Healing in Rwanda with Damien Nkubana

This is an interview between Damien Nkubana and I. Damien is the program manager for PEARLS Rwanda Rehabilitation Centre. This is the story of the incredible work he is doing. All I can do is pass along his story and his words and hope that you will support my friend. The video is for context if you are unfamiliar with Rwanda.

  1. What is the purpose of your organization? What is its mission?

The Center will be a multidisciplinary behavioral health care practice.
Our organization will be a community-based counseling and outreach center that offers individual, couple, family and group counseling services to clients in Rwanda.

MISSION:
To promote the well-being of the individuals and families, as well as peaceful cohabitation of people by providing accessible, quality mental health and substance abuse/addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and their families, utilizing a service system that emphasizes trust, respect, confidentiality, compassion, peace and reconciliation.

VISION:
Our vision is of a world where people with mental illness receive the mental health care they need, and go on to live productive, fulfilling lives free from trauma.

The people of Rwanda were affected by the genocide in many ways. Some suffer severe post-traumatic stress as a result of the events they witnessed, many are struggling with grief at the loss of friends and family, some turn to alcohol and drugs to cope with that loss.
Even those who have successful careers and families of their own might experience depression or unwanted thoughts from time to time, but feel as though they can’t talk about it.
Our center will be a safe space for anyone who needs a little support provided by qualified, trained staff and experienced in dealing with the full range of conditions specific to genocide survivors and all affected people. We provide group therapy sessions, one-on-one counseling and a range of holistic activities to complement their recovery.

  1. Who do you intend to help?
    • COUNSELING
    A. Individual counseling services
    For people with issues like:
    -Depression
    -Refugees
    -Veterans
    -Anxiety and stress
    -Relationship issues and difficulties
    -Alcohol and substance abuse
    -Family issues and conflicts
    -Sexual assault/trauma
    -Spirituality issues
    -Self esteem issues

B. Couples, family counseling services
-Relationship issues and conflicts
-Couple and marital enrichment
-Premarital counseling
-Couple communication and conflicts resolution
-Separation and divorce issues
-Domestic violence and physical abuse
-Addictions and substance abuse
-Grief and loss

C. Group counseling services

To resolve issues like:
-Stress or anger management
-Trauma recovery, or
-Life after divorce
-Divorce
-Anxiety
-Relationship or self esteem problems
• TRAUMA RECOVERY AND THERAPY
The organization will provide quality trauma therapy services for children and adults who have experienced traumatic events.

  1. Emotional and psychological trauma
    The center will help people to recover from issues such as:
    -Post traumatic stress disorder
    -Emotional abuse, neglect and domestic abuse
    -Sexual assault and abuse
    -Having trouble functioning at home or work
    -Suffering from severe fear, anxiety or depression
    -Avoiding more and more things that remind you of the trauma
    -Using alcohol or drugs to feel better

• CAREER COUNSELING AND LIFE COACHING
We will develop services to benefit our clients with their career direction and job/employment preparation.

  1. Life enhancement

-Increase motivation and satisfaction within various parts of life
-Receive expert guidance on achieving personal goals
-Developing clear goals and setting an action plan
-Learning coping skills necessary to manage life stressors and daily anxieties
-Enhance self confidence and living a greater balanced life
-Effective networking strategies and interpersonal communication skills

  1. Career planning

-Career counseling and guidance
-Career interest assessments and interpretation
-Links to job shadowing and internship opportunities
-Workshops and events

  1. Job creation preparation

-Entrepreneurship workshop
-Business mentorship
-Business coaching
-Resume and cover letter writing
-Interviewing skills
-Various training workshops
-Job search strategies

• PROFESSIONAL TRAININGS
The center will collaborate with Dr. Kenneth Dennis (Clinical Psychologist), of the United States, through the programs for ARMHS (Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services).
The healing center will partner with individuals, international public health schools, and international organizations.

• COMMUNITY OUTREACH
The center will also partner with local community and nonprofit organizations as well as public schools to provide mental health awareness seminars and psychotherapy treatment services.

  1. What experience do you have in this sort of work?

Before becoming a Roman Catholic Church priest (I left later) I did Philosophy, Theology, Psychology and Sociology studies.
I also did Entrepreneurship Development Management studies (Bachelor’s degree) and Postgraduate diploma in Education.
I am a certified counselor by the University Of Washington School Of Public Health. Since 2018 till now I have been working with the PEARLS (Program to Encourage Active and Rewarding LiveS) in research and International Rehabilitation Psychology Practice.

  1. What life events led you to this sort of work (your story)?
    N.B.: Damien NKUBANA: “I am not genocide against the Tutsi survivor”.

During the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, I was 17 years old. I saw a lot of bad things, atrocity, people killing innocent people! It was awful. We suffered a lot. People’s lives and hope were completely destroyed. I assisted in the “Homo lupus homini” (A man is a wolf to another man) scenario! Later I had a chance to survive and continue my studies. I became a priest in Roman Catholic Church. But I had high depression and trauma hidden! Being a priest worsened my situation. I left. After joining the TCP group, I met a friend, Kenneth PhD psychologist. He supported me and now I feel better. Helped — I am committed to help others experiencing the same like me in the recent past.

