relationship with BiH and has looked deeply at the impact it has had on him and his peers. His ability to translate, both the language and the culture, was invaluable.
And so it was our intention to enter humbly and listen deeply and to invite our friends there to try on the practice of council and experience how it might engage them, and they it. I began the workshop with a bit of a gimmick, admittedly – partially to diffuse some of the tension of expectations and the onus of being an “outside expert.” Before the group arrived, we assembled chairs in rows, placed a podium at the front of the room and began the workshop in the style to which so many had become accustomed, what the participants called “frontal learning.” After a few minutes of presentation, I asked the group to pause and say what they were noticing, what their expectations were, how they were experiencing their body/mind/heart/spirit as a result of this format. And then we shifted the furniture.
Working in a circle is, of course, a common practice for reconciliation work, but the careful and subtle awareness of what it feels like to be seen, included, “on-the-same-level,” open and connected would be revisited throughout our days together, taking on greater depth and subtlety. The councils that followed and the teaching about the essential elements of this practice reinforced the power of creating a container for deep presence, offering an invitation to let go of our expectations and judgments and to celebrate the opening of our hearts. As the stories came, the participants began to let down their guard and shed armor they were mostly unaware of. They began to see the impact of engaging our narrative as a generative act that leads to healing. And they articulated the emergent awareness that intimacy with our personal suffering is the key to being effective working with the suffering of our communities.
In addition to experiencing the variety of modalities of council, we talked about neuroplasticity and meditation, attention and self-regulation. I shared some metta practices and the brilliant work that Roshi Joan Halifax is doing around teaching compassion; her GRACE model is powerful and easy to practice. We talked about the “field,” inside and outside the circle, and liminality. We spent a great deal of time on identity; aspects of ourselves we present and those we hide and how that impacts relationships (as well as the work of council). And we played with forms of witnessing each other and the awareness of things waking up in us. It was powerful to hear Rumi’s poetry recited by an Imam: “Beyond right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field; I will meet you there.”
The feeling of elation and inspiration by the last day was palpable. But the participant who, Jozo and I agreed, put up the most resistance throughout the first day described an extraordinary journey through this work, perhaps more dramatic than the others. She spent an hour in the bar after day one, expressing her confusion and frustration and had to be convinced by Vahidin to come back the next day. She was frustrated to not see the methodology laid out clearly, to be asked to experience a series of weird sensations that were uncomfortable and to be groping for a tool that didn’t seem to make sense. She went home that night, she later explained, and spent two hours relating her day to her husband. She talked about the unusual, puzzling sensations and this new approach that was really unaligned with the expectation she had of learning about a new technique. Something was stirring in her that was new, peculiar, but it had her attention. Day two began to open the floodgates for her. She had hardened herself to her pain and closed off the part of her that could engage both her own story and her empathy for others. As her trust grew, her resistance abated; the council circle was encouraging her to soften, to move the energy, to turn toward the suffering. That night, apparently, the debrief with her husband went on for three hours, until her husband asked her to stop talking. And her take-away at the end of our time together was a sensation that she explained to us all was like nothing she had ever experienced: a lifting of a huge weight from her shoulders and cracking of a hard shell that left her feeling joy and deep love for the group that had listened so deeply and heartfully that she was able to “come back to myself.” The day after the workshop she posted online that she missed us all dearly and that she’d spent all morning explaining the “amazing 4 days” to her NGO coworkers and had convinced them all to come to a council circle she would facilitate for them shortly. Three other participants related stories of initiating council circles with peers and family.
In the end, I was left with immense gratitude. The commitment of ZP to foster this work in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the openness and embrace of the kind and caring Imams who run CIM, the passion and hard work of Roshi Frank de Waele of Gent Zen Sangha to organize and raise funds, the tender and powerful support Jozo brought to the circle… And what a blessing to experience the amazing and inspiring courage, rigor and resilience of this group of change-makers, living the healing that comes from a great intimacy with suffering and a devotion to opening the heart to serve themselves, each other and the healing of their community.
I am so excited to see how this work and this group continues to deepen. I hope you all will have a chance to bear witness with them in circle next year.
