April 27, 2004 – With violence a rising concern in the territory, an international, violence-prevention program is launching a chapter in the Virgin Islands. Alternatives to Violence project conducted workshops last weekend that will continue this weekend. The first workshop was Friday at the Mon Bijou Greathouse on St. Croix.
The series of workshops, sponsored by the Interfaith Coalition, addresses trust building, personal growth, and creative conflict management. The teachings of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi are the foundation of the program. Sponsors say the project's focus is spiritual, not religious.
Carolyn Keys, program facilitator, said during the orientation Friday, "This program is about trying to find the good in people." She said she believes there is good in all people of the territory and the world.
Keys has resided on St. Croix for over 30 years. She has worked here as a social worker and psychotherapist. She said she has seen a transition over the years from a safe community of peaceful people to the intense environment of today.
She joined a friend on a peace mission to Burundi from 2000 to 2002. There she worked with Friends Peace Teams. She now believes she can help to mold a new attitude among residents on the island.
She hopes to train facilitators qualified to interface with community groups, churches, government agencies, and businesses to affect change. Her aim is to promote peace activities at the grassroots level.
The 18th century Greathouse formed a backdrop for the retreat-type workshop where participants sat in a circle. Signs on the walls set the mood. They read; "War is Not the Answer" and "Peace is a Group Effort."
During the first half hour of the workshop, participants were allowed five minutes to tell why there is a need for peace within their communities. The sharing was done with the assurance of confidentiality.
A mother of seven said that after her husband died she had to raise her children with the help of neighbors and the church. Now, tension has increased in her household and it sometimes leads to violent outbursts. She would like to learn how she could neutralize the environment.
Another female said there was no violence in her childhood, but she encountered it through an abusive spouse.
Yet another said, "I'm so glad about this program. I've been on my knees trying to understand it. I'd like to learn about some of the roots from which violence comes." She said for her it was scary because violence was not a part of her upbringing.
A tearful, soft-spoken participant said her neighbor, who was an advocate of peace within their community, was shot. He was unarmed.
Sheila Scullion, executive director of Inner Light, said "I feel hopeful that AVP can permeate into communities to provide alternatives for young people."
Sylvia Brady of Sisters Keepers said she understands the struggles after raising three, young men. "The violence is running rampant on St. Croix."
At the end of day two, Jacqueline Griffin, a licensed professional counselor, and Keyes commented on the groups synergy.
"You can tell by the quality of the participants. It is my experience people who get involved are people who will make change happen," said Keys.
Griffin joined the group as a participant not as a practitioner. She said the workshop was going well. "We have been able to connect on a deep level quickly. We shared ideas, feelings, and experiences. We have allowed ourselves to be vulnerable and that makes a community." She said the group has discussed the range of violence from verbal to lethal.
The next three-day session will be April 27 to 29. Space is limited to 20 participants, to reserve space call Keys at 778-1445 or e-mail email@example.com.
A $75donation includes lunch.
For more information on the program visit www.avpusa.org or www.avpinternational.org.
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