  1. Why is it important for people in Rwanda to have access to a facility like this?

Anyone that is struggling with depression, trauma or anxiety, any type of mental disorder, extreme poverty, an addiction to drugs or alcohol, will benefit by going to the rehab center. Those who have suffered from such situations know how hard it can be to overcome it alone, and the healing environment of rehabilitation offers the support needed to make a successful recovery.
In addition, those attending mental health treatment will also learn the necessary tools for building a productive, healthy, and happy life. Rwanda Rehab Center — Secret of Peace.

  1. How will they access it? Will it charge a fee to clients or will it be free? Will peoples therapy be subsidized by donations?

As we are targeting vulnerable people, with zero or little income people, we do not expect charging a fee to our clients. Provided services will be subsidized by donations.

  1. What is your grand vision? If you had all the money in the world for this project, what would you do?

I have seen the impact of reconciliation and forgiveness, how this is powerful! My vision, my dream is to have this “PEARLS Rwanda Rehab Center” where people come and someone is there to listen, where they speak the language of Peace, Reconciliation, and Forgiveness work together for healing.
A home for suffering people, as many as possible.

  1. What do you think you need to get started?

The work has already begun. This is the beauty of PEARLS, our main program. It can be done in peoples homes, but the dream is to build a center where we can have a true community rehabilitation center. I am currently working with almost 20 people. I need more people to join my vision. Togetherness is our strength.
We need to buy land ($15,000) and raise funds for buildings with equipment ($50,000).

9. How is the work you are doing impactful?

PEARLS RWANDA PROGRAM: Healing the invisible wounds of violence in Rwanda

NOTE:

KAMPORORO Seraphine is a mother and wife who lost her family during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. She was 16 years old, when armed men attacked her home in MUSANZE, a town in Northern of Rwanda, and brutally killed her parents, siblings and friends.

KAMPORORO Seraphine, TESTIMONIAL

“I lost all. It was hard to move on. I was so much wounded; my heart was bleeding.

When the killings stopped, I struggled for years to live with the harsh invisible wounds of seeing my father, mother and brothers murdered by neighbors.

Imagine seeing the wife of someone who killed your family, take food to him in prison while you are starving with nothing to eat.

The traumatic experience left wounds too deep for me to heal on my own. I was not alone to suffer some form of physical or emotional hardship because of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.

By June, 2019, Damien NKUBANA, PEARLS-RWANDA program Manager, came at my home in Musanze. He was conducting a research on depression, anxiety or trauma cases among genocide survivors and young single mothers in Musanze. He interviewed me and collected all data related to initial evaluation: PHQ-9(Physical Health Questionnaire), GAD-7(Generalized Anxiety Disorder) and NSI (Neurobehavioral Symptoms Inventory). After the conversation he started counseling me for several months and sessions. After that my life started to change a bit positively”! I appreciate his hard working to help me.

Later, Damien NKUBANA invited me for a societal healing event organized by PEARLS-Rwanda program for Ruhengeri/Musanze prison aiming at forgiveness and reconciliation between genocide survivors and perpetrators.

I eventually got the courage to overcome my trauma after participating in that societal healing event.  However, it was not an easy journey for me to heal from my distress and extreme paranoia.

First, as genocide survivors, we were not happy when the perpetrators confessed and were released from prison. We thought they will come and finish us. When we were brought together, I was afraid. In this reconciliation village event, survivors and genocide perpetrators collaborated in bricklaying. I often had fears that in the process, one of them [genocide perpetrators] will hit me with a hoe from behind. But with time I have forgiven them. No one forced me to forgive. Despite what they did, reconciliation is possible. We are the story.


It was hard to look eye to eye with someone who killed my family.

On his part, Jean Pierre, an ex-genocide prisoner said:

“I was scared to face the families of people I killed during the genocide. But with counseling by PEARLS-RWANDA PROGRAM, I decided to open up and confess what I did. I also confessed to my wife, to whom I had lied all along that I was unjustly imprisoned. I told her the truth that I killed our neighbors. She was shocked. My wife and children were traumatized after learning the truth’’.

END of testimonial.

Kampororo



NOTE :


The researcher, Judith Herman, wrote a seminal book called: “Trauma and Recovery: the Aftermath of Violence – from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror”. She believes there are three elements involved in the healing process: Survivors need to reach a place of safety, reconstruct the trauma narrative and restore the connection between individual and community.

The adverse impact of the genocide still weighs heavily on Rwandan society today. The country still grapples with a burden of trauma and mental health conditions. The reason why Rwanda Rehab and Career Center is a need as investment in mental health, address trauma and enhance social cohesion in Rwanda for better future. 

