This is the first time that the Alternatives to Violence Program (AVP) has been offered to Quaker participants in Guatemala. My experience with AVP had been mostly in prisons, but in these workshops the participants were members of the evangelical Friends community. The curriculum is set up to be non-religious, though it has spiritual elements in the same way that the 12-step program does. The core of the program is to discover how to call on “transforming power” to shift and resolve conflicts. In these workshops where most of the participants are practicing Quakers and strong Christians, I wondered whether they would follow our lead to be inclusive in their language, or whether they would refer to their Christian values which are an enormous part of their lives. As it turned out, they generally seemed comfortable using non-religious language in the program. Some of them told us that they appreciated this more inclusive language and felt that it would be useful in non-Quaker groups that could use the AVP program: universities, workplaces, and police departments.
Despite our shared Quaker background, cultural differences between us and our Guatemalan host community were apparent. One of those differences came up around corporal punishment of children. Most of the Guatemalans believe in spanking their children. So for me, the question arose: should I label spanking as violent, share my own viewpoint gently, or leave this unchallenged? My sense of integrity generally called for me to speak out my own viewpoint that physical punishment of kids is rooted in violence and is not helpful to building peaceful families. But when we visited a pastor, his wife showed us how she threatens to hit her three-year-old with a wooden spoon. She asked the older brother to “go get the paddle”, and she proudly showed us how the little guy immediately changed his behavior. I did not tell her I disagreed with this policy. Was it because I was in her home, and she was about to serve us lunch? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s not useful to call out all of our disagreements. Maybe more was gained by noting all the ways in which we agree, despite our differences.
Minga and I stayed with some wonderful Friends. It was a gift to get to know them, to share their lives, and to learn about their belief systems. Guatemalan Friends have three yearly meetings, occasioned by some disagreements in policy that led to various splits. The Santidad yearly meeting split off from the Nacional with a strong concern to return to practices of the early Friends: separate worship for men and women was among the changes they chose. The third yearly meeting, Embajadores, is very small. All three groups are evangelical Christian in orientation. Their worship services are programmed with pastors offering the service, unlike the unprogrammed tradition in which both Minga and I worship. The women generally wear skirts to meeting, and jewelry and dancing are frowned upon. In their personal lives, the Quakers we met call on their faith frequently, and many of them prefer Christian radio stations and entertainment. Music is a huge part of their services and I rejoiced to hear the beautiful harmonies of a mother and daughter pair, as well as the clear soprano voice of Karen’s nephew, who has recorded a CD to sing of his love of Jesus.
We left Guatemala with the satisfaction of having given out 55 certificates of completion, each for a 20-hour workshop. Our hosts and organizers, Celeste Gomez and Karen Gregorio, devoted incredible efforts to bringing people together and making the workshops happen. The participants each gave a full weekend to the work with positive energy and commitment, setting aside their other obligations to be there, fully present. Participants committed to continue the work, to pass the training on in other groups. We talked about the program on TV, in meetings and churches, and to individuals, all of whom showed an interest in using the program to try to bring peace to their communities.