Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Creators of Peace Circles in Fiji

Ratu (Chief) Meli Vesikula invites Creators of Peace to help meet the ‘need for Fiji to find a path towards peace.’


Sue Sinclair from New Zealand with Lesley Bryant and Margaret Hepworth from Australia, all Creators of Peace (CoP) Circle facilitators, were invited to visit Fiji by Ratu Meli Vesikula and CoP Coordinator Suliana Siwatibau, to launch the Peace Circles and to extend the outreach of the programme in Fiji with a view to further training local facilitators. Suliana and Priscilla Singh, both well known past and present political and social activists in Suva, were involved in the planning and participation in the Peace Circles.  Sue and Margaret write:

We were very pleased that Suliana and Priscilla were able to provide insight into the Fijian context that we would be working under. Ratu Meli opened the first Circle and spoke movingly about the importance of women working in their communities to bring peace where it is much needed. ‘Fiji could be an example to the world.’ He explored the notion of Truth and Reconciliation forums, citing South Africa, and closer to home, the Solomon Islands, as very real examples of places having successfully implemented this as a process to healing. In closing the final session he spoke passionately again of the need for Fiji to find a path towards peace. He drew links between this and the grass-roots approach of CoP.

falseFifteen women from Suva participated in two Circles over the week of 19–23 October which was held at the centre for returned servicemen. The premises and office services were provided free of charge through the coordination of Ratu Meli. The 10 women in the first Circle and the five in the second, ranged in age from 23 to nearly 80. Apart from one Indo-Fijian, the rest were Fijian or Fiji Melanesian. All were Christian and willingly offered songs about peace which we sang each day at the lighting of the candle. Singing was recognised for its capacity both for healing and bringing joy. As such, a few times after a particularly emotional story was shared and a quiet moment held, we also sang for that person. This brought a depth of feeling and connectedness to the Circles that is hard to describe. 

Most women knew little of Creators of Peace or of Initiatives of Change, and many did not know each other. Having shared the experience, learned new skills and shared stories of significant personal changes, we each left with new tools and with a group of people to encourage and support in this transforming process, including a shared vision for peace in Fiji. ‘I’m learning to practice really listening – I’ve been really good at pretending to listen!’ said one participant. ‘I’m learning to be a change maker – it starts with me, look around, encourage, forgive; practice what we’ve learned’ said another.

A persistent theme throughout was succinctly expressed by one of the participants: ‘We must break the culture of silence,’ as in not speaking out to confront injustice. Several deep conversations were held on the power of forgiveness, with valuable stories shared by some of the women. A particularly poignant session was held in regards to peace in practice where we sought to examine the root causes of domestic violence and how to move forward in such circumstances.

A few women indicated interest in becoming trained CoP facilitators especially to spread the Circles through the villages they come from.

After the Peace Circle the team was invited to a remote inland village, Nawairuku, two hours north of Suva in Ra province. Having been unable to take the time from work to participate in a Circle, Kalara Une, the deputy head teacher at the local school, and her husband Une, hosted us in their home for three nights. We were able to show Kalara the CoP video and explain to her the benefits of the programme. She is looking for a way to join a CoP programme in the near future. While in the village Margaret ran two Global Citizenship/Peace Building workshops for the students at the Lawativale primary school.

While funds for the travel of the facilitators and other costs were donated from New Zealand and Australia and from the facilitators themselves, accommodation and hospitality were generously provided by the hosts.

A reunion of the participants is already planned as they seek their next steps in peace creating.