Dominant public narratives can be defined as stories revolving around a central idea that “eclipse others and have the most power to shape public consciousness” (Metzler, Jackson, Trudeau 2021). Yet, in the face of gun violence, the often misleading dominant narrative of personal responsibility and stereotypes eclipse the crucial voices of those directly impacted by violence. We hear and see in the media a distorted perception of certain youth, especially Black men, as dangerous criminals without acknowledging the systemic issues and stories of these individuals that convey them as humans rather than villains. It isn’t until one takes the intentional time to make space for these stories and actively listens for these narratives to take shape. Nonviolence International is a proud partner of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA). IANSA is an organization committed to the disarmament and opposition to gun violence. Its work involves representing and advocating for those involved in this movement on an international platform while providing resources such as campaigns. IANSA’s Aim for Change Campaign seeks to shed light and amplify these voices through a workshop that allow the youth to express their stories of violence, masculinity, and community in a safe space through creative mediums of art.
Youth violence includes any individual 10-29 of age as “a victim, offender, or witness” in an interaction involving intentional physical force (CDC 2022). Even before I was considered a youth, I can recall a life threatened with violence, specifically gun violence. It was during this time that I experienced a lockdown due to the threat of armed students, heard the news that my friend survived the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, and hoped each day that the names on the news after each tragedy wouldn’t be a familiar one. Although my experience comes from the United States, where “1,000 physical assault-related injuries” are treated alone each day, youth violence is a global public health issue that has psychological, physical, and social consequences. Globally, 200,000 youth homicides occur each year– a number that does not include the injuries that go seen and unseen, and thus, untreated every day.
There are a variety of factors that contribute to the youth violence issue, and a factor often overlooked due to its normalization is harmful masculinity. So many gender norms and elements are normalized that even I was taken aback at what I had been socialized to not only understand for myself but also apply. It made me contemplate the gendered differences in compliments, media portrayals, and even classroom dynamics. The problematic gender norms that socialize and are encouraged in many societies often construct the erroneous normalcy that violence and force can prove one’s masculinity. This often manifests into crime, even in the youth as “84% of youth homicide victims” and perpetrators are males (WHO 2020). The extent of such gender-based gun violence has been explored previously at NVI with IANSA and demonstrates the fatal consequences of toxic masculinity. In response to the identification of issues such as gun violence, problematic gender norms, and systemic failure, the Aim for Change Campaign– the result of a collaboration between the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), the Human Centered Design Program at Algonquin College, and Gun Free South Africa (GFSA)– was developed.
Aim for Change is an artistic workshop for youths around the age of 10-12 that is facilitated by youth workers, who help the participants reflect on their experiences and encourage them to break the cycle of violence. This campaign’s goal is “to bring children together and encourage them to challenge the problems they see in their communities (i.e. gun violence) by expressing their thoughts and feelings in a safe, fun, artistic, creative, and engaging way” utilizes art as a preventative and reactive tool (https://iansa.org/aim-for-change-campaign/). The end result of this workshop is a zine, an “informal magazine” composed of each participant’s artwork using any material available such as newspaper, pencil, and even lipstick. During the creative process, participants are provided themes to explore specific issues. The six themes are:
- Personal Heroes: the individual’s personal hero (what they may view as masculine)
- Guns and Me: how gun violence affects the participant
- Breaking Free: experience with gun violence and gangs in the community
- Making Waves: what one lacks in the community (resources, support, unity)
- Shout Out: empowers participants to use their voice even when they feel powerless
- Anything You Want
These themes and the purpose of each demonstrate the intentionality of this campaign– from its name to its global vision and even the team members that developed it. I had the pleasure of meeting with two individuals, Anna Ranger and Amarjeet Singh (who introduced himself as Amar), who were members of the multidisciplinary team that developed Aim for Change. Through our conversation, I was better able to understand the development of this project as well as the purpose for each element.
Even in the nature of the campaign itself, Amar notes how the team sought to “hit two birds with one stone” (fulfilling two goals with one agent). By hosting a workshop, the children not only had “an indirect way… to communicate how gun violence impacts their lives” but also a productive extracurricular activity in a community that lacked “a lot of things such as recreation activities” (Singh). Providing participants with positive programming is crucial because it disrupts the recruitment of children with nothing to do with being targeted by gangs. This not only demonstrates how the team sought to address the individual issues of each participant but also the broader structural issue of scarcity in the community.
However, this context of an art campaign raised another concern that, ironically, the campaign wanted to combat: gender norms. Anna brought up the point that they “were also worried that art itself can be gendered for young people. We were a bit worried that only female students would be interested in a workshop that was framed as involving lots of art.” This worry, which fortunately has not raised any major obstacles to participation, reminded me of the gender norms that I had not even consciously been aware of due to the level of normalization and socialization. Although it is difficult to be actively conscious of all the societal norms prevalent in our daily lives, I was encouraged by how Anna and Amar also found themselves becoming more mindful through the development process of this campaign just as I became more mindful through this research process. I believe this goes on to show that we do not aim for perfection but constant learning for a better world.