10. Wow! This is incredibly moving. I am wondering more about the former combatants…

The story of Lambert, an ex-combatant



After nearly 20 years, deep-rooted trauma from the Rwandan genocide still haunts many.

Through PEARLS work in Rwanda, we bring together victims and perpetrators of the genocide by providing microfinance, trauma counseling and dialogue clubs.

This programme helps the communities to move forward and rebuild their lives together, avoiding the risk of renewed conflict.

The story of Lambert, an ex-combatant


“I was just 17 at the onset of the 1994 genocide war when my family was forced into a refugee camp in the Congo by the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) soldiers. The camp was dismantled but I suspected some of my family members would betray me so I decided to join the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) in the Congo to fight the RPF from 1998 to 2004.

I was badly wounded – I thought I would die and decided to return to Rwanda and hand myself in to the authorities to get medical treatment for my worsened physical condition.

After treatment, I was sent to an ‘integration camp’-MUSANZE in the north of the country and joined by other friends who were fed up with and depressed by the daily hammering of war. We were given US$350 as a stake to begin a new life. I wasted my money on alcohol to relieve my depression, sense of isolation and loneliness.

A few years ago I heard about Damien NKUBANA PEARLS programme for ex-combatants, about other men suffering from depression. The first step was trauma counseling – my hate was reduced, for the first time in many years I no longer felt isolated and lonely.

Through the programme, after the counseling I participated in a micro-financing project to create a farming project. This time the money was not wasted on alcohol.

One successful project has led to another – I am now married, have a family and we are building a life together filled with hope. This could not have happened without the support of the dialogue club and counseling.” Thanks to Damien NKUBANA.

End of testimonial.

If you would like to help with the healing, please contact Damien Nkubana at dkubana1976@gmail.com

We are also needing funds for a peace and reconciliation project: https://gofund.me/c6e741e4

More about PEARLS: https://depts.washington.edu/hprc/programs-tools/pearls/

More of Damien’s projects: https://dontwantyourcivilwar.com/2021/07/02/rwandan-women-teaching-the-world-about-peace-and-reconciliation/

Reverberation of War

https://www.newsweekpakistan.com/children-bear-brunt-of-syria-war/

The trees, buildings, people, and cannons
Tower over my three feet.
Smell of gunpowder. Sight of lanterns.
People in the street
Fear slices from my throat to my tummy.
Where’s my daddy? Where’s my mummy?
A sea of people taller than me.
Where’s our tent? I can’t see…

There you are!
I hear my mothers voice.
She comforts me under the stars.
We had no choice.

They told me it was fun to camp.
I cuddled up with mom in the tent.
She read me Bible stories under a lamp.
‘Til dad came back from battle – energy spent.

I watched my dad march off the next day.
He left me with a stranger.
He told me to stay.
I felt danger.
Booms and Bangs.
The clashing of war.
Scared to my core.
Smoke all around me.
Searching for my family.

I coughed and I cried,
Having left the strangers side.
My dad was nigh
But I watched him fall
After the exploding of a cannonball.
I bolted back to the silent stranger
But I couldn’t remember his face.
I blacked out and my heart began to race.
That night we sat by the fire and talked about gods grace.
But there was no love in that place.

I can’t remember more,
But still hear and feel the reverberation of war.

(C) 2021 GB Swann

In my culture, it is Memorial Day weekend. It is a holiday to honor American servicemen and women who died in war. I believe that those who left children behind would rather us think about their living children who were affected by militarism through the loss of their caretaker.

May we all have a reflective Memorial Day and consider what actions we can take as individuals to keep the children from the horrors of war. There are sights and sounds that one can’t unhear or unsee. It is hard enough for a willing warrior to live with. How much harder for someone who stands three feet tall?

I wrote this poem based off of an experience I had as a child. My dad was an American Civil War Reenactor and there was a time during a battle reenactment when I didn’t know where my family was and was scared. The poem was my experience, but I sat down to write it with the specific intent of empathizing with war children and refugees. My mom used to try to prepare me for the battles. She would tell me not to be scared because it was all just play and not to worry if my dad died on the battlefield. I can only imagine what it must have been like for an actual child during that war. What would it be like to have this same experience in France or Finland during WWII? What was it like to be a German child during WWII? What is it like to be a Syrian child who left home because of war? I’m glad that I can only imagine.

Occasionally, I may change the photo to honor a different group of children. Thanks for reading.

Gang of the Badge

virginia-police-pepper-spray-army-09-ht-llr-210410_1618061359693_hpMain_16x9_992.jpg (992×558) (abcnews.com)

I no longer care about anyone’s race or ethnicity, but at one time, people of other races scared me, because I was so used to just being around white people. It seems like there are a lot of white people who don’t want to admit that they have strange feelings about people they are not used to. When it is a cop who feels that way, it is very dangerous. We don’t need cops who are scared of the color of someone’s skin. We don’t need aggressive gangs of cops getting away with assaults and murder.

