Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Diary of an Encuentro (continued)

Tuesday - Day 5
Getting practical

Throughout these days there has been virtually no public criticism of the United States. This is remarkable given its long history of interference in Latin American affairs. However, I think most people here recognize that there is a need for honest conversation and I have appreciated the opportunity over meals to at least begin to hear some of the feelings beneath the surface. Hopefully these days will have created the trust that will make that more difficult conversation possible.

This morning we worked in small groups to identify some important focus areas for IofC over the next five years. Among them:

  • Collaborative, sustainable, and replicable models of reconciliation and social justice focused on key issues. This might also involve partnerships with like-minded organizations whose goals are aligned with our strategic vision.
  • Reconciliation with the earth. In the spirit of IofC we must start with ourselves. We also need to develop a new language of spirituality appropriate for today's world. 
  • Ability to have internal dialogue within the IofC Americas network and also to promote constructive public dialogue on critical issues.
  • Trustbuilding between Latin America and the United States; and also between and within the countries of Latin America around issues of class and the indigenous people. In this context there is also a need to address Issues of identity. 
  • Capacity building in such areas as project management, funding, increased human resources, and communications. 
Tonight we closed with a celebration in music, dance, poetry and art.

Wednesday - Final day
A commitment to support each other

"I felt empowered. All voices were taken into account. Diversity is not just having everyone at the table but it is about their voices being heard."
Perhaps this statement by Fabiola Benavente Mancilla from Mexico,  sums up better than anything the spirit of the Encuentro of the Americas which closed this morning.

I am writing this on the bus back to Bogota, trying to digest all we have experienced over the past four days.  

Coming from 11 nations of the Americas and Caribbean, the group has left with a commitment to support each other despite the challenge of distance. Pilar Griffith is starting a "cyber quiet time group" and plans to work on a manual on "how to start a team" using her own context of Costa Rica as a pilot. Another group plans to work on ideas on how to build bridges of trust between generations in IofC and to support transitions to younger leadership. 

We are also looking at how to make existing resources more widely available. Some Colombian friends are expressing ideas to translate my book Trustbuilding into Spanish.

I was particularly interested in a group that discussed ideas to align business models with social and spiritual change. The goal would be to develop values-based businesses that provide goods or services that generate income to support IofC workers.

Of course the "elephant in the room" at such meetings is the US-Latin America relationship. As I noted in a previous blog, this gathering was notably free of recrimination. However, Rodrigo Martinez Romero from Mexico and I and others have agreed to start a working group dedicated to seeking ways, in partnership with other organizations, to heal the relationship and build new partnerships for the future.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Diary of an Encuentro (continued)

Monday - Day 4
Regaining trust and confidence

Today has been another very intensive day. We began by gathering in national groups to consider some of the things we most hoped for in our countries.

German Munich from Argentina spoke of his longing to end the deep political divisions as a result of violent repression under the military dictatorship in the 1970s. Reporting for the Brazilians, Alline Serpa highlighted the social inequalities due to corruption. Pilar Griffin from Costa Rica said that Latin America needed self-knowledge and healing, and self-confidence in its strength and possibilities. In a similar vein, Killy Sanchez from Guatemala said, "I need to regain the trust and confidence that my country can change and transmit that change to others."

Juan Carlos Kaiten from Mexico is a collaboration architect at The Hague Center which "focuses on international societal challenges whose complexity requires collaboration between multiple stakeholders." He said, "We need to heal the story of our country. In Mexico we don't accept our native mother or our Spanish father. We need to heal our soul and spirit. Only then will we be able to create the social systems we need in our country."

Together with another young Mexican, Rodrigo Martinez Romero, who works with the Oxford Leadership Academy in Mexico City, Juan Carlos led the Encuentro through a process of identifying critical spiritual, network, and organizational needs in IofC. They said, “We all seek clear, concrete actions that address deep social needs, and that are true to the principles of IofC, and are based on best practices.” 

I was fascinated to learn from Rodrigo that he is a direct descendent of Matias Romero, the Mexican ambassador to the US during the American Civil War. I immediately googled Romero and found this fascinating story of his encounter with President-elect Abraham Lincoln in 1861. 
The writer further notes: “By December 1860 Mexico had emerged from its own civil war, and the liberal victors who came to power had long believed the path to modernization ran through economic integration with the United States. This dream had been impossible under the annexation-obsessed Democrats who dominated American national politics in the 1850s. With the ascendancy of the free-soil, free-labor Republicans, Mexico’s leaders believed they had a natural ally who would respect Mexico’s territorial integrity and, in future Secretary of State William Seward’s words, “value dollars more, and dominion less.”

