Nonviolence Trainings: A prospect for social change?

Ever asked yourself the question: what does it take to have successful nonviolence training? Nonviolence - people power for social change - takes many forms. Likewise, nonviolence traininga may take different approaches to provide individuals and groups tools to challenge social injustice. Techniques used by nonviolence trainers may include a variety of exercises: brainstorming, working in small groups, role plays, presentations, discussions, audiovisuals - the list is endless. As trainers conduct nonviolence workshops, the main goal is to develop a better understanding of all aspects of nonviolence through questioning patterns of violence, i.e. hierarchy. The trainings may provide grounds for needs assessments at many levels, to create awareness on vast number of subjects such as gender/queer, to analyze situations/relations/dynamics, to build up strategies, to organize campaigns, to provide persons to prepare her/himself for direct actions. Nonviolence trainings may create energy, reinforce group dynamics, provide concrete action plans that pushes them to take action against injustices.

Nonviolence trainings provide tools to strengthen groups, develop community spirit, where people learn to work better together to build strong movements.

The choice of exercises for any specific workshop may depend on the type of group asks for a training. It therefore calls for skills in group diagnosis. One needs to consider age, gender, language, education levels, and economic status, amongst other things. The theme and the length of the training may depend on the need of the group, the available resources, how urgent the issue is, the nature of the training – is it a basic training or an advanced level of training, a strategy planning training or a campaigning training? While questioning the power relations in the societies, the trainers at the same time need to consider power relations, especially emerge from gender, within the training group. It is clear that nonviolence training is no easy job. Developing a team of experienced and knowledgeable trainers/facilitators would create an atmosphere for empathy, good basis for discussion and thus fruitful outcomes.

For example in Kenya , it took concerted efforts of trainers from UK and local peace actors- to introduce the Turning the Tide program, a fast-growing programme on nonviolence. It all started with a needs assessment after the 2007/8 post-election violence. Peace-implementing organizations had done much work to calm the situation, but there was a dire need to address the underlying issues that caused the repeated election violence. After the needs assessment, a concept paper was developed and the program designed. In 2010 the program was introduced to a team of identified resource people in western Kenya with great results. After an intensive two weeks training, participants were able to start thinking differently and slowly started to develop a keen interest in nonviolence campaigns. What followed was amazing. The trained resource people easily mobilized their communities and challenged some of the existing social injustices. Starting small, and pushing on until something happened, the informed and charged resource people were able to challenge bad leadership and, little by little, transformed communities to hold leaders accountable.

In one notable campaign, students in one of the public university wanted to demand for fair allocation of education bursary. A two-hour nonviolence training conducted by trained resource people made a big difference. The students were simply introduced to the nonviolence concept and taken through some of the nonviolence training exercises – such as nonviolence spectrum line, an action is nonviolent if-----, the pillars of power, social speedometer among others. At night the students prepared to ensure that all adhered to nonviolence principles. The following day they marched to the local constituency office with a memorandum listing their demands. They sung religious songs to encourage themselves, carried posters explaining their issue and had documents to prove their case. Along the way they were joined by community members who were attracted by the way they conducted themselves and who were in support of the issue. At the end of the day they were given audience by local leaders who immediately responded to their grievances.

Agona Benard and Hülya Üçpinar