My first day of public school in January of 2002 was a culture shock, just as I expected. I felt like I was walking through a sea of black and brown people. It was scary. I had gone to an almost all-white private school for my entire life and was in church 6 days a week. I was wearing neatly pressed khaki cargo pants and a black polo shirt, with combat boots. My hair was cropped. I had a goatee and was slightly over-weight. I felt like everyone was watching me. When lunch time came, I found one table that did not have anyone at it in a school of 1000 people and I ate my sack lunch. It was a very lonely and surreal day. This same day was repeated five days a week for a month.

            One day, I was sitting alone when this really cool guy walked up to me, sat down beside me, and asked,

            “Why are you a NARC??”

            “HUH? What does that mean?” I asked.

            His brown eyes became very large and he cracked a real friendly smile and asked again,

            “You don’t know what that means? Where the fuck are you from? How old are you? Why are you going to school here? You look like you work for the police.”

            I told him that, in fact, I did not know what a narc was. I came from Christian school and I was not a cop, but a Sea Cadet. I explained to him that I was about to be 15 years old, but that I worked with the military. I was scared, and had only been boxing for a week, but told him that I was also a boxer.

            He said, “OK Mayn, you are now a gun dealer and amateur boxer. You deal with my gang.”

            “Dude!” I said, “I’m not a gun dealer or anything like that. I don’t do gang stuff.”

            “Trust me.” He said, “People think you are a narc, an undercover cop. You don’t want to be that here. If I tell people what I just said, you won’t run into as much trouble. I’m just trying to help you out because you are new.”

            “What are you?” I asked.

            “What do you mean, what am I? My name is “E”. I am half Black and half Samoan, but everyone calls me “Hawaiian”. I am a Crip in a new thing called “8-Ball”. It’s an alliance between gangs to stop the warfare.”

            “OH!” I said. He shook my hand, teaching me the “shake” of his gang. I was a true freshman. He had been held back a couple of years for going to juvie so many times. He asked me to follow him out to the senior courtyard. It was an outdoor area for senior’s to eat lunch. He walked up to a table full of females who all acknowledged him and they made room for us to sit down. The moment I sat down, a black girl sat down in my lap. Another one sat down in my new friend’s lap. One of the girls asked me what my name was and I told her. “E” told them all that I am one of his associates and they giggled.

            We maintained this friendship for a month. He was my only friend. For several days, he didn’t show up to the cafeteria. I walked out to the senior courtyard and asked those girls if they knew what happened to him and they all stared sadly at the ground. One of the girls took me to the side and told me that he had gotten popped for a drive-by and I probably wouldn’t ever see him again.

            My gang was the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps. I was learning to be in the military. One weekend a month, I was a child soldier who would go to the Navy and Marine Corps Reserve Center in Marietta. One of those days would be spent with the Naval Air Station Atlanta, where I carried a shotgun and checked peoples I.D.’s to come on post, went on street patrols, and even worked security at the Atlanta Air Show. I spent 30 days out of my summers on active duty where I worked for the Navy Police, Recruiters, and the United States Coast Guard. For family reasons, I quit being a part of the organization.

            A year later, my family moved to a more rural area. When I was 17, I started hanging around a neighborhood gang that was mostly a bunch of white kids who had trouble at home and school. Most everyone sold weed or other things and partied together. Every once in a while, we would beef with another neighborhood gang on the other side of the county that went to another high school.

            When I was 19, I joined the U.S. Army Infantry. “The world’s best gang.” It has every race, ethnicity, and religion working together, but it is still a white man’s world. People of Color still face a lot of discrimination in the military. Women are often sexually assaulted. They purposefully target children as young as 13 for recruitment and allow 17-year-olds to join.

            The thing about the army is that when a person joins that gang they swear the following:

“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.” 

            Officers make this oath:

“I ___, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

            Police officers swear a very similar oath. It is so confusing because I swear that I read this in the United State Constitution:

14th amendment Section 1.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

How about the 8th amendment, which is supposed to protect us from cruel and unusual punishment?

            So why do the police violate our rights with impunity? Because they have become gangs themselves:

(Triggering video that you need to watch in it’s entirety to understand)

 Marlon Craft – Gang Shit (Official Music Video) – YouTube (Please watch, then continue)

            So, what happens when the local police gang decide to abuse an Army Officer?

            Nothing, because the Army officer’s gang, the United States of America, who he swore an oath to support and defend, who he may get deployed and face life or death situations at the whims of our elected politicians, well – they don’t seem to care. Why?

WATCH: Police Pull Guns On Afro-Latino Army Officer In Traffic Stop | NBC News – YouTube (Please watch, then continue)

            That is some gang shit if I ever saw it. Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker have full support of their gang, the Windsor, Virginia police department. Never mind that the Governor of Virginia is the head of the Virginia National Guard. The Police Chief of Windsor seems to be the more fearsome gang leader.