“How Simple the Answers Are”
Testimonials from Council in Bosnia/Herzegovina
In March 15-18 2016, The Zen Peacemakers, together with the Center for Peacebuilding and led by Center for Council Director Jared Seide (Read Jared’s report of the training here), conducted a four-day Way of Council training for 22 Bosniak, Croats and Serb women and men. This training is another step in the peacebuilding effort to address the deep suffering in the balkans following the genocide of the ’90’s.
“When I think of Council… It is fascinating how many layers of prejudices and expectations you have to strip off yourself to enter into an honest heart-to-heart conversation. It is fascinating how even when you think you have reached that point, you get astonished realizing how far you have to go to get to the point of speaking and listening heart-to-heart. And it is fascinating how, when you think that nobody sitting there with you can surprise you anymore, you discover that you have not even started that conversation. It is fascinating to discover that everybody can go far beyond in sharing the pain we all have. But above all, it is fascinatinghow simple the answers are. All you have to do is to be there, to step in it and let yourself be… whoever you never had an idea you were.” (Nikica Lubura-Reljic)
“Last week’s training in council was an amazing opportunity not only to familiarize ourselves with the methodology a bit better, and more thoroughly, but also to see it work in Bosnian circumstances. It might sound funny, but during our Auschwitz councils I had only one thing on my mind: this will never work in Bosnia. The fact that our mentality is pretty closed and that patriarchy, as such, dictates emotional distance, added to the fact that we haven’t had any formal nor systematically organized support on psychological post-war issues, pretty much determined my pessimism. Therefore, there is nobody happier than me to share impressions on our work and process!
"Firstly, I must commend Jozo’s and Jared’s patience, which was needed to overcome all the mechanisms Bosnians use when somebody tries to open them and provide safe space for sharing their deep fears and emotions. As I anticipated, it took a bit more time to establish the container and include everyone equally. This experience has showed me that even though “my people” might seem tough and distanced, they can’t “escape” the power of council. In my opinion, all the singing, humor and hugging we tend to do in any serious situation are only defense mechanisms we use in order to cover our true selves. And council manages to defragment it, not to exclude it or make it forbidden but to infiltrate and include it in a completely reassuring manner. People truly heard each other, while overcoming the need to comment, to fix or to preach. They left council with much more faith in themselves and with the hope that its future use will help others to grieve, heal and laugh.
"This experience has given me such immense knowledge and confidence. It answered a bunch of questions, gave a completely new perspective on the use of council in our work and helped overcome obstacles I imagined we’d have in the “logistical” sphere. Bringing it to Bosnia showed it in a different light, as something palpable, possible and real, so I’ve decided to commit to it and practice it with my family and friends — which resulted in my first “solo” council. Having in mind that I would never do anything without being sure that I could lead it till the end, and that I take my work perhaps too serious, the fact that I decided to do it shows how successful our training was.” (Ivana Gospođa Tapisirović)
“The Council training which was organized in Sarajevo was a great experience for me. It was the second council training for me but the first time I really recognized and felt the power and beauty of this method. I am grateful I had the chance to be part of this great group and to be a student of a great teacher. Jared is a teacher who can feel and satisfy what the group needs, as well as being very experienced and flexible in his work.” (Boris Lovrinović)
“With Council, our work at the Center For Peacebuilding got a whole new meaning. We strongly believe engaging Bosnians and Herzegovinians in Council will help us build stronger and more honest relationships among them. Council is the way for building peace, not only in BiH, but in the world. Experiencing Council opened many more opportunities for peace building in BiH. (Vahidin Omanović & Mevludin Rahmanović)
“I had a wonderful first experience with the Council method. It was so good to have this opportunity to speak in front of people and have them all listen to you without their own opinion. After these days, I felt very open and powerful. I still have that feeling of openness and real improvement in my communication with my family, friends and colleagues from work. For me, this is a kind of new skill, to listen to others from the heart and to openly speak from the heart. The whole process for me was incredible. And a little bit mystical, because of the incredible openness in relation to others and the amazing connection. This connection, I realized, occurs when we hear and recognize ourselves in other people’s stories. I had a wonderful experience and I like these principles and methodology very much. And I’m feeling better because this has helped me to say some things that I realize I simply had to say at the moment. When I spoke from the heart, I felt relief and release, as if letting go of a burden that I carried. Council is definitely something I’ll try to do with my relatives, my colleagues and friends. (Helena Martinović)
“I had the privilege and big honor to attend the training workshop on Council, arranged by my friends at CIM. I am just today finding some words which can describe my feelings and the change that I have experienced in myself…
"The first day I was really confused and asked myself all the time: ‘What am I doing here???’ When I returned home, I found myself sitting with much passion and I spoke about all the work we did with my family, and started to try to convince them about how important Council was. I still don’t know what, but something happened with me this first day. Day by day, this wonderful and magical 4 days of training changed me, and it changed my attitude about others. The simple ‘rules’ push you to be careful with communication, to listen, to be open in front of people whom you are seeing for the first time. The facilitation was so nice and simple, charming, and in a subtle and easy way I was drawn into the process. I learned from what I heard and absorbed the words. I realized this workshop is different, you haven’t any paper, or material… it`s strange! But, step by step, this kind of thinking and communication with others starts to be part of you. Just today I saw things that are changing in me — in my every day communication with family, friends, on the job… When I found myself almost on the verge of aggravation with my family, because of the training, I realized that I was not really worried or angry. I really started to listen from my heart and talk from my heart.
