Background to the Far In Far out Programme

How do we grapple with our violent history to find pathways forward? In our own personal lives? In our communities? In our world? 

 

We’re delighted about each of the extraordinary projects underway in the ‘Far in Far out’ programme. Each of the projects are deeply personal and far-reaching.

The key contribution of CFOR has to do with supporting project leaders in facilitating inner work and team relationships while designing and implementing community interventions, exploring this continual link of ‘far in’, ‘far out’.

All of the project leaders will also gather in Symposia, and pull together our learning from these different contexts and regions of the world, and so contribute to the broader field of transitional justice.

It’s possible

That it might just be possible for individuals and whole communities to become (more) conscious, and so transform our violent history and find pathways  forward, has been inspired, again and again, by participants in our forum and training events around the world.

As a way of introducing the Far in Far out projects and the project leaders and teams, I want to first mention participants from our forum activities in the Balkans where we worked for many years; our Europe Matters programme, and our ongoing work in Rwanda.

In the Balkans, activities took place in Croatia from just after the war in 1996-2001, and from 2006-2012, the latter period linking facilitator training with economic project development. There were additional forums held in Kosovo and Macedonia. Four-day forums were held twice a year in Croatia. Each participant was deeply impacted by the war. As Serb, Croat, Muslim, and from mixed families and other ethnic/ national backgrounds, they’d found themselves on opposing ‘sides’ of the violence and ethnic cleansing. Together, we engaged with the ‘hot spots’ and strong polarizations among them, in a way that honored the possibility of working directly with acutely sensitive issues while taking care of one another. The participants were from a wide range of small and large organisations and associations, related to education, social work, counseling, and mayors or local authorities of villages. They showed up – with war trauma, with profound loss, with desperation and hopelessness, but also with their dedication to community and finding a way forward. Ready – when the moment called – to change their lives, one another’s lives, all our lives.

All the while, an idea is taking root. Can we sit together and process what we have lived through? When we carefully facilitate the ‘hot spots’ that terrify us, they become doorways to possibility, to transforming our relationships? Can we grapple with community-wide trauma, by witnessing and reconnecting to one another? Can we deal with both the fear and the gnawing need to face one another, and grapple with questions of accountability? Can we become aware of the dynamics that push and pull us, as individuals and communities, rather than just act them out in repeating dramatic polarisations? And as we perceive that this is possible, can we dare to dream what might have happened had we had such interactions before the war?

We also worked for years in our ‘Europe Matters- You Matter’ programme, coordinating and facilitating forum gatherings with hundreds of participants from 30+ countries in Europe – to grapple with our colonial history; the legacy of Stalin; World War I; World War II; and the Holocaust; working on issues of  asylum and migration; dynamics of structural racism; and attitudes towards Muslim communities; working with homophobia;  with issues of the economy; the environment; and  gender.

How do we reckon with the impact of history, getting that history is not in the past?  And how to grapple with the fact that we are each part of this perpetuating dynamic, in the way we impact on one another at any moment. How do we replicate that history with our personal and collective attitudes and behaviour? Do we give a damn? And how, by way of a more conscious and human interaction, might we change history. Might our inspiration and learning from such extraordinary interactions take root, as we go on to work in our communities.

Since 2016, together with a local organisation, GER, we are deeply involved with the coordination and facilitation of the ‘Beyond Conflict’ programme in Rwanda. We have facilitated many hundreds of people gathered in large community interactions and provided modular training to a smaller group of 60 local facilitators – then supporting local facilitators to initiate their own community projects. This work has had profound meaning for hundreds of people dealing with unthinkable loss and trauma, and has had a significant impact on whole communities in Rwanda, supporting the national reconciliation process.

We’ve been in many places around the world. While each place, and each situation is unique, there are patterns that link us as human beings. And things we can learn from one another about what it takes to work with collective trauma and issues of accountability. What it takes to stop the world, step off the wheel, stop the replay of history.

In South Africa, in a township of Durban, the community grappled with internalized oppression, and discovered an extraordinary energy, and resilience, with grassroots ripple effects.

In Zimbabwe, being able to talk for the first time about political and tribal polarisations and the legacy of colonialism, was an extraordinary step in the work of reconciliation and honouring and accessing the vitality in community. The forum in Zimbabwe touched especially on the profound drive and capacity of youth. And this anchored similar lessons from youth in both the Balkans and Rwanda, about their dedication to finding answers about the past, and to finding pathways to their future.

Again and again, we would hear from the elder generation that they thought or assumed the youth just weren’t interested. Time and again, we’ve seen that is simply untrue. When youth witness that it is in fact possible to transform the polarisations they have inherited, they stop in their tracks. They are inspired; they demand; they insist; they engage; they show profound generosity and kindness; they lead the way; knowing this is it, our one chance – to bring awareness and humanity back into our interactions, that we don’t fall asleep and replay the nightmare.

Whether facilitating intense interactions in polarised communities, or within small NGOs or large international organisations, or in our training seminars, we would always ask ourselves – what are we learning, and how do we pass it on?

For Jean-Claude and me (Arlene), as practitioners, and as Founders of CFOR, this question was with us in our daily conversations, over our daily coffee; it was a feeling; a sense of possibility; a recognition of the size of the problems we face in our world, and at every turn; an awareness of our limits; and that we might offer our 2 cents as best we can. It was in our conversations on Jean-Claude’s very last day.

You matter

Jean-Claude often said to his students “you matter.”

At some point, you may have been a teacher, or a friend or parent, and taught someone to drive a car, or bake a cake – or as my sister-in-law humorously described, the iterative process of helping her children learn to tie their shoes. Now think about how long it takes to learn something that feels deeply important, let alone pass on those skills that we can’t yet say we’ve mastered. And how to then sustain and pass on an underlying spirit and idea?

What I get, more and more, is that it is the underlying spirit that people feel and remember.

When someone sees what’s possible, their eyes widen – when they see communities transform in a way they never dreamed possible, there’s a fundamental shift in outlook – “I’ll have what she’s having!”

So, it is in this spirit that we founded CFOR, and in this spirit that we have worked over the years in close association with individuals and organisations, designing and leading community forum interactions, training programmes, and many seminars and intensives, gave lectures and presentations, wrote a book, articles and chapter contributions, stayed in there as best we could.

The ‘Far in Far out’ programme is built upon this spirit.

JC was a very rare bird – known for turning himself inside out. If called to facilitate a difficult situation, he’d find the whole problem inside of himself, as a pathway to be able to directly address and facilitate the outer situation in all its complexity. ‘Far in, Far out’.

Each of the projects in the ‘Far in Far out’ programme has been born out of the life experience, professional experience and passion of the project leaders, and their very personal process of turning ‘inside out’ as they develop and facilitate their important work.