Women's Day celebrates the strength and resilience of women and their contribution to society and country. This day forms part of South Africa's Women's Month which provides an opportunity to pay tribute to the generations of women whose struggles laid the foundations for the progress made in empowering women and achieving gender equality to date. It also draws attention to significant issues that women face, such as parenting, domestic violence, sexual harassment in the workplace, pornography, unequal pay, and schooling for all girls.
On this last day of Women’s Month, we would like to highlight the work being done by the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), a volunteer-run conflict transformation programme. Teams of trained AVP facilitators conduct experiential workshops to develop participants' abilities to resolve conflicts without resorting to manipulation, coercion, or violence.
Miselwa Nogqala, a facilitator at the Youth Development Programme of Wilderness Foundation Africa, is the Eastern Cape AVP facilitator, and recently co-facilitated with teams from Rwanda and Kenya at the GIZ Civil Peace Service in Addis Ababam, Ethiopia. During COVID-19 lockdown, Miselwa has continued to co-ordinate AVP workshops online.
We asked Miselwa to share her story with us:
“I grew up in a neighborhood where I witnessed violence almost every day, I would often hear or see people swearing and fighting. On the weekend there would be someone stabbed, killed, women or child raped, assaulted or robbed. There was drugs abuse by youngsters and alcohol abuse by older people, which led to children staying in the street hungry because of being neglected by parents.
There was hate speech, judgmental comments, put downs and stigma attached to LGBTQ family. Even at school, ladies who played rugby or soccer were ridiculed by teachers and learners.
I was privileged to be raised in a Christian family. We believe in accepting, caring and loving those around us, but there were certain topics like sex that I couldn’t discuss at home with my parents because of culture barriers. I was labeled a forward child because I would question why there were specific chores for boys and girls. At school I was called a “ring leader” because I asked so many questions and I didn’t believe in corporal punishment.
I was tired of my community and wished there was somewhere better I could go and live… I always visualized a peaceful, happy environment, free from violence. In 2010, when I attended my first AVP Basic workshop, I immediately felt a sense of community and a safe space. I was able to share my life experience without the fear of being judged when the facilitator explained the AVP Mandala technique which is: Affirmation, Communication, Community Building and Trust, Cooperation and Conflict Management.
I learned to recognize that we are only human and that everyone, including me, comes from her/his own background, upbringing, culture and stage of maturity. I started deliberately affirming myself (that created a positive confidence in myself) and I also tried to find the best in other people. But most of all, I began to stand up for rights and care about what happens to others around me.
I made a decision to liberate, educate, empower and encourage youth and women who are not even aware that they are violated, to understand the nature of violence. I vowed to live to inspire the women who are victims and survivors of violence to find their purpose in society, to equip those who are still experiencing violence to find courage to get up and expose gender based and all kinds of violence in a non-violent way. Above all, to help men realize that women deserve an opportunity to be equally respected and be treated with dignity, living peacefully without the fear of being abused by men… because we nurture, instilling positive values to children the future leaders of this country.
At Wilderness Foundation Africa I work with youth at the Siyazenzela programme. This programme focuses on dealing holistically with the student`s challenges and needs in order to better their future. In order to build resilience after the programme, the students need to face the reality of a violent community after the 3 weeks of empowerment in a positive environment created in the Siyazenzela classroom. AVP helps the students to understand that conflict is natural and to explore alternative non violent ways to deal with conflict with their peers, at home, in the community and in the workplace. The AVP belief is based on these techniques:
• Expect the best
• Respect for self
• Caring for others
• Think before reacting
• Ask for a non-violent solution
We use daily life experience scenarios and believe that in AVP we are all learners and that there is more wisdom in group thinking and sharing. We believe surprise and humor may help to transform a potential fight from escalating, and searching for a common ground can resolve conflict. We learn by experience and we transform every day.
We further discuss topics like Forgiveness, Addictions, Anger, Self-esteem, Fear, Anatomy of an Apology, Circle of Reconciliation, Power… which is enhancing and leads the students to healing in the past traumatic wounds and hurt that may have been caused by perpetrators of violence in their past. We also explore roots (causes) and fruits (results) of violence. This help us realize that “hurt people are hurting people” Perpetrators might have been themselves victims of violence. We believe AVP can be therapeutic and healing. Everyone has the power to change. It is a journey to transform and every day we learn from our mistakes, learning new ways to improve to be better than yesterday. I believe we can conquer the gender based violence and any kind of violence by transforming ourselves so when others see transformation in us they can also be transformed.
I am currently the AVP Eastern Cape Workshop Coordinator and in AVP we call each other by our adjective names… a positive adjective name that describes you… mine is Miraculous Miselwa, because It is like a miracle when I compare my past life to my current life. AVP has curved the sharp and rough edges in my life. Our country is nowhere close to my vision when I was young, hence I will continue with AVP, touching a group of people at a time and making a difference every day.
My Nepal Experience
I am grateful to have been exposed to AVP at an international level. I have made so many connections with facilitators all around the world. I learned invaluable lessons from the many workshops that I have attended. A key topic in Nepal was “how to handle trauma arising in the workshop”.
Facilitators shared AVP success stories, shared how we can overcome challenges, exchanged fundraising ideas and how we as facilitators care for ourselves in order to stay refreshed, revived and energized to empower others.
My Ethiopia Experience
Introducing AVP in Ethiopia was an achievement of a lifetime for me, It is our wish and duty that every country in the world must have an AVP group. I got an opportunity to share facilitation skills with the advanced facilitators who have been facilitating AVP workshops for more that 30years, I have experienced how to facilitate with diverse cultures and believe that the AVP transforming power works regardless of colour, gender, race or beliefs. I have learned that violence is everywhere in the world and it is our duty to raise awareness and educate people to change these norms and violent behavior.