Initially, this campaign’s target community was in South Africa, but through the global reach of IANSA, the vision of Aim for Change is to be international. For this purpose, art then became a flexible agent that allowed the “workshop to be translatable in many different places.. Whenever language barrier comes to play– visual art is a really good solution because we can communicate through images” (Ranger). Anna and Amar discussed with me the long-term vision of Aim for Change functioning like pen pals for children internationally. In each area that creates a zine, even with different languages, the universal character of art would allow for the zines to be exchanged with the hope that “children experiencing gun violence will feel less alone” (Ranger).
Using art as a means of expression allows the participants to communicate difficult and heavy topics, which is especially significant for children that have grown accustomed to gun violence as an undiscussed normal. The team specifically chose a zine “to keep it really open so that the participants could engage in thinking about their trauma in whatever way they felt comfortable with” (Ranger). Additionally, the ability to construct their own narrative emphasizes the “individual’s sense of self” and perspective, which empowers participants’ individual voices while assisting in the “externalization of their problems and strengths” (Padilla 2022). I believe Amar put this process best: “When you make children think about these things that affect them, that is when they are able to acknowledge, accept, and work on these things.”
Youth have the ability to change, but they face structural, societal, and individual barriers to change. Just like the meaning behind this campaign’s name, we must shift the presence of violence to positive change for youth around the world in the same way this team was able to shift “aim,” a word associated with gun violence to one associated with the hope of a world without such violence. This can not be done alone, but this does not mean one does not make a difference. In fact, Anna speaks to the strength of her interdisciplinary team. After hearing the contributions each team member made to the creation of Aim for Change, I agree with this statement.
Having only met a part of the team, I was truly astounded by the work that they had done and the process of research, collaboration, and execution to create a workshop that sought to tackle such big problems one component at a time. It was not only Anna and Amar’s team at Algonquin College but also many thoughtful, passionate individuals from GFSA and IANSA that led to Aim for Change. In many ways, the process of developing this campaign reflects elements of creating a better world. It takes individuals of diverse backgrounds, strengths, and passions that seek a kinder world for all –especially those that bear the burden of remaining complacent to the world we live in now– for change to begin and be sustained. I am honored to share a world with so many of these individuals and urge you to be one of these individuals with bold fullness.
The tangible final product of the Aim for Change workshop is a zine– an informal magazine– that is constructed from pages made by each participant. In order to showcase each page while remaining true to the original “magazine-like” style of the zine, I used a digital magazine format with each page dedicated to an example and/or pilot workshop’s zine page. These zine pages capture not only the creativity of each individual but also the themes that thoughtfully guide the participants during the zine-making process to productively explore their experience with violence. I chose to categorize my digital showcase of the zine pages by themes to highlight the intentionality of each theme while providing examples of how these themes may manifest onto paper. Each zine page was dynamic on its own, but a particular piece that stood out to me is shown on page 2 titled “Guns and Me.” The page is composed of a gun with an X across it along with an incredibly raw and powerful poem. As I read through this poem that begins with “because there was a gun,” I felt the urgency of the crisis at hand. A youth’s world should not have to begin with “because there was a gun,” but rather “because there was school,” “because there were books,” “because there were people that cared for me,” and most importantly, “because there was a safe world for me.” I believe that the world should not only be hoped for but created.
Through the process of exploring the origin and completion of this campaign, I can see how we are creating this world for our youth. In my research, I was able to identify the patterns that are prevalent in areas of youth violence, specifically in relation to guns. These patterns relate to toxic masculinity, resource scarcity, gangs, and other broad and daunting issues. Although it was discouraging to continue to see a reality where these issues have become prevalent to the point of normalization, I was also inspired by the bold steps each agent involved in the Aim for Change campaign such as IANSA has taken to confront them. Additionally, I have come to embrace the notion that everyone can be involved in the aim for change. Whether it is a psychological background or coding expertise, is through the variety of strengths that makes collective action that much more powerful. I have come to learn this at Nonviolence International as well. When we value our collective wisdom and power, we are able to more effectively realize a world of humanity, especially for those that do not have the resources to do so.
Beaumont, Sherry L. “The Art of Words: Expressive Writing as Reflective Practice in Art Therapy (L'art Des Mots : L'écriture Expressive Comme Pratique Réflexive En Art-Thérapie).” Taylor & Francis, 28 Jan. 2019, www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/08322473.2018.1527610.
Heilman, Brian, and Gary Barker. “Masculin Norms and Violence: Making the Connections.” Promundoglobal.org, Promundo-US, 2018, promundoglobal.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Masculine-Norms-Mens-Health-Report_007_Web.pdf.
Metzler, Marilyn, et al. “Youths and Violence: Changing the Narrative.” American Journal of Public Health, American Public Health Association, May 2021, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8157800/.
“Preventing Youth Violence |Violence Prevention|injury Center|CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 Apr. 2022, www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/youthviolence/fastfact.html#:~:text=Youth%20violence%20is%20the%20intentional,victim%2C%20offender%2C%20or%20witness.
“Youth Violence.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 8 June 2020, www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/youth-violence.
