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19 December, 2011

A small change that we make in our daily lives can have ripple effects in our society.

Peace Circle participants and facilitators in Bradford came from UK, Australia and the Netherlands (Photo: Willemijn Lambert)
Peace Circle participants and facilitators in Bradford came from UK, Australia and the Netherlands (Photo: Willemijn Lambert)
The last months of 2011 have been busy ones for Creators of Peace. We have two different formats of our Peace Circle to offer, and we’ve been running both. The once-a-week meeting, for a few hours, is the ‘stretch limo’ version. This can take place locally, and involve a group invited from different parts of the community. It gives time to consider the themes in depth, and apply them to daily life in between sessions. The weekend version is intense, and is the Peace Circle equivalent of a ‘racing car,’ but offers an opportunity to people who don’t happen to live near a locally running Peace Circle.

So our latest weekly type (stretch limo) started in Oxford on International Day of Peace (21 September.) It included Oxford residents of asian and white origin, covering all ages from recent graduates in their 20s to grandmothers. Another Peace Circle requirement is full confidentiality: this makes it extremely hard to report! However we can tell you that all are women already active in the community, in different ways, including a local magistrate, a radiographer and a campaigner on ecological issues. We always ask for comments as evaluation, as this helps people review what they have learnt, helps us check how we have done and draws out themes. In Oxford this year, a key theme was listening and community. Participants answered the questions, ‘What have you learnt from this Peace Circle, and what might you do differently now?’ One anonymous reply was, '[I learnt] That I need to listen more (properly!) to others and stop talking! I am learning now to be comfortable being alone with myself, meditating and reflecting and feeling empowered to get up and "do"!'

Another said, 'I will try to forgive more and listen more. Maybe try to build more community feeling wherever I am.' A third wrote, 'I will listen more carefully to others as there is always a story to tell which we often are unaware of.' And lastly, '[I will] Acknowledge others and their opinions. Listen more to others. Find alternative ways to communicate. Consider getting to know my neighbours better.'

Peace Circle facilitation training: joined by Diana from Romania, Willemijn from the Netherlands, Lucy from London (Photo: Willemijn Lambert)
Peace Circle facilitation training: joined by Diana from Romania, Willemijn from the Netherlands, Lucy from London (Photo: Willemijn Lambert)
November and December saw another two Peace Circle weekends (aka the ‘racing car’ version) held in Oxford and Bradford, as well as a facilitation training in Oxford. At the finish of each of these occasions the women participating reported they felt ‘empowered’ by the Peace Circle process and came away with a clearer sense of how to live the life of a ‘peace creator.’ Again, they were women already engaged in social action, wishing to deepen their contribution to peacebuilding in society. One shared, ‘I will take away the idea that I can make changes, no matter how small I think they are, in my everyday life. These changes might be small to me, but of significant importance to others.’

One of the outcomes which meant the most to us, Willemijn and Su, was the observation that ‘the process of Peace Circles works.’ The Peace Circle mirrors IofC: searching for inspiration in reflection, identifying and reaching for our highest values, deciding on a next step. One of our Oxford weekend participants was someone who is hugely concerned for her country, and studying here in order to go back and bring justice and change to a difficult situation. She asked us early on in the Peace Circle, ‘But how can I do anything when it is impossible to speak out, when others control, and are corrupt?’ Willemijn and I paused, and decided to come back to it later in the weekend. We wrote the question on a piece of paper and stuck it to the back of a door to remind us. At the end we asked our friend if she wanted us all to take time to discuss her issues. ‘Oh no,’ she said. ‘It’s fine now. I have an answer.’ Her confident reply showed us that she was truly satisfied and that we can ‘trust the process.’

As 2011 draws to a close, and we prepare to set out on our Creators of Peace journey in 2012, we are encouraged by the fruits of this past year’s work. We hope to see many more women able to access the Creators of Peace Circle experience in 2012, forming small local teams, training to run new groups, or coming along and helping with food, fundraising and friendship across our communities.

Su Riddell and Willemijn Lambert 

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