I sincerely believe that this is the true path to understanding and to happiness for all of us. I strongly believe that Council is a way of communication, and conflict resolution, that must be part of everyday life for all of us. I would be so happy if one day this method could be included in schools, obligatory for all. I’m richer as a result of this experience, I have new people in my life who I value. It was an amazing experience that I recommend to everyone. We will try to expand it! Thank you for the opportunity to be part of this.” (Mira Mehmedović)
“When Jared asked me to assist him in Sarajevo I had a sense of excitement and deep resistance. Knowing my people, our recent history and its fallout, I presumed the workshop would be anything but easy. I also knew that I would have to dive into my old wounds, my personal hurt and be aware of the many trigger points that get activated when I am there. Day one was a true struggle. The level of mistrust and vigilance that has been build up is understandable, but I was surprised by the extent of the avoidance of intimacy and feelings which I observed. It took only a short while and couple of games before the atmosphere started to loosen up. As the days passed, we heard more and more stories how some who were involved in amazing peacemaking and reconciliation work have never been asked about their feelings, never been listened to or cared about. The joy and gratitude on their faces was beyond words.
"BiH, as all ex-Yugoslavia, is a very patriarchal society, something I experienced so deeply years ago. When Jared decided to do “fish bowls” with men and women separated, the subject would come up over and over again. It was astonishing to hear one young man say how he feels frustrated since he loves cooking but his mom would not let him do so, for that was not a man’s job. Or to hear others revealing that they had been taught that a man is not supposed to express emotions, to be tender, to be soft. I could recall, with sadness, growing up a country where boys don’t cry; I, myself, never shed a tear in 22 years (probably the reason why I can’t hold back my tears today). It was wonderful to see how council could soften the hearts, the gender weight and the bias.
"There were so many precious moments, stories, heart openings, laughter and joy, some I will remember for a long time: the woman whose heart came back to life, the woman whose husband, each night of the workshop, had to bear witness to her joy of deep transformation, and above all the last council we did in small groups of 4. By coincidence, mine was an all men’s group, each of us of different ethnicity. We did 2 rounds of deep sharing and then, as we reached the end of our time together, one man asked a favor: he wanted 4 of us to stand up and hug each other. So there we were 4 men in a circle holding each other in a deep hug for a long while. Not far from us, there sat a group of 4 women who, being deeply moved watching the scene, stood up and celebrated.” (Jozo Novak)
Center for Council offered a Council training last weekend in Paris for residents and staff of the Salvation Army women shelter damaged by last year's terrorist attacks and coping with the influx of refuges to this vibrant neighborhood.
The Center for Council Paris training workshop included a wide range of participants: homeless folks, Buddhist practitioners, Franciscan brothers, social workers and other concerned and compassionate citizens.
Center for Council's Jared Seide returned from two weeks in Rwanda, where a partnership was initiated with our friends at Rwanda Center for Council -- recently recognized by the Rwandan Governance Board as an official NGO -- and the Association of Rwandese Trauma Counselors (ARCT-Ruhuka). Using our council-based program model, developed in California prisons, and in collaboration with the Rwanda Correctional Service, this project will introduce and support council practice inside the Rwandan prisons — in addition to providing support and coaching to a growing network of community-based organizations throughout Rwandan civil society.