Written by Sandy Zumbi
As I started my journey with NVI, I realized how little I knew about the ongoing conflict between Palestine and Israel. For decades Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has created systemic human rights violations against Palestinians, resulting in the displacement of communities, restrictions on freedom of movement, home demolitions, and unequal rights issues, to name a few (Amir, 2021). For someone who is always looking for ways to stay hopeful in the midst of chaos, I was met with disbelief. Yet, I could not stop there. I started looking into organizations and volunteerism that went towards providing aid to Palestinian communities.
It was quite a relief to see the amount of organizations that partner with local communities to alleviate the stress and despair that the occupation causes Palestinian communities. They also help raise awareness of the horrors these communities face, including the daily impact of life under occupation.
For several years now, NVI has worked with Hebron International Resource Network (HIRN) to reunite families by giving them a home and by working on renovation projects to keep families on their lands. HIRN has recognized the importance of building and preserving communities and has tirelessly been aiding communities to become self-sufficient in collaboration with neighborhoods and other organizations. NVI, currently being the U.S fiscal sponsor of HIRN, works to ensure that the organization's projects run smoothly. Another organization that helps HIRN in its fight to preserve Palestinian communities is Amos Trust.
Amos Trust is a nonprofit organization in London, United Kingdom that works with grassroots partners in Palestine, South Africa, Nicaragua, Burundi, India, and Tanzania to promote and build sustainable rural communities. In addition, Amos Trust works toward finding creative ways to equip and support people and organizations to push for change through nonviolence, reconciliation, and peace. Among the various projects the organization undertakes is Amos Travel. Each year, the project organizes guided eleven-day trips through Nablus, Nazareth, and Galilee for people to meet different partners in Palestine.
As I reflect on this nonprofit’s work, I could not have asked for a better person to speak to than Nive Hall. Nive, a social activist and the community engagement partner at Amos Trust from the UK, gave me a perspective as he recounted the program’s course.
Amos Travel program started 20 years ago as the organization wanted to offer an alternative to Christian pilgrimages to the holy land/sites from the bible. The pilgrimages were mainly organized by Israeli travel companies with Israeli tour guides, drivers, etc.., which according to Nive did not include the narrative of Palestinians. What they were offering was aimed at the same market, but to the more socially liberal, socially justice centered churches who wanted to go and explore some of the politics of the region as well as meet and hear the stories of the Palestinians. But after four years of going on these trips, Amos travel decided to diversify itself some more into what it is today.
The program started offering trips with various aims. First, it attracted people who wanted to travel to that part of the world for other reasons and who wanted to have that experience of seeing the political situation for themselves. Second, they organize an annual trip called “Taste of Palestine'' which explores Jerusalem and the West Bank with the overall heading of food. Not only do they get to interact with farmers and providers on these trips, but they also help promote palestinians’ artistic culture. Third, it served as a resource for those who were engaged in the struggle for equal rights and those who wanted to show their solidarity on the ground practically. As a result, Amos Travel added a home rebuilding program to their trips to the West Bank. So far, they have organized six home rebuilding trips in the past 10-12 years by partnering with other organizations on the West Bank on homes demolished by Israeli occupation authorities. The project would, however, not be possible without fundraising and devoted teams of volunteers. These incredible human beings step outside their comfort zones every other year to help families and the community actually rebuild demolished homes. I was thrilled to find out that NVI is actively one of the many supporters that stand and advocate to make sure the homes being rebuilt are not demolished again. Nive notes, “That’s the kind of real boots on the ground activism thing which is really great.”
Nive also mentioned how rewarding these trips are to them but mainly to their local partners. Local partners are given a platform to tell their stories and a platform to meet individuals from other places. This is important to their partners because their opportunities for travel or communication are restricted due to the Isreali occupation. They also really appreciate people coming to stand shoulder to shoulder with them on the ground offering solidarity. “We always receive a vast amount more than we give in terms of hospitality, welcome, and more. There is something intangibly magical about it that is hard to describe in words. Actually, standing alongside a family putting the concrete blocks for their rebuilt house can’t say in words how much that means on both sides.” This is shared joy for the volunteers because these experiences are life-changing and for the families receiving a new home. “Solidarity is the key word here”.
Nive also shared that creativity is something they talk about a lot at Amos Trust. The organization strives to find creative ways to engage local communities and the people they reach. One of the phrases they use is “When words fail, art speaks.” They believe that art speaks to the heart and words speak to the head. And you can see a reflection of that throughout the different projects they undertake. This drew me to examine the song “Keep Your Head Up'' by Ben Howard on Amos Trust’s “HOPE'' Spotify playlist. The playlist was created alongside the organization’s second published book of poetry, prose, and creative writing. The book has contributions from a team of talented individuals Zena Kazeme, Arundhati Roy, Ben Okri, Cornel West, Angela Davis, Robert Cohen, Maya Angelou and one of their partners Abdelfattah Abusrour.
“Keep Your Head Up” is a favorite because it resonated deeply with me. Although the song could be interpreted in many different ways, I see this song as a lesson. It reminds listeners to stand firm and be true to themselves and their beliefs.
"Now walking back, down this mountain,
The strength of a turnin' tide.
Oh the wind so soft, and my skin,
Yeah the sun is so hot upon my side.
Oh lookin' out at this happiness
I searched for between the sheets,
Oh feelin' blind, I realize,
All I was searchin' for, was me.
