Every YALA Peace workshop has its own rhythm and dynamic!
Some meetings are bursting with energy: the girls share their thoughts spontaneously, engaging in the moment with each other loudly and proudly. Other meetings can be tentative, contemplative, and even difficult. Through our creative work, we come across stories that are not easy to share, with ourselves or the others.
Our dialogues brush diverse experiences and perspectives against one another; however, the girls usually reach out to explain their philosophies and warmly contrast their ideas. There is an accepted understanding that each girl comes from a different family, way of life, and thinking. This accepted context enhances our conversations: thanks to this understanding, our talks are become a fulfilling activity where each girl can inform the others about her own (possibly unfamiliar) philosophy. In doing this, each girl can analyze her own thinking and how she wants to present herself. She can hear how the others choose to present themselves, and accept that as separate from her own worldview. She can also find herself rebelling against elements of her own definition, therefore challenging herself to wrestle with norms and to strive for a truer representation of her core self.
I try to facilitate with loving distance; I encourage seeking the most authentic expression, but I guide them without interference of the formation of their thoughts. When we encounter a need for conflict resolution, I assert an empathetic listening structure. Sometimes the group is not yet prepared to delve into a sensitive issue that arises, and in that case I deflect the topic and focus them on the present activity. The age and context of the girls (13 year olds, some from religious households, some not, some from unorthodox family situations, with socioeconomic differences, etc) must be taken into consideration during these conversations, which is why I have given careful consideration to the evolution of our program each week.
They are growing together, creating and sharing their work as they become a positive force of peace in their community. Trust, dialogue, and acceptance will naturally come into being as the program progresses each week.
The kids have come a long way since their first meeting at the start of the school year!
After being selected through an interview process, the girls came to the first meeting with some anticipatory anxiety. They did not all know each other, and speaking English was a challenge for many. To break the ice, I led the girls in an eye-contact game so that we could look these new people in the eye without worrying about language. What better way to start to get to know someone than look them straight in the eye? After the ensuing laughter, the girls relaxed into the first meeting activities. I had them interview one another in pairs, and introduce each other to the group. In this positive energy, we sat in a circle and created a group contract, with the girls contributing what they intended YALA Peace to be. At the end, we created a new tradition: each girl shares the best thing and worst thing of her day before each meeting ends. We have done this at every single meeting since, and the tradition has evolved to include a few best things. Everyone always counts the YALA Peace meeting as one of her best things, and we are still looking each other in the eyes. And we are still laughing.