            To be clear: This is all an analogy that I think makes a lot of sense. “America, a whole lot of gang shit.” (Marlon Craft)

As a veteran, as an American, as a human, that is not what I want. I am tired of the violence and the hatred.

            How many veterans will show up to Windsor, Virginia committed to a nonviolent protest of police brutality? The town of Windsor Virginia has about 2,200 Face Book “likes”. Can we get 2,200 veterans to peacefully walk through Windsor with signs condemning police brutality for the whole world to see? Are there that many veterans who will say that we don’t want this gang shit in America? We are tired of the police escalating the violence! As veterans, it is our responsibility to be an example of peace in this country for future generations. Will you support your own?

Please contact the town of Windsor, Virginia and let them know, respectfully, that you condemn the violence. Town Council | Government | Official Website for the Town of Windsor, Virginia (windsor-va.gov)

If you do not condemn these actions of Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker, please comment why,

Have you ever experienced police brutality? Please, comment with your story.

Walking in Circles

I hiked on a trail to the past

And was led to the present.

Upon my personal survey of the trail,

I discovered several reference points,

Chiseled into stone, arrows pointing

To a slot that the professional may use

To determine the height of this path.

The slot was created by his predecessor.

Like most passers-by, I didn’t realize what this meant,

But paid my respect due to it’s age.

As I trudged along the well-worn muddy path,

Up and down peaks and valleys,

I came to a peak with a monument on top.

I couldn’t miss the monument-

Though it wasn’t what I was searching for.

It was right beside a miniscule, marble stone

With a bronze disk that marked the elevation of this pinnacle that I sought to see.

My accomplishment of elevation was overshadowed by a very impressive-massive sculpture,

En Memoriam of those who died in war.

As a veteran, I stood silent, spinning with the earth.

I considered the circle of conflict, or is it a sphere, that is so pervasive,

We honor it by cutting off the camouflaged, circular

-Keeper of time, and it’s associated branches,

-encouraging erosion at the top,

And asking people to lose more appendages by chopping trees and chiseling marble,

As tall as the great, sappy time-keepers,

Effectively overshadowing this little bronze disk-

That to me is second in majesty,

Only to the great circular time-keepers,

That will continue to grow,

IF we don’t stop them.

The marble erodes and decays

Only to be discovered over-again

Over-shadowing a benchmark

Surrounded by the great, circular, sappy,

Keepers of time that rarely speak aloud,

Except the peaceful creeks I hear

As air sways them to and fro

Dancing as I travel with them through life.

After my hike, I visited my white father,

A war historian,

And discovered that he was the surveyor of the project that eroded this naturally pure, priceless pinnacle,

And I asked why?

©2021 George B. Swann

Dangerous, growing, yet unnoticed: the rise of America’s white gangs | Society | The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/apr/05/white-gangs-rise-simon-city-royals-mississippi-chicago

Great article. What it leaves out is that the founder of the Gangster Disciples is from Mississippi. In that sense, it is a home grown gang. This is life for a lot of poor white people. It isn’t a phenomenon relegated to Mississippi. I knew some of these fellas in Georgia.

“And still I see no changes, can’t a brother get a little peace?
There’s war in the streets and war in the Middle East
Instead of war on poverty, they got a war on drugs
So the police can bother me” — Tupac Shakur

Culture of War part I

http://muhaz.org/the-fight-to-control-north-america-the-intercolonial-wars/img4.jpg

Dr. Linda James Meyers in, Re-Centering Culture and Knowledge in Conflict Resolution Practice (2008), writes, “The significance of conflict in Western civilization is made evident by the way the West benchmarks history, and much of it centers around materialistic values. Western historians typically recount what has taken place over time through the engagement of Western cultures in extremely violent conflicts or wars, the consequences of imperialist instinct and aggression or inability to resolve differences and conflict…..insight into the mindset of Western aggressive dominance is important.”

(Personally, I think that the insight to that mindset can be found through a book entitled, The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli, and an Abrahamic view of male dominion over the earth.)

            I read this in one of my courses in the Conflict Resolution undergraduate certificate program I am in. It really stuck with me. I wrote a discussion question about it, but no one replied to it, so I decided to write more about it after answering my own questions. For the past 6 months, I have been writing a semi-autobiographical novel. In so doing, I had to recall many events in my life. I was able to remember the year by thinking about a few major conflict situations that happened in my life and in the world. In my life, I often use the following events to benchmark my personal history: When I became homeless in 2008, joined the army in 2006, got jumped in 2003, attacks on September 11, 2001, Columbine in 1999, 1996 Olympic Bombing, and the Gulf War. Looking back, I thought about my dad being a war historian. Of course I benchmark life events through conflict. What better way to develop and maintain a culture of war than to measure time by it?

            Those big events happened every few years. A lot of life happened in between those major U.S. and world events. I was having trouble remembering what happened in between. Another conflict popped in my head. The Swann family battle of the Will Smith CD.