Oh oh-oh, all I was searchin' for was me."
Here, he is talking about how he opened his eyes to see all the essential things in his life that he could not see before, almost like the failed relationship he was in taught him how to rediscover himself and see clearly again. Most often, happiness or good things do not look perfect. We may carry scars from past experiences, but those only make us stronger. We search for perfection but miss the point that what we are looking for is right under our nose, right in front of us, right in us the whole time. As lost as one may find themselves in the middle of whatever circumstance or situation you may be dealing with, it is crucial to keep your head up. There is always hope. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. All you need to do is look within you, and then you will find what you’ve been searching for all along.
It is hard to imagine the horrors that many communities in Palestine endure under the Israeli occupation. Yet many open their homes and welcome anyone willing to learn about their culture and hear their stories. Their stories are so powerful but yet too often ignored or misconstrued. But despite it all, I find it highly profound how these trips bring people together. The cultures of those who participate are so different from one another but point out that we are all human beings who, as citizens of this world, have the right to equal human rights. We all have a right to have a place called home and the right to feel safe within the walls of our homes. As Nelson Mandela said, “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”
On an ending note, I can only leave us with Nive’s remarks that left me inspired and reminded me of the power of storytelling.
“Hope is an interesting word. We talk about it a lot at Amos Trust. We have one of our little phrases we use all the time which is “We do hope”. I think it’s a hard time to be a human rights activist. There is a lot of threat to our human rights, like across the board. And to advocate for the rights in Israel/Palestine is a complex area to work in. And it is easy to be hopeless. Am I hopeful? Yes! We think hope is kind of a bit like love. It is something that you do. Hope is a verb for us. Hope is something we do, we must believe that there is a better world coming, otherwise we might as well stop. It is almost an imperative for us to hope.“
Credit: Amos Trust
Amir, M. (2021, August 6). Post-occupation Gaza: Israel’s war on Palestinian futures. Taylor and Francis Online. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1080/04353684.2021.1958357
AMOS TRUST Home. (n.d.). Retrieved, from https://www.amostrust.org/
We live in troubled times. Those who visit this website are well aware of that harsh reality. Many of us are struggling to find reason to hope in these hard times. I’m thrilled to be able to share with you a bright ray of light shining in the darkness.
I’ve just met some new friends doing important work in difficult circumstances. It is a rare gift to meet people who have a clear and inspirational vision of what must be done to make the world a better place. It becomes even more significant when they are also already underway doing the hard work to make that vision real.
In the occupied town of Hebron, an ancient city of deep importance, there are over 550 schools and just 15 music teachers. Take that in for a moment. We regularly focus appropriately on the suffering of our Palestinian sisters and brothers in deep and profound ways. The occupation (which three major groups have declared fits the legal definition of apartheid) impacts precious humans’ lives in far too many ways to list here.
Even for me, someone who has spent decades studying the region and a lover of music, this was a need I knew nothing of before meeting Maali Tamimi and Aboud Qawasmeh the founders of SOUL. We were brought together through our wonderful partner HIRN and will now be raising up their work on our website. You can learn more about SOUL through our latest interview with Maali and Aboud, and the infomation about them below.
To get a sense of the impressive clarity of vision they bring to this work, please see this document and these brief excerpts below:
SOUL fills an evident and important gap as the first social non-profit forum in Hebron that puts music at the heart of its mission and vision. Placed in this strategically and economically important centre of Palestine’s South, SOUL offers a space that will enhance the outreach and expansion of music in the region. In the context of the persistent Israeli military occupation, music, and arts more broadly, offers the chance to increase social cohesion and resilience among the population, allows individuals to seek refuge and relief in a safe space and to find meaning and belonging in the frame of Palestinian music culture and heritage.”
SOUL is a place that brings together artists and music professionals locally, regionally, and internationally to enable knowledge exchange and collaboration. Cooperating with other music and cultural organisations in Palestine and beyond allows to find synergies in this field. The creation of a music archive symbolises the bridge between the past and the present, as it will allow to capture, record, preserve and catalogue the rich variety of historical, traditional Palestinian pieces of music that face a threat of getting lost.
At the core of SOUL’s activities lies an inclusive, accessible and gender-sensitive approach to welcome everyone who has an interest in music with open arms.
I hope you are as inspired as I am about their work. If so, please take three simple steps.
Spread the word. Tell people who already agree with us that Palestinians are fully human and deserve the same basic rights as all people. Let them know of this shining example of grounded hope. Urge them to tell others and together we can demonstrate the power of the multiplier effect of energetic organizing.
Use this unusual program as a rare opening to at least two people who don’t yet agree on this issue. Experiment with using the beauty and power of music as an opening to have the hard conversations we so often avoid. Deep in our hearts we know that activating people who already agree with us is only part of the challenge before us. We must also reach out - ready to listen and learn, not just teach - and call people into the conversation. Together, we can and we must change the conversation about Palestine and Israel so that we can change policy and impact people’s lives.
Donate here on this site. Consider becoming a monthly donor to this exciting project that is still in its infancy. Having met these wonderful leaders, I am confident that this project can become a groundbreaking force raising up the power of music to heal and repair our broken and beautiful world. By giving now, at whatever level of personal comfort works for you, or by becoming a monthly donor, you will be in on the ground floor of something already having an impact and full of the potential to become even more powerful if we take these simple steps together.
