Samoa hosts Alternatives to Violence programme training

20 January 2018, 12:00AM

The Samoa Returnees Charitable Trust and Alternatives to Violence Program Whakatane / Bay of Plenty, will be conducting Training of Trainers at the Millennia Hotel conference room (second storey), from Monday 22 - Tuesday 30 January. 

The aim of the training will be to develop a pool of resource people (with priority placed on returnees) to become A.V.P. facilitators, who will then be able to train and raise awareness in local communities. 

Training will consist of delivering all three standard courses of the Alternatives to Violence Programme. 

The Alternatives to Violence Program began in Greenhaven Prison, New York in 1975. 

A group of prisoners invited Quakers (Religious Society of Friends) to assist them in developing a programme with the objective of showing young inmates a different direction than the one that led them to prison. 

The first workshops held at Greenhaven were an immediate success and the programme quickly spread to other prisons in the U.S.A. and out into their communities. 

Today, A.V.P. is running workshops in prisons, schools and communities in more than 50 countries including Canada, Ireland, England, Scotland, Sweden, Germany, Hungary, Russia, South Africa, Nigeria, Costa Rica, South America, Aotearoa, Tonga, Hong Kong, Israel and Jordan.

A.V.P. has been active in the New Zealand for the last 19 years. 

Dr. Tafa Esther Cowley conducted the first A.V.P. programme in a NZ prison at Paremoremo High Security Prison about 30 years ago, and continues to conduct and train facilitators today in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.

The workshops cover Self Esteem, Communication Skills, Co-operation, Conflict Resolution Skills, Community Building Trust. Workshops are open to anyone wanting to make positive changes around dealing with conflict in their lives. 



How does A.V.P. work?

A..VP is based on several insights.

• Within each of us, there is a power for good and a potential to transform conflict

• In any situation, there are non-violent alternatives to violent responses to conflict.

• Every culture has its own range of nonviolent alternatives to violence in response to conflict.

• Each of us has the option to choose our response to each experience of conflict.


The key features of A.V.P. workshops are

• Voluntarism – no one participates on a mandated basis, and the facilitators are unpaid volunteers

• Teamwork – there is always a team of several facilitators of diverse background and life experience, with shared leadership and no guru

• Diversity – the participants come from a range of ages, cultures, walks of life, and interests, and bring a wealth of life experience to the workshop.

• A safe learning environment is maintained by group agreement:

- no put-downs

- affirm oneself and others

- listen and don’t interrupt

- respect confidentiality

- volunteer oneself only, speak from the “I”

- everyone has the right to pass if that is the right thing for them at that time

- Reliance on Transforming Power

- Experiential rather than conceptual focus

- A holistic focus, recognising the spiritual dimension of the person, rather than a behavioristic or rigidly rule-governed focus

- Building community is an integral part of the workshop process

- Fun and laughter is an integral part of the workshop process

- A varied pace, generally brisk, but with time for reflection

- Feedback throughout the workshop, with session evaluation and activity debriefing.



After having listened to the testimonies of several returnees, the S.R.C.T. has recognised A.V.P as having played a crucial role in their individual paths to recovery and rehabilitation. 

For one such returnee, Ueni Fonoti, the A.V.P. has been attributed with completely transforming his life, to the extent that he became involved as an AVP facilitator while incarcerated. 

Upon his return to Samoa in mid-2017, Wayne has worked closely with the S.R.C.T. to explore possibility of establishing an A.V.P. branch in Samoa, to be implemented by the returnee community in partnership with the S.R.C.T. and stakeholders. 



There is much confidence in A.V.P’s ability to harness the unique capabilities and experiences of returnees, by giving them a venue for social interaction and skills development. Such a venue will help to instil within the returnees the sense of ownership and belonging that is presently void. The end result is the empowerment of the returnees. Empowerment will help them to overcome the negative effects of deportation, particularly the evasion of at risk situations.

A platform to empower others. 

Familiarising returnees with the AVP program will enable them to empower others. To date the SRCT and returnees continue to implement violence prevention programs for school students and prisoners. However SRCT believes that the returnees are obligated to reach out to as many vulnerable populations as they can, especially those in domestic settings, those struggling with the same hardships, or who have come into contact with the law.

The escalating level of violence in Samoa makes it all the more imperative that the returnees make a positive social contribution, by using their skills and experiences to deter socially harmful behaviour within others. Samoa Victim Support Group estimates that violence levels have increased by an average 43% since 2011. The Samoa Law Reform Commission notes that the role of alcohol and stress as contributing factors, continues to increase each year, accounting for 75% of all violence / assault cases reported in 2014.  The main instigators of violence continue to be males.

The returnees possess an ‘edge’ that not only makes them appropriately positioned to deliver messages of violence prevention, social responsibility etc, but ensures that their outreach will have a resounding impact. This ‘edge’ is derived from several factors:

• First-hand knowledge and experience borne out of direct exposure to violence, vice and addiction. A large portion of the message that returnees have delivered to the communities so far has been based on pure testimony. 

• Most violence prevention services / counselling / awareness programs in Samoa are directed by females, or have predominantly female staff and training personnel. It follows that violence prevention has been for the most part from the perspective of the ‘victim’- also predominantly female – and looking at how to provide better victim support. Whether the alignment between this set up and the traditional / cultural allocation of gender roles in Samoa (in which women were charged primarily with the welfare of women and children) is deliberate or coincidental, the fact remains that although men are the main perpetrators of violence, they are for the most part absent in the fight against violence prevention.

As males themselves, who’ve been through crime, violence and dysfunction, rehabilitation and rebuilding, and who have a sound understanding of how males respond to and deal with all these areas, we believe that the returnees have tremendous leverage to mobilise men in Samoa, in the fight against violence and crime. 

Our vision is for AVP to be established in Samoa not only for the returnees, but to be managed by the returnees. We see the potential of AVP in bringing about positive and sustainable change for the returnee community, by helping to mitigate the challenges of social disconnectedness and isolation. These are challenges brought on by stigma, poor language / cultural bearings and lack of familiarity, and which often lead many returnees back to harmful habits. Through the assistance of the AVP, we hope that the returnees will be able to develop a stronger sense of ownership, by having a program that they can latch on to, and that will deflect them from the cycle of recidivism.

Also, by inviting local stakeholders to work cooperatively with S.R.C.T. on realising A.V.P, S.R.C.T. will be more able to build A.V.P. as a venue for sectoral collaboration, to adapt A.V.P. where necessary to the local context, and to ensure that it builds off existing strengths and resources. 

These considerations will ensure that A.V.P. becomes both a unique program, as well as a supportive programme, that recognises the progress that has already been made by other providers at ground level, and is able to nurture and complement that progress.

20 January 2018, 12:00AM
Samoa Observer

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