“What year did that Will Smith album, ‘Big Willie Style’, come out?” I questioned. Immediately, I googled it. “Oh, it came out in 1997. It must have been 1998 when I got that. Yes, definitely it was 1998, because the next year was when we built the basement into bedrooms for my brother and I. That is around the time I started becoming more independent. Yes, I was 11.”

            The CD was confiscated by my father who did not believe in multi-culturalism. I was angry. To me, it was innocent. There were no cuss words and I first heard the songs on Disney Radio for Kids. I remembered the sadness of the conflict, but it spurred another thought:

Recently, I learned about conflict metaphors and realized that my family had a “War metaphor”. Wow! I am trying to change that in my life and have been switching over to thinking about conflict as a garden or a dance to be danced in harmony. I need to stop looking at my personal history through the lens of conflict. It is a must, if I am going to change my life into a culture of peace. I have to “be the change that I want to see”.

            I began remembering all of the music from my childhood. It has been helping me get the timeline right on my book. I just remember an album or a book and look up when it was released.

            We could just as easily use Mozart’s, Clarinet Quintet in A, to benchmark history as the commencement of the French Revolution. The big difference is that we would be furthering a culture of the arts rather than war. Can we make music instead of war? My grandaddy benchmarked his life by economics: When he got his first pair of shoes, went to college, got a teaching job, etc. Can we make money and educational opportunities instead of war?

            The muse in me wants the world to benchmark history through the arts. What are your ideas?

Outside Looking In. Inside Looking Out.

I was on the outside, being brought to the inside.
In the midst of my Becoming,
We went outside where I re-entered the old, yet new.
Passing through the collective Conscious
A new awareness formed:
Not everyone thinks that I am on the side of Right.
I must question what is right. I must know what is right.
Which exactor of violence is righteous?
© G.B. Swann

               On a scorching, suffocating summer day in Georgia, I was crammed, compacted, and crowded, chest to back with other soldiers, locked inside of a cattle trailer. This is how the U.S. Army has decided is the most efficient way to transport soldier’s long distances, on base and in between training events. If it is further than a few miles and does not fit into a pre-scheduled ruck march, a bus or cattle truck shows up to give us a ride. Morale had been low, so as the platoon “radio”, I had been leading a chorus of sardines in uniform. Just before we left the gates of Sand Hill, the bus stopped. A drill sergeant beat on the wall of the cattle trailer, reverberating a loud metallic noise while yelling, “SHUT UP IN THERE! SHUT THE F___ UP IN THERE, AND LISTEN UP, BEFORE I SMOKE YOU’RE A__!” Before the drill sergeant was halfway through his command, we were already quiet.

“LISTEN UP, DICKS. and remember, privates, this is the new army. We can’t call you names or talk about your mama’s, anymore. We call you DICKS, BECAUSE YOU ARE DEDICATED INFANTRY COMBAT KILLERS, HOOAH!??”, Said the drill sergeant.

“HOO-UH!” We routinely yelled back without emotion.

“Alright Privates, listen here: We are about to leave Sand Hill, drive out into the world of civilians, and then back into the world of the UNITED STATES ARMY, HOOOOAAAAH????? As we re-enter the Main Gate of Ft. Benning, there will be a large group of dirty, nasty civilians, who eat McDonalds and Taco Bell every day. They will yell at you. They may even throw things at the bus. We are BETTER THAN THAT, PRIVATES! YOU WILL NOT ACKNOWLEDGE THEM. YOU WILL MAINTAIN STRICT MILITARY BEARING AND IGNORE THE DIRTY, NASTY CIVILIANS? HOOAH? IT IS THEIR RIGHT TO STAND THERE AND PROTEST. IT IS THEIR RIGHT BECAUSE OF YOU, PRIVATES! THIS IS THE OATH YOU SWORE, TO SIPPORT AND DEFEND THE CONSTITUTION. THE CONSTITUTION THAT GIVES THEM THE RIGHTS TO DO THIS. SO SUCK IT UP AND GET USED TO IT, PRIVATES!”, Barked the drill sergeant.

“What are they protesting, drill sergeant?”, a nameless recruit known as, “Private” questioned.

“WHO F____NG SAID THAT?!!! WHO THE ________ ……OK YOU WANNA KNOW WHY?? There is a school here known as the School of Americas. At this school, we bring people from Latin America up here to teach them how to be real soldiers like you and then send them back to their home countries to fight the narco-guerillas! The protestors do not see it that way. They are usually peaceful and the worst thing they normally do is climb the gate to get themselves arrested. Now lock it up.”, He calmly said as he walked away.

