A London Peace Circle unites women community leaders and human rights activists
From the 22-23 June 2019, 17 women, primarily from refugee, migrant and diaspora networks, came together to take part in a Peace Circle in London. The aim of the weekend was to explore leadership roles and empowering women them to take steps for creating peace, building trust and action for change in their communities. Whilst the group consisted of a wide range of ages, backgrounds, nationalities and professionals, it became evident that we shared many similarities in the midst of our differences - most significantly our commitment to expanding our capacity for peace building in our daily lives.
After brief introductions, we drafted a set of common principles which would guide the weekend’s discussions, including notions of respect and active listening. We were subsequently asked to pick a photograph taken by a Peace Circle facilitator from Romania, and comment on why it stood out to us, and how it represented our feelings/perspectives on our understanding of peace. Not only was this exercise significant in allowing us to share something personal within the group for the first time, but also the realisation of our connection with other women around the world who were Peace Circle participants. It was particularly special to be informed of two Peace Circles occurring at the same time as ours, in Cameroon and Uganda.
This activity was followed by a discussion on our ‘circles of concerns’ - personal concerns, concerns within our community and national or global concerns, then considering how we can alleviate these concerns within our spheres of influence. After a delicious lunch together, the afternoon was spent discussing the attributes we most admire in peacemakers, as well as considering what creates and destroys peace in smaller groups.
The most poignant element of the day was undoubtedly the first story sharing session, in which women are given the opportunity to share a story from their lives with the group. Many participants commented on how the sharing environment felt like a ‘safe haven,’ as despite only knowing each other for a few hours, the indivisible trust that had emerged from the group allowed women to share honestly and openly, without fear of judgement. After sharing, each woman would then be ‘held’ and honoured by the group with a moment of silence. Whilst the story telling element can be the most difficult to navigate, it was considered by many as a pivotal moment of the weekend, in both the journeys of individuals and the group as a whole, with one participant commenting ‘I appreciated the story sharing circle, being able to listen and learn from someone else’s story was a very valuable moment for me,’ and another ‘Learning experiences from other women made me realise the problems/challenges we women face are just a practice session for us to become impactful peacemakers - like an initiation into doing good.’
Returning for the second day, the tone and pace were significantly slower than the first, allowing for deeper reflection on the concepts of inner peace and the power of forgiveness. This allowed for consideration of the primary message that peace creation starts from within, and that in order to be the most productive peace makers within our community we must first find and strengthen our inner peace. One participant commented, ‘I learned how importance peace is, starting from the smallest - inner peace.'
The discussion then moved to proactive next steps - putting peace into action. With responses ranging from starting a new campaign against tribalism within the Eritrean community, to solving disputes in the home, it was unquestionably clear that the lessons and skills obtained had had an incredible impact on the women in attendance. After a final story telling session, we closed the weekend vowing to enact the lessons we had learnt from the program and each other.
The responses to the peace circle, described by one woman as ‘a circle of beauty, richness, tolerance and togetherness,’ were overwhelmingly positive, with genuine thanks and appreciation of the incredible facilitators Kate and Amina. The peace circle is a place where we can ‘share and shine together’, giving women the opportunity to ‘dig deeper and appreciate life’s journey, with its ups and downs’, which ‘any woman destined for greatness must attend.’
Follow-ups to this Peace Circle will include an evening fundraiser event for refugee women in London Tuesday 24 September 6-9pm and a training for new Peace Circle facilitators 1- 3 November 2019: uk.iofc.org/events
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about both events.
Our Peace Circle took place at the end of Refugee Week #refugeeweek and on the same weekend as the Great Get Together #greatgettogether.
For more information about Initiatives of Change UK’s Refugees as Rebuilders Programme: uk.iofc.org/refugees-rebuilders