by Amy Watts and Manuel Padilla
Haiti Project Co-coordinators

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Monday morning, last week, all 15 of the Pax Christi Port-au-Prince SAKALA staff, along with the two of us, trekked outside the city to the countryside. We joked that we must be in the Dominican Republic because we were heading east for a long time! Five taptap rides later, we arrived at our destination—Source Zabeth. There, amidst agricultural fields and roaming cows, was a natural spring that had been turned into a small park. This pleasant natural area was a refreshing contrast to the hustle and bustle of Port-au-Prince and the stresses of Cite Soleil. We made our way into the area of the park that was forested and found a clearing that would serve as a nice secluded area to have our training. Each person grabbed his or her own rock or tree root to sit on.

This was a day to refresh the spirit of ‘team’ amongst the staff and do some capacity-building. An intentional day for this purpose with the entire staff had not happened for the last year and a half and the staff seemed pleased to get away from the program site and dedicate their time to the activities we had planned.  The goals for the day were to have the staff learn skills to increase healthy communication, explore and re-commit to the principles of peacebuilding, reflect on their roles on staff in a more holistic way, and have some fun as a group.

We started by getting them into groups of three and having them brainstorm as many “Peace Components and Processes” as possible. They were reflecting on ‘what is necessary for peace.’ We then had them identify from their list one component they felt they were excelling at and one they needed to focus on improving. Each small group shared with the whole team their reflections. The lists they developed were quite impressive and we encouraged them to combine their lists and keep them in the office so that they could read them in times when they felt discouraged or disconnected. We all know that peacebuilding work is difficult and takes a daily commitment to the principles of justice and peace.

After a lunch break, we got the group up and laughing by introducing the ‘human knot’ game. Several other people in the park had their interest peaked when they were solving this team challenge!

We then reconvened and did a session on Nonviolent Communication. From previous meetings, we knew this was one area that the staff really wanted to work on—better communication with each other—so we dedicated a chunk of time to describing the basics of NVC and the phases of expressing observations (not evaluations), feelings (not thoughts about the other person), needs, and requests.

The activity that followed attempted to narrow in on one key aspect of improving communication—active listening. We had them stand in two circles that faced each other. We prompted them with the topics ‘A quality I admire in a leader and why,’ ‘A time I overcame fear,’ and ‘Something I want to work on in my life this next year.’ For each topic, first the inner circle participants would speak to the outer circle listening partner for 2 minutes while the listener was not allowed to say anything. The roles then reversed for the same topic. For each new topic, the circle rotated so the staff had a chance to connect with new people during the exercise. When we asked for volunteers to share their reflections on the activity, several of them mentioned how impactful it was and how connected they felt with their partners in the activity. It reminded us of the simple power of truly giving someone your undivided attention…even just two minutes can be transformational.

The next segment of the day focused on seeing the SAKALA organization as a microcosm of society and how the way they see one another on staff and interact can be an example of peace and a ‘power with’ not ‘power over’ model within the team. We gave the staff time to reflect on the questions: 1. What is my role on staff (both job description components and contributions to the larger vision and spirit of SAKALA)? 2. How does my role help others on staff and how do others help me? 3. How does my role connect with the mission of SAKALA? and 4. What is one thing I am doing well within my role and one thing I need to improve upon? After this period of reflection, the group convened in a circle and each person had the chance to share with the group as a whole. We stepped out of the circle and told them this was their time as a staff.

After it appeared each person had shared, we noticed that they didn’t motion to us that they were done. Daniel Tillias, Director of SAKALA, had drawn a symbol in the dirt in the middle of the circle, and people were taking turns standing in the middle and speaking. After each person was done, the rest of the staff surrounded him/her with a group hug. We pulled one of the staff aside and asked what was happening. The activity we had initiated brought up some feelings from some of the staff about some things they had been unhappy with in the past and so one of the staff proposed an activity to allow people a platform to try to let go and move forward more positively as a team. We were happy that the group modified the plan and introduced their own activity to fit what they saw as the needs of the staff at the moment.

As is usual with these kinds of trainings, there is never enough time to do all that is planned! We believe times set aside for this kind of staff bonding, communication, and re-dedication to the principles they are promoting through SAKALA is very important for the health of the organization and each staff member’s own personal growth as a peace educator.

We hope if your group is heading to Port-au-Prince and you would like to contribute to the mission of SAKALA that you might consider organizing a half or full day of teambuilding activities for the staff. We know that the youth participants at SAKALA often receive special activities when groups from the U.S. visit, and these are great! But we hope your groups will also explore ways to increase the capacity of the staff in their abilities with nonviolent communication, conflict transformation, and opportunities for growth as a team. Any activities like this that the staff experience will strengthen them as mentors and impact the youth in Cite Soleil.

They inspire us all the time, and this happened once again on Monday.

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