We began moving again and slowly came to the Main Gate. Protestors lined each side of the street. No one accosted us, shot us a bird, or anything. They just held their signs.  We pulled through the gate and drove to our destination in the middle of a stretch of woods with ravines and gullies like the mountains, but we were just in the rolling hills of Middle Georgia. As we dismounted, I heard jokes being made about showing us Privates how to bust South American coke labs. This was the war game we played. It was fun. I went through another couple of months of training before I graduated as a U.S. Army Infantryman. Eventually, I was stationed in Alaska. One boring and cold day in the Tundra, I looked up what the School of Americas is and was. This is what I learned:

(6 Jesuit priests were murdered by Salvadoran military officials who attended the School of Americas. I took this photo from a WordPress article I found: (https://unredacted.com/2011/05/05/salvadoran-military-official-accused-of-ordering-jesuit-massacre-dies-at-64/)

From an address to Congress about Human Rights Violations:

As reflected in the 1993 debate, most concerns about the School have centered on graduates who have been implicated in–or are alleged to be responsible for-human rights violations in their countries. According to critics, the School has a history and tradition of abusive graduates who violate human rights. Observers point out that School alumni include: 48 out of 69 Salvadoran military members cited in the U.N. Truth Commission’s report on El Salvador for involvement in human rights violations (including 19 of 27 military members implicated in the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests), and more than 100 Colombian military officers alleged to be responsible for human rights violations human rights organizations Press reports have also alleged that school graduates have included several Peruvian military officers linked to the July 1992 killings of nine students and a professor from La Cantuta University, and included several Honduran officers linked to a clandestine military force known as Battalion 316 responsible for disappearances in the early 1980s. 4 Critics of the School maintain that soldiers who are chosen to attend are not properly screened, with the result that some students and instructors have attended the School after being implicated in human rights violations.

Supporters of the School maintain that those graduates who have committed human rights violations did not commit the violence because of their training at Fort Benning, but rather in spite of it. They maintain that only a small number out of a total of almost 58,000 School graduates have been accused of human rights violations. In many Latin American countries, military service is traditionally an avenue to political and economic leadership and supporters of the School contend that the opportunity to train thousands of Latin American military officials on U.S. human rights processes and international human rights has a significant potential for bringing about greater respect for human rights in Latin America. Acknowledging the past abuses of some graduates, some School supporters have recommended a stricter set of criteria for student selection along with restrictions for countries with a high percentage of students later convicted of human rights violations. The Department of the Army maintains that the United States–through the Department of State–actively and continuously screens potential candidates for training for any record of human rights abuse, criminal activity, or corruption. ( Sourced from https://fas.org/irp/crs/soa.htm)

            The issue that I have with the statement from the supporters is that I have read the counter-intelligence training manual, which describes torture tactics. You can read it for yourself by looking at the SOA Watch website that is linked below. If we are training these military officials in torture tactics along side of human rights theory, what does it matter? It seems that the human rights training is being cancelled out. Also, I believe for so many people to be involved in such atrocities, that a culture of apathy to human rights has developed.

SOA Watch (https://soaw.org/about/)

SOA Watch began in 1990 to denounce the 1989 School of the Americas (SOA) graduate-led massacre at the University of Central America (UCA) in El Salvador. The SOA, renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2001, is a US military training school based in Fort Benning, Georgia. The school made headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution. Despite this admission and hundreds of documented human rights abuses connected to soldiers trained at the school, no independent investigation into the facility has ever taken place.

Over the past 27 years, SOA Watch has grown to become the largest grassroots Latin America solidarity organization in the United States. In 2016 SOA Watch moved to Nogales Arizona/Sonora to call attention to militarized US foreign policy as a principal root cause of migration, as well as the devastating impact US security and immigration policy has on refugees, asylum seekers and immigrant families all over the continent.

Our Mission

SOA Watch is a nonviolent grassroots movement working to close the SOA / WHINSEC and similar centers that train state actors such as military, law enforcement and border patrol. We strive to expose, denounce, and end US militarization, oppressive US policies and other forms of state violence in the Americas. We act in solidarity with organizations and movements working for justice and peace throughout the Americas.

Two Readings From Two Days

BE A PEACE BUILDER
It all starts small – peace begins in our families and schoolsI heard an elementary school principal on the radio a few months ago. She was very concerned about her students. She pointed out how often children are exposed to violence (a child can watch one violent incident on television every six minutes; the average child is likely to watch 8,000 screen murders by the end of elementary school). She explained that her school was big on conflict resolution and nonviolence. They had made it clear that violence was not an acceptable part of the school’s culture. They had taught students various conflict resolution skills and techniques to deal with disagreements. But since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, this principal had noticed an increase in students playing war games during recess. In some cases, it had gotten out of hand
— children were punched or kicked. There had also been an increase in bullying and other violent incidences in the school. The principal was feeling frustrated. While she and the teachers in her school were trying to teach children about resolving conflicts in a constructive, nonviolent manner, children saw the President of the United States on the evening news talking about catching terrorists “dead or alive.” They saw constant bloody images of war in Iraq with justifications of force as the “only option.” She wondered how we can expect children to respond to two conflicting messages. Which message carries more weight — the one from the teachers or the one from the President?

