Alternatives to Violence (AVP)

 

AVP was initiated by US Quakers in 1975, in response to requests for help from inmates in Greenhaven Prison, New York. It is now an international movement independent from Quakers, though many Friends are actively involved in AVP groups in many countries. Although it began in a prison context, it soon became evident that its approach was applicable to conflict situations in many other settings.

Basic to the AVP philosophy is the idea that there is something good in everyone, which we should affirm as a first step in strengthening self-respect. Learning to communicate feelings without creating a negative response is a valuable skill in handling conflict, whether at home, at work, in prison or in the community at large. The ability to listen to what the parties in a conflict are trying to say goes beyond simply hearing the words they use. It requires close attention, empathy, patience and courage.

AVP is based on the belief that everyone has inside himself or herself the creative power to find non-violent ways of reacting to conflict situations. AVP groups use workshops to help people build up the capacity to find alternatives to violence. All participants come voluntarily to these workshops - compulsion, even in prison settings, would be out of keeping with the AVP approach.

AVP workshops are experiential and participants learn through sharing experiences, exercises, games and role-plays rather than through lectures. The workshops (usually three days) build on everyday experiences to move away from violent or abusive behaviour by developing other ways of dealing with conflicts. There are two main levels of workshop.

Level One workshops seek to build self-esteem, to empower participants, and to build trust and co-operation. Participants then explore methods of communication and learn about creative resolution of conflicts.

Level Two workshops focus on the underlying causes of violence, such as fear, anger, stereotyping, power and powerlessness. Then they take a deeper look at ways of resolving conflicts, including communication and forgiveness.

Some people go on to train as facilitators by doing a third workshop. This involves a deeper exploration of specific topics such as fear, anger, prejudice, and hatred. Facilitators have to learn a different style of leadership in which the participants' knowledge is just as important as theirs. Some prison inmates have become facilitators, and gone on to enable others to learn the skills of nonviolence.

AVP works through local groups. All facilitators are volunteers.

Although AVP work began in prisons, it is now carried out in many other settings. For example, in Australia the Help Increase the Peace (HIP) programme is an adaptation of AVP for schools, and work has been done in schools in Britain and many other countries. Another example is in Kenya, where AVP has been used to help rebuild communities after the post-election violence in 2007, as well as in many other ways. In London, Quakers established ‘LEAP Confronting Conflict ‘which provides similar structured experiences for young people in schools and the wider community, including young offenders, with much success. The African Great Lakes Initiative supports AVP work in Burundi, DRC, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

The development of AVP is typical of Quaker methods and approaches to many challenges over the years. Quakers have initiated and nurtured many activities such as AVP that have drawn in a much wider community, which has eventually taken them over. AVP originated amongst New York Quakers, but it soon grew into a much wider activity. Quakers could not have sustained AVP on its present scale on their own, and are more than happy with this outcome.

Further Reading and Credits