To learn more about their work, we are pleased to offer you this short video and bios below and ask that you check back on this page for future updates about SOUL’s still unfolding contribution to building a world of peace with justice for all.
SOUL is a "Cultural Forum for Music and the Arts"
Maali Tamimi is the Supervisor of Music Education for the Ministry of Education in the north of the Hebron Governorate and herself a volunteer music teacher of many years through the French Cultural Association in Hebron focusing on voice and piano.
Aboud Qawasmeh is a graduate from the music program at the Bethlehem University and an ongoing student at Dar Al Kalima College's music program, he is also a music teacher of Oud, Qanoon, Guitar, Darbuka (drums), and voice of 7 years.
They have pioneered projects in the Old City of Hebron, including a children's choir in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron, and they have taught children with disabilities music - which will be a focal point of SOUL's work. They do amazing work bringing music into particularly marginalized and conservative communities in the Hebron area.
Artist Ashley Lukashevsky
Written by Nimesh Wijewardane
Thich Nhat Hanh at the Plum Village monastery in southern France | Credit: Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism
On January 22, 2022, the world lost an extraordinary spiritual leader. Thich Nhat Hanh was a world-renowned Vietnamese Buddhist monk, peace activist, and prolific author and poet. He was a beloved teacher and a guiding light, affectionately called Thay by his followers, the Vietnamese word for teacher. I count myself among the many people whose lives have been touched and profoundly transformed by his wisdom and compassion. Thay coined the term “Engaged Buddhism”, arguing that Buddhism, properly understood, is not merely about individual liberation but collective liberation, that Buddhists cannot simply retreat from the world and all its concerns and attain Nirvana in isolation but instead must engage in political and social struggles against oppression and injustice. Thay recognized that a religious community cannot simply stay on the sidelines but must take a stand. He tirelessly promoted nonviolent solutions to conflict and encouraged us to open our eyes to the interdepence of all living beings on Earth, and once aware of this state of “interbeing” to not only avoid harming human life but to also avoid harming nonhuman animals and the natural world. For Thay, nonviolence was a way of life, rooted in this idea of interbeing. He wrote, “Nonviolent action, born of the awareness of suffering and nurtured by love, is the most effective way to confront adversity.”
Thich Nhat Hanh was born Nguyen Xuan Bao in the city of Hue in central Vietnam. At age 16, he joined a Zen monastery. After several years, he took the official vows of monk and became active in the youth-led Buddhist reform movement in Vietnam. Thay taught and wrote about Buddhism, seeking to make Buddhism more relevant to the modern world. Thay’s growing popularity threatened the conservative Buddhist establishment, who discontinued a journal he had been editing and canceled his classes.
In response to this opposition, Thay went to the United States in 1961 to study comparative religion at the Princeton Theological Seminary and later became a lecturer in Buddhism at Columbia. Yet aware of the suffering in his homeland, he returned to South Vietnam in 1963 to engage in peace work alongside fellow monks. Since 1954, Vietnam had been divided between the Communist North and the pro-West South, with ongoing armed struggle between the government of South Vietnam and the communist guerrillas. Thay founded the School of Youth for Social Services, a grassroots relief organization consisting of over 10,000 volunteers which established schools and health care clinics in rural South Vietnam and helped rebuild bombed villages. In 1964, Thay published an anti-war poem titled “Condemnation”, writing "whoever is listening, be my witness: I cannot accept this war...". The poem was denounced as pro-communist propaganda. Thay’s conception of Engaged Buddhism grew from the bloodstained soil of the war in Vietnam. In an interview with the Buddhist magazine Lion’s Roar, Thay said, “When bombs begin to fall on people, you cannot stay in the meditation hall all of the time. Meditation is about the awareness of what is going on—not only in your body and in your feelings, but all around you.”
In February 1966, Thay ordained six leaders who had been part of the School of Youth for Social Services and established a new religious order, the Order of Interbeing, a community of Buddhist monks, nuns, and laypeople based on the Five Mindfulness Trainings and Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, modern versions of the precepts Buddhists have practiced for centuries. These mindfulness trainings include living with a vocation that harms neither humans nor nature; and living in accord with the ideals of compassion, protection of life, and prevention of war. Since the 1960s, The Order of Interbeing has grown into an international movement.
Thay traveled to the US in May 1966 to enlighten the American public about the Vietnam War’s devastating impact and appeal the US government to cease its bombing campaign. During that visit, Thay met with Martin Luther King Jr. and urged him to publicly denounce the Vietnam War. At a press conference with Thay, King spoke out against the war for the first time. In 1967, King gave a famous speech at Riverside Church boldly articulating his opposition to the Vietnam War. Later that year, King nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize, writing “I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of [this prize] than this gentle monk from Vietnam. His ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity.”
Thay’s 1996 trip to the US was only meant to last a few weeks, but turned into decades of exile. After he presented a peace plan urging America to stop bombing and to offer reconstruction aid without ideological strings, the government of South Vietnam declared him a traitor and banned him from returning. After the Communists seized control of the South in 1975, he was again refused permission to enter Vietnam. His principled anti-war stance had made him an enemy of both sides.
