What is AVP?
The Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) started in prisons in the USA in 1975, and now operates as a volunteer movement in communities world-wide, in close to 40 different countries, including e.g. Rwanda, the DRC, and Namibia. International AVP facilitator gatherings are held every second year in a different country to share best practice and broaden facilitators’ skills and experience.
AVP is a training programme that enables participants to deal with potentially violent situations in new and creative ways. Workshops are run by trained facilitators, and their uniqueness is that they are experiental (not based on lectures). AVP workshops use the shared experience of participants, interactive exercises, games and role plays to examine the roles and the ways in which we respond to situations where injustice, prejudice, frustration and anger can lead to aggressive behaviour and violence.
The thinking behind AVP comes from the understanding that conflict is a natural and normal part of life, and that it is possible to learn new ways of responding constructively to it. By holding workshops in which the participants both reflect on their own experiences, feelings and behaviours in everyday conflict situations and consider the underlying internal and external causes of friction and violence, practical ways of dealing with situations of conflict are worked out.
People are helped to move away from violent and abusive behaviour by developing positive ways of managing conflict, particularly in interpersonal and communal settings. Respect for self and for others is increased. AVP provides behavioural change training that is motivated by the belief in the power of affirmation, communication, cooperation, trust and community building to transform conflict situations in positive ways that draw on, demonstrate, and affirm the good in every human being.
AVP KwaZulu-Natal Network
AVP workshops and programmes are run through various non-profit organizations in South Africa, notably Phaphama in Gauteng and the Quaker Peace Centre in Cape Town. The KZN AVP Facilitator Network is an organization based in the Centre for Adult Education at UKZN in Pmb. The organizational structure consists of loosely-constituted branches or “Wings” each with a Wing Leader, responsible for coordinating and organizing AVP activities within their scope of operation. These wings are organized around hubs of AVP activity and resources, rather than geographically or institutionally, although existing wings are UKZN [Pmb campus], Durban, Greater Edendale, Newcastle and Eshowe. A Management Committee of experienced facilitators and organizers meets bi-monthly to ensure continuity and a Board of Trustees meets biannually. As a “project” of UKZN the organization enjoys the benefit of running its accounts through the University Finance Division and is annually audited accordingly.
There are 3 levels of AVP workshops, each building on the former. The duration of each workshop is 2 days (8 hours/day). At the end of each workshop, participants receive a Certificate of Attendance. The certificate is internationally recognized by all institutions and individuals who value the work of AVP worldwide.
The AVP Basic Workshop
The Basic workshop explores the five pillars of AVP – affirmation, communication, cooperation, trust and community building and transforming power. In this facilitator-guided process, participants individually and collectively participate in lively exercises, discussions and games that explore the themes of violence, nonviolence and conflict resolution based on the participants’ own experiences of these.
Affirmation and Communication
Improving communication skills forms an essential part of our workshops. We begin with introductions, agreeing on boundaries for the workshop, sharing names and getting to know each other in the group. The exercises help us improve our listening skills, and share what is good about one another (affirmation) – something we typically don’t do enough of.
Learning to cooperate in a group may take different forms, even without communicating verbally. AVP is an experiental programme – everything we do in our workshops begins with our own experiences. Before we start discussing cooperation in the workshop, we first remind ourselves how it feels to work in a group, either cooperating with the others or not. Reflecting on what we learn from our experiences, and listening to what others have learned helps us to grow as a person.
Building community and trust
Group construction and trust exercises help build a sense of community, as do fun games and shared storytelling and experiences. Doing such exercises together is fun, and also teaches us a lot about ourselves and others. Our trained facilitators debrief each exercise, drawing out lessons from the group, rather than preaching or teaching moral lessons. AVP workshops are great team-building tools – participants get to know each other better, and build a valuable basis of trust and understanding.
A key element in AVP is pre-emptive conflict resolution by creatively transforming unhealthy relationships through sharing, caring, improved communication skills, and even surprise and humour. Role plays and other forms of drama allow us to explore possible approaches to different forms of conflict. Important insights are gained through role-plays, which are flexibly adapted and de-briefed as they run, again helping us to assess and digest whatever we learn.
AVP Advanced Workshop
The ‘Advanced’ workshop builds on the principles and employs the same methods and techniques used in the Basic workshop, with a specific focus on consensus as a decision-making process. The participants themselves decide which aspect of conflict/violence they wish to explore in depth, through a direct, guided consensus-building process. Facilitators then select exercises and discussions appropriate to that request. Participants take increasing ownership of and responsibility for the workshop content and processes.
AVP Training for Facilitators
Participants who have experienced AVP workshops and would like to deepen their involvement can also train to become AVP facilitators. Trainees gain direct, guided experience of facilitating AVP workshops. Thereafter trainees are closely mentored through deepening levels of facilitation experience and successive workshops by more experienced trainers until they are able to organize, plan and lead workshops themselves.
Goals of an AVP Basic workshop
- To cultivate a climate of affirmation and openness and a sense of the worth of self and others among participants.
- To build a community among its participants, one in which mutual trust and sharing is possible.
- To teach participants how to overcome those communication barriers which are so often at the heart of intolerance and violence.
- To teach some of the basic approaches towards resolving conflicts so that the needs and interests of all conflicting parties can be accommodated (Garver & Reitanm 1995, p.4)
As well as the four goals listed above, there are some common features to all workshops. These can be summarized as follows:
- AVP is not therapy. It is concerned with personal growth and changes in attitude to self and others.
- AVP workshops are intensive and experiental.
- AVP workshops include fun and humour.
- AVP workshops give people an experience of cooperative community and trusting relationships.
- AVP workshops draw out from participants their hidden knowledge of themselves, their needs and aspirations, and their ability to find alternatives to violent ways of responding to conflict.
- AVP facilitators take part in the workshop activities and exercises so that everyone present is both teacher and learner.
- Matter shared in AVP workshops is confidential.
AVP KZN Network
c/o Centre for Adult Education
UKZN, Pmb campus
P. Bag X01
Tim Houghton [082-569 9227]; email@example.com
Sibu Shange [082-5243606]; firstname.lastname@example.org