Monday, February 17, 2014

Diary of an Encuentro (continued)

Sunday - Day 3
Becoming a learning community

Today the International Council of IofC reported to the Encuentro on their visits to several Latin American countries. The council members hail from Mexico, USA, Canada, India, Taiwan, Nigeria (absent because of visa difficulties), Egypt, the UK, Australia and Sri Lanka. All were deeply touched by the warmth of hospitality they received on their travels. One said, "I have become addicted to hugs!" Each of the Council remarked on the ways in which Latin American teams were integrating the core principle of IofC in all their activities.

A young Argentinian responded: "Thank you for making me feel so proud of being a Latin American."

Edward Peters, the executive vice president of IofC International, said that after a survey of 350 people from 102 teams, the Council believed it should focus on nurturing the spiritual well-being of the movement; facilitating networking and capacity building; and providing strategic direction and focus.

Omnia Marzouk, IofC's international president, left the participants with three challenging questions drawn from her own decision to accept her leadership role: "Do you believe that ordinary people can do extraordinary things? Are you willing to serve despite your limitations? Are you willing to move outside your comfort zone and be led by God?"

This afternoon we spent several hours with pictures and first-hand accounts exploring a historical timeline of IofC in the Americas, from the 1930s to the present day, posted along the length of one wall. We were privileged to have with us "veterans" of more than sixty years who provided institutional memory.

We heard about a young trade unionist who encountered IofC in 1948 and later became the president of Costa Rica; and John Riffe of the American Steelworkers who brought a new spirit to US industry in the forties and fifties; the remarkable resolution of labor-management conflict in the port of Rio de Janeiro in the late fifties, and initiatives to rehouse whole communities by favela leaders; theater productions that played before tens of thousands of people in Bolivia and Peru in the sixties; the growth of the Quente que Avanza youth training program beginning in 1970; a village business in Jamaica that became the rural economic development model for the nation in the eighties; peace seminars in El Salvador in the eighties and nineties; racial reconciliation work in the US and the launch of Hope in Cities in 1993; emergence of of a vibrant new team in Colombia over the past decade, and much much more.

As well as celebrating the successes, we talked  honestly about events and ways of working that had harmed a spirit of unity or had broken trust. Some moving apologies were made. The session ended with everyone walking silently along the timeline.
Throughout these days the interpreters have done an incredible job of
enabling Spanish, English, and Portuguese speakers to understand each other in sessions that often last for two hours or more. They must be exhausted! 

Dancing by a nationally recognized Colombian dance group provided a wonderful ending to a memorable day.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Diary of an Encuentro

Friday - Day 1
Partnership building

I have just arrived in Bogota, Colombia, to join colleagues from North, South and Central America and the Caribbean for an "Encuentro" - a time of fellowship, shared learning and partnership building.

"From the heart of the Americas: weaving a community of Change" is the theme of this gathering. Over the past several months I have been part of a planning team with friends in Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, and Canada, linked by email and Skype calls. It has been a great experience, overcoming barriers of distance, language and culture.

Traveling with me is Tanya Gonzalez, who manages the office of multicultural affairs for the city of Richmond. We are the US representatives in what I know will be a fascinating few days.

It will be an opportunity for some humility. When I Googled "US interventions in Latin America" I was shocked to read about the number of occasions our corporations and our government actively participated in "regime change," even supporting the overthrow of democratically elected leaders.
Colombian hospitality began as soon as we landed. Due to the fierce winter storms on the US east coast our original flight was cancelled and we missed the group transport from Bogota to the retreat center. But we were met at the airport by three charming young people, two of them alumni of the Gente que Avanza program that has been training young Latin American leaders for more than three decades. One of them took us to his home for the night and even gave me his room.