In exile, Thay settled in the south of France and established the Plum Village Monastery, which would be his new home for decades, and remains the largest Buddhist monastery in Europe and America. Thay became one of the main ambassadors of Buddhism to the West, writing more than 100 books and bringing the concept of mindfulness into the mainstream. Thay spoke out against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying, “We know very well that airplanes, guns and bombs cannot remove wrong perceptions. Only loving speech and compassionate listening can help people correct wrong perceptions. But our leaders are not trained in that discipline, and they rely only on the armed forces to remove terrorism.” He encouraged us to address the root causes of violence and cultivate peace in our hearts. Thay brought together Israelis and Palestinians for peacebuilding retreats at Plum Village, continuing his lifelong commitment to ending conflict. Thay also spoke out about the urgency of addressing climate change, writing, “There’s a revolution that needs to happen and it starts from inside each one of us. We need to wake up and fall in love with Earth. Our personal and collective happiness and survival depends on it.” Throughout his writings, interviews, and speeches he continued to draw connections between the personal and the collective, promoting mindfulness not merely as a tool for self-help but as a necessary precondition for avoiding war and climate catastrophe.
Thay’s teachings have had a significant impact on me. In my Sri Lankan American family, I was raised as a Buddhist, but in my teenage years, I had begun to drift away from Buddhism, questioning whether I truly believed in its precepts, whether it was truly applicable to my life, and unsure of how Buddhism aligned with my political convictions. Buddhism, at least the kind practiced by those in my Sri Lankan American community, seemed to be apolitical, almost entirely detached from and unconcerned with issues of oppression and injustice. But as a high school student on the Internet, I was lucky enough to stumble upon some of Thay’s writings in the online Buddhist magazine Lion’s Roar. I was struck by the beauty and simplicity of Thay’s words, the ease at which he distilled the abstract and somewhat complicated ideas of dharma in a clear and compelling way. Each perfectly crafted sentence seemed intuitively true. Engaged Buddhism gave me a framework with which to reconcile my faith and my political activism. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I am a Buddhist not merely because of my upbringing but because of Thich Nhat Hanh. During my freshman year of college I struggled with loneliness and depression but on one bright February afternoon I found “The Pocket Thich Nhat Hanh”, a small collection of some of his writings, in an independent bookstore in Georgetown and bought it. In spring, I would sit outside in the quad of George Washington University’s Mount Vernon campus and read Thich Nhat Hanh’s words, which brought me comfort, reminded me of the temporality of all things, and encouraged me to bear witness to the miracle of life. Sitting on a wooden bench, watching the world ablaze with sunlight and contemplating Thich Nhat Hanh’s words, I felt pretty close to enlightenment. Thay has a beautiful phrase-“No mud, no lotus”, a reminder that happiness and suffering are deeply intertwined, that you can’t have one without the other. Whenever I find myself dealing with a difficult situation, I chant that phrase to myself, over and over- “No mud, no lotus.”
Thay wrote that birth and death are but illusions, that we are never really born and never really die. I know that Thay will continue to live on in in the hearts and minds of all the people who have been awakened and inspired by his life and his teachings.
Thich Nhat Hanh's calligraphy
By Nimesh Wijewardane & Rand Engel
Paula Green, a renowned peace activist, educator, and psychotherapist, passed away on February 21. She was the Founding Director of the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding, a nonprofit which facilitates post-conflict resolution, with active programs in more than 30 countries across South and Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Paula was the Professor Emerita and founder of the CONTACT Program for Peacebuilding at the School for International Training in Vermont. The CONTACT program invited participants from opposing sides of war- Israelis and Palestinians, Indians and Pakistanis, Hutus and Tutsis- and trained them in the tools of peacebuilding. Paula served on the National Council of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the steering committee of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists. She was a prolific writer, authoring a Training Manual for peacebuilders and several books, chapters, and articles. Paula gained international recognition for her peacebuilding work, receiving the Dalai Lama’s “Unsung Heroes of Compassion” award. Learn more about her incredible life and the many lives she touched on the Karuna Center website and Buddhistdoor Global's remembrance.
Paula meeting Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Cape Town in 2009, Credit: karunacenter.org
"The roots of our wars can be understood through the examination of greed, hatred and delusion. It’s all about desire, about self. . . Until we change ourselves, and the unjust social structures in which we’ve embedded ourselves, we’re not going to have peace.” ~ Paula Green, Barre Buddhist Center, Spring 2002
Paula receiving the Unsung Heroes of Compassion award from His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 2009, Credit: karunacenter.org
NVI supporter and volunteer Rand Engel shared this beautiful remembrance of Paula:
We’ve lost another lion of peace in a time of loss. Such is the passing of Paula Green.
I was truly fortunate to meet Paula at the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) around 1985. I was a staff member, Paula a member of the Board of Directors. It was there too, during that time, that Paula met Jim Perkins, another IMS staff member, an anti-war activist and nuclear resister, and gardener with a heart big enough for the world, who became her husband and life partner.
