Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Nonviolence in Nepal

While this month’s elections seem to signal a victory for the Maoists in Nepal, it is the victory of nonviolence amongst the youth that has my heart singing.

Although the votes of last week’s elections are still being counted, it is now almost certain that the Maoists will win an overall majority. According to the Maoist chairman and the likely new president of Nepal, this was the week to turn from violence and become "Gandhis".

For many, however, the path of Gandhi was always preferable. Subhash is a young Nepalese visionary, who knows only too well the horror of violent conflict. When his father was killed in the violence, his resolve was to work for peace, rather than to engage in a cycle of revenge. When I met him in Geneva last year, he talked of starting a peace program, and I promised to help. Now, it seems his dream is coming true. Last week the second of two pilot workshops on Alternatives to Violence took place in Kathmandu, and were heralded as a great success.

These workshops were run by two facilitators from Australia’s Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), an experiential process that explores affirmation, communication, cooperation, trust, and conflict resolution. According to John, one of the facilitators, “the highlight of the workshop was the energy, hope and enthusiasm of the participants, a group of mostly young people that included a journalist, a radio journalist, a consultant working on the new constitution, representatives from NGOs and the president of Youth Action, Nepal”. The workshop went ahead in spite of “hurdles of language, illness, limited practical support, the need to change venue mid workshop, running out of supplies and overspending on the very limited budget”, John said.

Participants initiated a discussion following the workshop on how to continue this work. There are now plans to run several more workshops, in order to train around 30 Nepalese facilitators. The most exciting factor is that there is interest from members of the Maoist party. At this crucial time, there is a need for the new leaders of Nepal to turn from violence to peace and nonviolence and so it is crucial that they are part of a program to address that need.

It’s hard to believe that such promise, vitality and hope are the outcome of an earnest conversation by the steps of a church in Geneva some nine months ago. I first met Subhash in July 2007, when he attended a Summer School program for young people to learn about the United Nations. He shared with the group his experiences in Nepal, and spent a great deal of time asking me about peace programs that might be applicable in Nepal. Since that time, I put out feelers and discovered that an Australian facilitator of AVP was actually living in Kathmandu. I linked him up with Subhash, and the process of planning and seeking grants began. The new AVP community in Nepal is now in the process of building a network and is in urgent need of volunteers, resources and funds in order to survive. But I have confidence that it will succeed.

(Photo: Workshop participants, April 08)