Conflict, security, violence, war, and peace are issues both young and old struggle with. They are complicated issues. They are also critical to the legacy we pass on to future generations. We can start building peace in the world by building peace within ourselves, our families, and our communities. We all have a responsibility to actively participate in making choices about how we resolve conflicts. The view of the world as shaped in childhood and adolescence to a large part determines adult perspectives. Do we have the courage to pass on to children a legacy of a worldview that encourages peace building?

A peace builder is someone who acts in small ways every day to make the world a more peaceful place. As human beings, we have incredible potential. Peace building is based on the hope that we can tap into that potential. It doesn’t offer an easy or quick solution. It is an ongoing process of learning for young and old.

We are born with an urge to play and create, to be curious and inventive, to experiment and explore. Our education either affirms these tendencies or smothers them. Education — in the broadest sense of the term — is central to peace building. Said Maria Montessori, “Preventing conflicts is the work of politics; establishing peace is the work of education.” Education means listening, asking questions, and seeking to understand the nature of a problem. It means looking at the problem from your own perspective as well as the perspectives of others. It means learning skills and using them creatively, balancing a concern for yourself with a concern for the larger community. It means building on the past while finding new ways for people to live together peacefully in an increasingly shrinking world.

Peace building may take many forms: conflict resolution programs (training to resolve interpersonal conflicts constructively); violence/bullying prevention programs (reducing violent behaviors); development education (values, human rights); nonviolence education (emphasizing positive images of peace); and global peace education (international studies).

Peace building also requires confrontation with our assumptions about conflict. In confronting conflict, we can choose to take a violent or nonviolent approach. Like violence, nonviolence is a learned behavior. What do you really feel about violence? How do you handle your own anger? And how does that translate to the family and home you create?

There’s a critical tie between our own families and the greater family of humanity. By turning our back on the one, we turn our back on the other. Wrote Anwar Sadat:I could never turn against or show the least lack of loyalty to my family, since this is in sharp contradiction with the family values I was brought up on — the values that continue to sustain my lifeblood and determine my mental life more effectively than anything else. Indeed, the faith I have in these values deepens day after day, so much that I have come to believe that only adherence to such values can save society
— that there can be hope only for a society which acts as one big family and not as many separate ones.Understanding is key to peace building, and understanding is taught at home. We seldom lose our temper when we’re focused on trying to understand a situation or another person’s perspective. Children who are taught to try to understand why things happen and why people act the way they do will become calmer and more in control. Children need calmness. It gives them a kind of security. Peace and the control of temper is a powerful and important value that is largely a product of love and of the atmosphere created in a home.

In families, we know how to break up. But who teaches us to make up? Part of the reason we don’t teach people how to make up is that there’s a feeling out there that “good families don’t fight.” Of course they do! It’s essential to have conflict for good health in a family. It gets things out into the open. It allows for the surfacing of occasional discord, unhappy feelings, anger, sadness, disappointment, and frustration. The important thing is to do it constructively and to know how to put things right at the end. Healthy families recognize negotiation as a fundamental human activity. No one ever wants to do things the way we do, and so we go through life on a daily basis negotiating — who gets the bathroom first in the morning, who gets which section of the newspaper, who gets to watch which TV program. Healthy families also develop certain rituals over time that signal the right time and right way to resolve conflicts. The right time is one in which there is enough time to discuss the issue passionately, rationally, and completely — and enough time to reconcile.

It is in families and through intergenerational interaction that we can be motivated toward peace. A parent or grandparent looks at their first child or grandchild and realizes that they have a responsibility to create a safe world for this tiny being. The young can also loosen the entrenched perspectives that may develop with age. When you’re a teenager, you’re willing to question everything and anything, to challenge the beliefs you were brought up with, and to entertain even the most radical points of view. But that changes as you get settled into a position. Then, if you’re not careful, the intractability can set in. Most of us tend to hold on to our moral positions because we’re afraid (they play a major role in who we are) and we don’t see or understand the bigger picture. This bigger picture is important because we forget that our moral positions go beyond our own experience, and they significantly affect the lives of those around us and those who follow us.

Choose to be a peace builder — and to encourage your children and grandchildren to follow the same path.
© SV Bosak, http://www.legacyproject.org

The above article came from a Google search, “How to be a peace-builder”. The poem below is what my former Yoga teacher used to always recite. She is gracious enough to let me bug her by messenger now that I live far away and she sent me this poem that I had forgotten about.

Peace is This Moment Without Judgment

Do you think peace requires an end to war?
Or tigers eating only vegetables?
Does peace require an absence from
your boss, your spouse, yourself?…
Do you think peace will come some other place than here?
Some other time than Now?
In some other heart than yours? 

Peace is this moment without judgment.
That is all. This moment in the Heart-space
where everything that is is welcome.
Peace is this moment without thinking
that it should be some other way,
that you should feel some other thing,
that your life should unfold according to your plans. 

Peace is this moment without judgment,
this moment in the heart-space where
everything that is is welcome.

© Dorothy Hunt