With the imminent release of over 20,000 former genocide perpetrators into communities where unspeakable crimes were committed, the Rwandan government and its people seem eager to embrace a model for deepening community resilience and affirming shared values. The resonance of council (or “Peace Circle”) with indigenous Rwandan traditions like ibitaramo is striking and we are thrilled to be partnering with local Rwandan peace workers in supporting the emergence of a program and a practice that serves this critical moment.
This Fall, The Rockefeller Foundation will host a delegation from California (including Inspector General Robert Barton and several others) and a delegation from Rwanda (including high-level government officials and NGO heads) in Bellagio, Italy, for three days, to look at what is working so well in these council-based prison/reentry programs, where the challenges may be, how to measure results and how to scale to the systems in California and Rwanda and, more broadly, to explore how this model may address the challenges faced by fractured communities around the world and foster reconciliation and resilience in a variety of contexts.
The intention of this work is to promote healing and principled behavior that can be framed and implemented in reentry contexts to address an intractable and growing problem for cities and communities—one that interferes with economic development, employability and peaceful coexistence. The overarching vision is to spur a more compassionate and restorative system of justice that supports rehabilitation for the world’s incarcerated offenders. The goal is to promote practices that will help both offenders and their victims—individuals and communities—to heal from their individual and collective traumas while developing resiliency. We believe the model being piloted in Rwanda and California is applicable to fractured communities around the world.
This conference will be facilitated by renown innovator and strategist Cheryl Heller and will help strengthen the California-Rwanda partnership, explore programmatic and implementation needs and vision strategy moving forward for this and other developing council-based programs. We are honored and excited to co-lead this effort, eager to share the emerging story and to continue to work with what develops from this important dialogue.
"When we change ourselves, we change the people around us."
- Therapist Marie-Josee Ukeye, Butare, Rwanda
It takes unimaginable will and courage to move ahead after trauma. For many of the women of Butare, Rwanda, there has been much to survive. Many of those who lived through the genocide lost family, friends and children. Countless numbers were victims of rape; some went on to raise the children born of those rapes, and many live with HIV.
Therapist Marie-Josee Ukeye has been using the practice of Council for the past 2 years in her work with the courageous women of Butare. She will be one of the participants of the training being held by Center for Council at the Kigali Genocide Memorial.
Council Trainer Siri Gunnarson reflects on visiting the Murambi memorial site, where 50,000 Tutsis were killed in one morning in 1994:
"We saw the mass graves and hundreds of preserved bodies. Our guide asked if we were doing some kind of yoga, noticing how we entered each room in silent awareness. How to be fully present with this history? ...Here I am, looking at room after room of bodies contorted with fear, bullet holes and machete wounds."
She quotes Bernie Glassman:
"In the Zen Peacekeeper Order, we stress bearing witness to the wholeness of life, to every aspect of the situation that arises. It means being each and every element of this situation."
Center for Council is honored to be partnered with Zen Peacekeepers, the Rwandan National Commission on Reconciliation, and local NGOs, bringing the practice of Council and of bearing witness to this community.
"We can't heal ourselves or other people, unless we bear witness."
Center for Council is part of an extraordinary movement that is bringing reconciliation and healing to the sites of some of the worst atrocities of our time.
This April will mark twenty years since the beginning of the genocide in Rwanda, in which over one million people were killed. Women who were victims of the mass rape used as a tool for war, now live with and care for the children born of those rapes, and many were also left with HIV.
And yet, despite the unfathomable capacity for human cruelty, we see also the limitless capacity for forgiveness. In the community of Butare, Rwanda, a courageous group of women is working to move beyond the trauma, transform their suffering, and have together formed a successful farming cooperative providing abundant fresh vegetables, consistent income and deep relationships.
Center for Council is partnering with the Rwandan National Commission on Reconciliation, Zen Peacekeepers and local NGOs in training local organizations to continue the healing process through Council-based community programs.
Here, Center for Council Director Jared Seide and Certified Trainer Siri Gunnarson with some of the extraordinary women of Butare.