Paula was a professor at the School for International Training and co-director of the Conflict Transformation Across Cultures (CONTACT) program in Vermont, and founder of the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding. She was bridge-builder, a nonviolence trainer and activist who worked in conflict zones around the world.
I’ve slept many nights in Paula and Jim’s home, eaten their fresh vegetables from the garden and home baked bread, talked long hours. She was always open and welcoming, always encouraging – and pushing for – engagement for a better world. After all, she was relentless in seeing the possibility for peace and justice and embraced the responsibility to pursue it.
Of the many missions that Paula undertook around the world, I was fortunate to meet her in a few places over the years: a group she led to meet ethnic minorities in Burmese border jungle lands, 1990 – and then organizing a conference in Washington DC on Burma, which included meeting then a young student activist who made a lot of that conference happen, Michael Beer, now director of Nonviolence International; sitting in on her workshops with Palestinian and Israeli youth in Jerusalem, working with mixed ethnicity peace activists, and traveling through the West Bank in 1996; in Kosovo 2006. She brought experience and strategy, intelligence and vision, warmth and passion, and no-nonsense directness to teaching, facilitating and inspiring.
In recent years, traveling less around the world, she turned attention to being part of Hands Across the Hills an initiative that brought together people from western Massachusetts and eastern Kentucky, often separated by more than miles, in our fractured country, to meet deeply with each other. She was passionate about this realm of reaching out.
Paula was and is a great soul. She will be missed.
Rand Engel & Paula Green (center) at the Burma border, 1990
Written by David Hart
Nonviolence International Welcomes Micro Action Movement
We are thrilled to welcome our latest fiscally sponsored partner - Micro Action Movement.
I am particularly excited about this collaboration because many people I speak to these days are overwhelmed by the state of the world. The problems we face can seem so massive (because they are) and more and more people are coming to see they are deeply interconnected and we will not be able to solve anyone of them without making progress on all of them.
Understandably this reality can freeze people in fear rather than inspire them to take effective action. This wonderful project breaks through that challenging barrier by showing us all small and meaningful steps we can each take that together can have a massive impact. And, they brilliantly encourage people to find ways to creatively collaborate across borders we have allowed for far too long to divide us.
Nonviolence International is providing fiscal sponsorship for this project in the US and around the world, but it is already underway in Sweden. Back in the before times when we worked in the office and had guests, Stellan Vinthagen wrote saying he was coming to town and asked to meet with Michael Beer. Michael was heading on a trip, but kindly asked if I'd like to host Stellan. I was pleased to do so having read his brilliant academic writings that take activism seriously. Then when he arrived he was so kind and gave time not just to me, but to the exceptional young leaders interning with us. We covered many topics including his emerging focus on Everyday Resistance. We didn't know where this conversation might lead, but closed with the hope that we might find ways to collaborate in the future. See more on his work and a short video below.
Now as we get to work together, I've had the pleasure of starting to get to know the true driving force behind this project Rebecca Vinthagen, Stellan's sister. She is a trained political and gender scientist and has extensive experience as a workshop and process leader. She lectures and educates in issues around norm criticism, organizational development, leadership and norm-critical design. She is also trained in Nonviolent communication and working with her is a joy.
Together with a strong team they are bringing their app beyond its successful launch in Sweden. Please consider celebrating them joining the NVI family by making a generous donation now. Or how about becoming one of their first monthly sustaining donors? Or tell a friend that you were pleased to learn about them, or download the app and get started taking creative action now. Whatever you do, we hope that directly after you read these words you will take some small action... maybe even a micro action. Join the nonviolent creative fun-loving movement and help build a better world.
For more info please visit https://microactionmovement.com/
Stellan Vinthagen is a scholar and activist. A professor of Sociology, and the Inaugural Endowed Chair in the Study of Nonviolent Direct Action and Civil Resistance at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is Editor of the Journal of Resistance Studies, and Co-Leader of the Resistance Studies Group at University of Gothenburg, in his native Sweden. With a deep dedication to conflict transformation and civil disobedience, he has authored and edited numerous books, putting out his latest A Theory of Nonviolent Action – How Civil Resistance Works. Follow Stellan on Twitter - https://twitter.com/svinthagen
Here is great conversation he had with Kelly Quinn for our Spotlight on Nonviolence series.
The Many Faces of Nonviolence - Rachel Corrie
By Chloe MacGillvray
Rachel Corrie was born in April 1979 and grew up in Olympia, Washington, United States. She was the third child to Cindy and Craig Corrie, who have worked extensively to tell her story and bring support to both the people of Palestine and Israel. As Rachel grew up, she had a clear interest in helping others around her, and a passion for adventuring. She longed to discover all that there was to know about the world, and she presented her findings through her writing and art beginning in her youth. She had a great sense of humor (Craig would jokingly say it came from him), and her independence took her to some of the most incredible areas of the world. Rachel was, above all, a human being with a great amount of compassion, and a talent for putting her experiences into words. Her writing, art, and compassion for others are part of the reason her story resonates with all of us today.
