This Handbook is intended, above all, for people living in countries with a legacy of violence, hatred and fear who want to transform their societies and communities with a view to making them more just and better for all. It was written from an insider’s perspective, providing neither a bird’s-eye view nor observations from the sidelines, but rather the perspective of peace activists whose struggle takes them across borders and into the spaces between communities in conflict. Its starting point is the perspective of those affected by violence who are seeking to prevent the spiralling of hatred and revenge.
The team of people at our organisation shares a sense of solidarity and dedication to peacebuilding. We are rooted in the region in which we live and work, connected to the people living here, whatever their differences and relations. Still, in reality we are reminded almost daily that many see us primarily as members of (non)friendly communities, and this experience has shaped our perspective and approach to peacebuilding. We believe this Handbook will be most useful to those who share a similar sense of local rootedness, but it will likely also be useful to those in the role of external actors intervening in violent conflicts to support efforts for their peaceful transformation. The experience we have acquired in exchange, cooperation, and even running training or dialogue workshops in other parts of the world (Manipur/India, South Africa, Colombia) tells us that, despite differences in context, there is great interest and a connecting thread that makes our experience understandable and applicable in other places as well. That is the reason why this Handbook is also being published in English translation.
We believe this Handbook will be most useful to people who have experience in adult education and the education of children and who are no strangers to interactive work. We do not recommend these methods for use by people without relevant experience or by those without the support of a team. We have no desire to support experimentation on people and if this as part of your motivation, we suggest that you reconsider.
Unfortunately, we are not able to cite a source for all the exercises in the Handbook. We created most of them, inspired by the people we were working with and the socio-political circumstances and relationships we lived in. Some we learnt from partners or in training we attended. We cite a source only where we can be sure of the origin of the exercise or its inspiration.
The Centre for Nonviolent Action (CNA) has been running training since 1997. In 2000, we published our first Handbook – Nonviolence? Training Handbook for Conflict Transformation, Working with Adults Adults – whose structure is similar to the Handbook you are now reading. Twelve years later we published Reconciliation?! – Training Handbook for Dealing with the Past, which was translated into English. It presents a collection of methods we used in our work on dealing with the past with different groups, as well as texts that explain our approach.
The Handbook you are reading contains a bit of both its predecessors, as well as numerous methods we discovered and/or created in the meantime and continue to apply in our work.
Written from the perspective of insiders/locals, this Handbook is primarily intended for those to whom running peacebuilding training is neither a job, a calling, nor an act of charity to others, but instead a response to the challenge of violence and injustice in their local community. My motivation was anger over an injustice: it was adversity that compelled me to do peacebuilding and not a quest to make myself feel useful.
When, some twenty years ago, I was learning how to run training in Germany, the role of the trainer usually entailed restraint, not showing emotion, and a pronounced caution in relation to expressing views, participating in discussions or relating personal experiences. From our perspective as locals, the approach to training we advocate at CNA is quite different.
The role of the trainer insider is specific and differs from the role of someone living their life in different, safer and calmer circumstances. We are not neutral, we are not and do not want to be mediators; we are actors within a violent conflict and we refuse imposed roles and categories. We are not the third side either, because we don’t need sides; we do not run away from our identity markers, but we do give ourselves and others the freedom to independently determine their (un)importance. Being an insider, I am assumed to be biased; to the people I work with my name signals my belonging to a group that is clearly defined in people’s minds with expectations of how members of the group usually behave. Just as with outside trainers, each of us must fight to gain trust, because the starting position is that there is no trust – and that is fine, because realistically that is how things are.
Our endeavour focuses on helping to dispel fear of the other (even of us as trainers who also feel some of that fear) in order to reveal possibilities that had previously seemed unimaginable and let the process of liberation from fear take its course. Fear of the other is just the start, a hairline crack in the dam that starts to give.
Learning to run peacebuilding training means learning to keep on learning and re-examining, primarily yourself, and then encouraging others to try the same.
We make this Handbook publicly available and free of charge in solidarity with people all over the world who take active roles in bringing about social change.
Never give up!
We would like to thank all the training participants with whom we learned together, who inspired us and gave us hope. A big thank you to all our partners who ran training with us. Our gratitude also goes to our donors who had an ear for our assessment that training was necessary in the region, and especially to those who supported us even when their budgets did not provide for cross-border cooperation. A special thank you to those whose financial, administrative and moral support made the publication of this Handbook possible: the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Diakonie Austria, the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR Austria), and the KURVE Wustrow Centre for Training and Networking in Nonviolent Action.
Thank you to the colleagues from the Centre for Nonviolent Action who made it possible for us to develop this Handbook.