Saturday - Day 2
Forgiveness and honest conversation
Bogota is a huge, vibrant city of about eight million. The traffic is so bad that there are restrictions based on license plate digits during peak hours. The population increased greatly in recent decades as people fled the violence in other parts of the country.
We arrived at the beautiful and peaceful Casa de Encuentrosde La Salle this morning after a two hour drive south into the hills. Participants in the Encuentro were already busy introducing themselves and sharing their expectations. When asked to speak I said, "I expect to learn a  lot about listening, something Americans are not always very good at." Afterwards a representative of Canada's First Nations told me he had never heard someone from the U.S. say this. 
Highlight of the day has been the stories shared by the Colombian IofC team on the theme of honest conversation and forgiveness. "I hated a person in my group, and then I realized that she was just like my mother!" one woman said. "A friend showed me I needed to heal this relationship. In our group we see ourselves in the light of standards of honesty, purity, detachment from self, and love. A conference in Brazil in 2008 changed my life. I was no longer the bitter person hating the world....I learned that my aggressiveness triggered aggressiveness in the other person." 

A student said, "Honesty gave my conscience back to me. It was a big surprise to find my own self. Purity is a real gift. Now I can recognize what is normal and what is not. I was part of a group of 10 girlfriends. By the time we graduated from high school the only ones who did not get pregnant were my sister and me."

Later in the afternoon Tanya Gonzalez and I facilitated an exercise where we asked everyone to think of a disagreement that they had, or still had, with someone and to write the outline of that conflict from both sides.Then in pairs they shared the story as if from the perspective of the person with whom they were in conflict. Many people said they found this to be a very revealing and helpful tool, and some even discovered some new steps towards healing the division. 

Tonight we have been hearing about the IofC programs in different countries, sharing challenges as well as successes. Skills development in areas of project management, fundraising, and facilitation, as well as engaging and training a new generation of leaders, all surfaced as needs to be addressed.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Moving from the safe space

I am honored to include as a guest blog this message sent a few days ago by Lena Kashkarova a young leader of Initiatives of Change in Ukraine who interned with Hope in the Cities last fall. Lena leads the House in Baranivka project. She and her colleagues are building a meeting place and establishing a community of people who are working to improve society.

Here it gets more and more scary to see how far the situation will go. I started volunteering for a hot line of “Euromaidan SOS" (Euromaidan, literally “Eurosquare,” the movement of Ukraine’s ongoing street demonstrations) which provides legal help to those detained and helps to find those missing. It's painful to hear how many people were kidnapped and detained by police (or kidnapped and then delivered to detention centers) and what they went through. There have already been cases of murders, maiming and torturing of protesters.

It's completely surreal to see what my country has turned into in just a few months. I was in Baranivka when the killings started and the feeling of being completely helpless was just unbearable. And at the same time it's always scary to make a first step and leave the safe place. However, as soon as I make the choice and start doing something the fear goes away. I'm learning tips about how it works.

A few weeks ago I went to a national forum of regional Euromaidans in Kharkiv, close to the Russian border, to run a dialogue. There I observed and experienced some of the realities of Ukraine at their extremes for the first time. There was no place in the whole city that would agree to rent out a space for the forum. The only place where we got accepted was a church that got attacked just in few minutes after the start of the forum by supporters of the authorities.  

The next day the same church received a message that there was a bomb inside. Luckily, it turned out to be disinformation. We moved around the city only in big groups with volunteer security guards, or by taxi. One of the working groups that gathered in the bookstore got attacked and two guards were badly injured. It all felt like being in a stupid movie. For the first time in my life I realized that I'm in a country with no laws whatsoever and the choice I will be facing is between keeping completely silent and passive, leaving the country, or living every day in danger of being imprisoned, beaten or whatever else. It took the whole way back to Baranivka for me to get used to this thought...

In all of this nightmare, what makes me really proud and often makes me want to cry is seeing so many people who overcame their fear and are ready to risk their lives, not to be silent observers of oppression and injustice. The more the authorities become cruel, the more people become fearless. There are lots of questions about the most radical forces of the protests; there’s a lack of plan and positive vision of what exactly the protesters want to achieve; there's deep mistrust of all politicians – including those from the opposition; there are difficulties in hearing people with another point of view – it’s all here.

The protest movement is not perfect at all. But there is an unprecedented courage, a sense of responsibility and solidarity that I see. In the US I was wondering what made those people who fought against segregation ready to risk their lives. I didn't know then that I would witness the same in my own country very soon....

Much love and appreciation for your moral support. The more insane it becomes, the more I start appreciating my friends all around the world!