Teaching alternatives to violence

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A PROGRAMME that teaches alternatives to violence developed by Quakers in the United States in 1975, and since used across the world, has a lead trainer living in Ohope.

Samoan-born Esther Cowley-Malcolm was one of the first in New Zealand to train as a facilitator after the Creating Peaceful Pathways – Alternatives to Violence Programme was introduced to the country in 1992. She later co-facilitated the first of the workshops to be held inside a New Zealand prison, at Paremoremo.

Though the programme was developed by Quakers, it is now run by an independent, international organisation, in more than 60 countries. Originally developed to assist prisoners in creating positive change in their lives, it has since extended to schools, universities and diverse communities throughout the world.

Esther says the programmes are run with the premise that “there is a power for peace and good and everyone, and this power has the ability to transform people and situations”. She says not everyone who runs the programme is a Quaker any more.

“It was born out of the Quakers, coming right out of the civil rights movement in the United States. The workshops tap into people’s own power. Some people might call it a spiritual, mental and psychological power. In AVP we refer to it as ‘transforming power’ which is more spiritual, a power we believe resides in each and every one of us.

“It has the amazing ability to transform people and situations and that’s what I like about it. People learn to love and respect themselves again, and that’s what needs to happen before people can create positive change in themselves. If you can’t love yourself, you can’t love others openly and honestly.”

A Quaker herself, and a highly-regarded former academic and researcher, Esther describes the programme as “powerful”. She says from the perspective of an educator – a role she has been in for much of her life – the programme is “brilliant”. “It uses experiential methodology, which we know is the most effective way to learn.”

She says research in the US relating to the impact the workshops have on people incarcerated in state prisons is “rigorous and sound”. “Prisons have recorded big drops in both violent incidents and recidivism and, in another study, showed a significant drop in anger by those men who had taken the courses compared to the men who hadn’t, even at a two-year follow up.”

Esther recalls with joy a visit she made to a prison in Ireland where both inmates and staff who had been through the programme hosted a day during an Alternatives to Violence international gathering.

“By that stage, some of the long-term inmates had trained to become facilitators themselves. It was absolutely quite remarkable to see how they hosted a whole day of the event in collaboration with senior prison staff.” She says she was informed by the prison’s superintendent that there had been an 80 percent decrease in violent incidents in that prison since the programme had first been introduced 20 years ago.

Esther has a PhD from Victoria University, and a career spanning 20 years at Auckland University of Technology. She has had numerous research papers published and has been on the board of many organisations including the Health Research Council of New Zealand, as well as being chairwoman of its New Zealand Pacific Research Advisory Committee. She is chairwoman of the government-appointed Pacific Development and Conservations Trust, and a former director of Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi’s research office.

In the 2005 Queen’s New Year Honours, Esther was made Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her service to Pacific families. Esther is also an educator with The Brainwave Trust Aotearoa, a non-government organisation that promotes the importance of brain development in early years.

She runs Alternatives to Violence workshops with a team of trainers – David Wicks, Olepa Korenhof and Graeme Storer – in Whakatane and around New Zealand and makes regular trips to Samoa to conduct workshops.

By Lorraine Wilson

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