After 9-11, Rachel became involved with different peace groups and movements at the local level. While at The Evergreen State College, she connected with students engaged with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). ISM was founded in August 2001 and called for internationals who believed in freedom and self-determination for the Palestinian people to come and join Palestinians in nonviolent resistance against Israeli occupation. Some community members and Evergreen faculty had strong connections to Israel and Palestine, and after 9/11, Rachel was motivated to connect with them, to extensively research the issue of Palestine, and to study Arabic. This eventually led to her journey to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza in January of 2003.
During her travels, Rachel developed a sense of life for Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza. She began to empathize with their issues, ones that many in the U.S could not begin to understand. Rachel sent emails back home describing the atrocities that she experienced – all of them illustrating her compassion for the families in Gaza, and the oppression that many Palestinians experience as normalcy. In one message written to her friends and family, Rachel spoke of experiences with the children she met in Gaza; “They know that children in the United States don't usually have their parents shot and sometimes get to see the ocean. But once you have seen the ocean and lived in a silent place, where water is taken for granted and not stolen in the night by bulldozers, and spent an evening when you didn’t wonder if the walls of your home might suddenly fall inward waking you from your sleep, and met people who have never lost anyone – once you have experienced the reality of a world that isn’t surrounded by murderous towers, tanks, armed ‘settlements,’ and now a giant metal wall, I wonder if you can forgive the world for all the years of your childhood spent existing – just existing – in resistance to the constant stranglehold of the world's fourth largest military – backed by the world’s only superpower – in its attempt to erase you from your home.”
The emails that Rachel sent home were powerful depictions of the situation in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel. She worked with children consistently during the months she spent in Gaza. She chose to be in Rafah, near the border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, because she understood this to be where the need was greatest, largely because of mass home demolitions occurring at the time. Rachel wanted to be on the receiving end of U.S foreign politics in the area to witness firsthand the impact of U.S. policy and funding on the Palestinian people. By treaty, Israel had military control of a narrow corridor between Egypt and Gaza and kept expanding to gain control of an even greater area of land. Beyond this corridor, the Israeli military was carrying out mass demolitions of Palestinian homes. The Israeli government stated that this was necessary to control the smuggling of weapons, but 16,000 people in Rafah alone lost their homes to these demolitions, that multiple human rights organizations deemed “collective punishment.”
Rachel lived with different families at the time, and though many back home were concerned for her safety, she was more concerned about whether ISM was truly making a difference for people. She felt human connection was powerful and believed that by building relationships in Gaza she would be able to further determine how to be an activist for them. She worked fiercely to get the word out about everything she was seeing. She was both an observer working with human rights organizations, and a reporter to those unfamiliar with the pressing situation. She slept on families’ floors, hoping that her presence in their homes might provide some extra protection to those who lived inside. Rachel was determined to build and maintain relationships and to return again to Gaza, despite it being a challenging commitment. She spent hours with the children of Rafah. One was an 11-year-old boy who later reported that he had told his friends not to play with Rachel because she was an American. But after seeing how she was with people, how she stressed human connection, and watching her play “football” (soccer) with his friends, he changed his mind. Rachel worked not only to gain the trust of those who lived in Gaza, but to build off that trust to nurture others’ feelings and to strengthen friendships. She viewed everyone as human beings, as equals deserving of basic dignity and respect.
Rachel was killed on March 16, 2003, during an Israeli military clearing operation in Rafah during which Palestinian structures and homes were threatened. The United States government immediately called for a “thorough, credible, and transparent” Israeli investigation, but high officials in both the Bush and Obama administrations have stated that investigation by Israel in Rachel’s case has never met that standard. As a result, Rachel’s parents took legal action against the State of Israel and the Israeli Ministry of Defense. Testimony from an original Israeli military “operational” investigation could not be used in an Israeli Military Police investigation that followed, nor in the civil lawsuit brought by the Corrie family. Rachel’s killing was deemed an accident by the courts, and she was even blamed for her own death. The lack of a transparent and credible Israeli investigation and strong evidence to suggest that the bulldozing was not an accident, made the ruling highly questionable. Nevertheless, the court proceedings with testimony from numerous military witnesses succeeded in exposing the destructive culture of the Israeli military as it performed in Gaza, as reflected by a Colonel who testified under oath that “there are no civilians in war.”
Rachel’s death was not simply a legal issue nor a question about lack of proper investigation. Rachel was a daughter, sister, and a best friend to many – and not only to those in the U.S. Until the day she died, she was a young woman developing into an incredibly talented writer and artist, who had a love for people that could not be matched. She recognized her flaws and built off them. She was constantly learning, not just for herself, but to better understand and support those who surrounded her. Human relationships meant everything to her. It never mattered their origin, age, or differences. Rachel was deeply ingrained with principles of nonviolence but was careful not to dictate to people who are oppressed what their own resistance should be. She instead learned from them and learned what she could do for them - whether it was sleep on the floors of homes to offer some protection, or be the best soccer player she could be with the children. Rachel believed that through nonviolent movements, the oppressed, and those in solidarity with them, seize more power than they do through violent response. She was critical of herself, but this didn’t present as weakness. Her greatest strength was her ability to evaluate her actions and to be strategic about what she could do.
Above all else, Rachel was a human being who deserved more time here. Her philosophy, her writing, and what she took with her will forever change the way many approach types of action and the response to injustice. Rachel’s story will be told for years to come.