Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Getting Started...the history of Peacemakers classes

November 10th, 2011
My 1st Peacemakers Group in Portugal 2008
So, I’ve been putting off writing my first blog entry out of uncertainty about what to say and a lack of time and energy for reflective writing, but I decided to make a first stab at it tonight, after a week of intense activity. In August, I set a goal for myself to start spending weekly time making job contacts, doing professional reading, and organizing various sites of boxes around our house in October. So far, I’m not doing too well on that goal. I’ve unpacked 3 boxes and some of the dishes and tablecloths unearthed are still sitting on the floor in the basement and I’ve written one job contact email, to which I’ve received no response. So what have I been doing with my newfound time with Elena now at preschool 14-19 hours a week (depending on the school holidays they have, which are many, especially in the actively Jewish month of October at a Jewish Preschool)?
I’ve been making new friends through Zervas Elementary and Temple Shalom Preschool, and running the groups I’ve taken on for this year – weekly Bahá’í children’s classes, monthly Peacemakers classes, monthly women’s groups, monthly interfaith community service,  Respect for Human Differences meetings at Zervas, and various one-time volunteer opportunities such as hosting a Zervas “Destination Dinner,” helping with the “Consecration Quilt” at Temple Shalom, and doing classroom presentations for Bahá’í Holy Days. I am an enthusiast by nature, and this gets me into trouble because I have a lifelong habit of taking on too much at a time because it all sounds so fun and interesting and potentially worthwhile.
So, after a week of many volunteer activities, I’m feeling rather tired and yet energized by what I am doing, which makes it hard for me to figure out what to give up if anything, and how to make time for the goal work I set up for myself in the summer.
Illustrating quotes in our living room

What am I learning from each of these volunteer activities? Why am I so deeply invested in them? Let’s start with Peacemakers. I started this group 4 years ago, when we were living in Portugal, using the original Peacemakers Curriculum developed by my friend, Soma Stout. I had dreamed of teaching some sort of class that involved art, music, literature, and drama around social justice issues for years, and this was the perfect combination of those things, and better yet, was already written and tested by someone else! I invited women I met who seemed like they might be interested in such a class for themselves and their children and we started meeting every two weeks at my house in Carcavelos. Warm and sunny Portugal has a fairly ideal climate for such a class because the most days the kids could come over after school, have a snack and literally run around our house for 30 minutes before settling into our IKEA rainbow chairs outside in our garden (or yard in American terms), beneath the shade of a rustling fig tree and flapping laundry on the line. Every now and then it rained and for a few months it got cold, so we huddled in our living room on those afternoons, warmed by the space heater and each other as we shared readings, played games, and did role plays together based on the topic of the week. We were a group of 6 families who regularly attended for the two years we lived in Portugal, and I look back with great fondness and love for all of the people who participated in these first classes.
Peacemakers in Portugal
We had a great time together and learned many things along the way. After we left, the group continued on their own for a year before deciding that it was too much to do on their own, but I was warmed to recently get an email from one of the moms from that class, telling me that her daughter often tells her about ways she is trying to be a “peacemaker” among her friends, and that she was grateful for the introduction of such a concept into her daughters’ lives.
Painting peace rocks
When we returned to the United States in 2009, I decided to start another Peacemakers group here in Newton, and again, invited families I knew who seemed like they might enjoy such a class. Our first year, we had 5 families participate, and we took turns hosting the classes at each of our houses, which made it easier for me to teach the class and balance my life’s responsibilities. Last year, we and two others in the group had moved and the group disintegrated, so I formed a new group that met at the Waban Library Center, which my energetic mother-in-law had helped re-open with a staff of committed volunteers. In the fall, we had 6 families participating on a weekly basis, and then we switched it to a monthly class in the spring, with 3-4 families continuing on. This year, those families are still meeting together on a monthly basis at the library. I want to expand the class, but am also really enjoying the level of intimacy and comfort that has evolved between the children and the adults, so I haven’t been great at advertising. I do keep inviting people on a personal basis, but people are busy and Friday afternoons are tough, so only our dedicated threesome has continued to meet this fall. I did a presentation in my middle daughter’s class, though, today, and many of the children were interested in becoming Peacemakers, so we’ll see how it grows…
Last Friday, we studied the virtue of Assertiveness through some readings, think-pair-share work on qualities we like in ourselves, and many role plays. The children love doing the role plays because they get to play out being the mean kid and/or to explore other ways of dealing with a difficult situation, and they learn how it feels to be on both sides. My children like these role plays so much that we use them at home on a regular basis when one of them comes home with a challenging friend situation. All one has to do is describe a scene from the day when my 3 year old leaps up in her chair saying, “Ok, which part do you want me to play?” Both my 6 and my 9 year old have reported using some of the techniques and responses they’ve come up with in our role plays, and feeling stronger and more assertive than they would have without them.
I look forward to seeing how our Peacemakers class evolves this year and to figuring out my next steps with the groups I’ve created and helped create. I feel that I am “living the questions” by continuing to run these groups and create other workshops. I hope that writing this blog will give me a chance to do more of the reflection that I crave and spark my thinking about the transition I am hope to make to bring this work into a more professional context.

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