Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Committed to bringing change, starting with themselvesAfter two months of intensive training with IofC’s Action for Life programme, a new generation of change makers sets out to work with IofC teams grappling some of the core issues in Africa, Eastern Europe, Indonesia and the Pacific.

They started at dawn on the edge of the plateau on 1 November, full of expectations about their discoveries during two months in India. And graduated from their intensive team-building and training period in a cave at sunset, facing West and challenging new tasks ahead. Now this intergenerational group of 30 which forms ‘Action for Life 5’ are moving out in four ‘action teams’: on their way to Kenya, Romania, Indonesia and New Zealand. During the next three months, they will partner with IofC teams in those regions, getting involved in their national issues issues and programmes.

The aim of the Action for Life (AfL) programme, operating over the last 10 years, is to ‘develop a new generation of change-makers, equipped with integrity and faith who are committed to bringing transformation in the world, starting with themselves.’

AfL group meeting with Rajmohan and Usha GandhiJust two days before the end of his term as President of IofC International, Rajmohan Gandhi and his wife, Usha, joined in a dialogue with the Action for Life team members, plus 10 more young ‘interns’ at the Asia Plateau Centre in India. The dialogue ranged from reconciliation between the Koreas to issues in Iran, from how to personally sustain one’s vision to demonstrating a ‘powerful antidote to revenge’, to use Prof Gandhi’s phrase. (See here for more)

Gandhi said he wanted – while still President of IofC International -- to commend Action for Life for what it has achieved over the ten years. Several AfL graduates had travelled with him as part of the ‘Gandhi Voyage’ earlier in the year. ‘AfL has contributed new blood, new leadership to Initiatives of Change. It is keeping alive the integrity and the purity of the movement.’

Alex Birnberg (left) with Usha and Rajmohan Gandhi (Photo: Killy Sánchez)The two-month stay in India included ‘fieldwork’ encounters with ‘change-makers’ working at the grassroots in Indian society – a doctor at the heart of the recovery process of the Bhuj earthquake in Gujarat 10 years ago, village entrepreneurs in the eastern tribal belt around Jamshedpur, students at elite leadership and management institutes in Pune, a Muslim professor dedicated to communal reconciliation in Vadodara. And many more. These dialogues have had a powerful influence on the AfL members from 18 countries, helping shape their own concepts of calling and social change.

But more than these this first phase of this five-month AfL programme was framed by the ‘core team’ facilitators (several of them AfL alumni) around a context from IofC’s initiator, Frank Buchman, adapted from what he outlined it in Sweden in 1939: change yourself, engage others, create answers in communities and countries, give hope to humanity. Or to borrow Mahatma Gandhi’s succinct motto: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.

Personal change and development took on earthy reality as individuals in the group addressed cultural prejudices, past dishonesties, hurting relationships, family and office feuds, complacency or ignorance. ‘My life has been changing so much I hardly know who I am,’ said Dana, a TV journalist from Roumania whose FaceBook posting from AfL have generated a stream of responses, some even quoted in national media following what she wrote on her changing cynicism and attitudes to her countrymen. Gaining an overview on subjects like identity, conflict transformation, understanding the realities of history which continue to wound, the rich-poor divide and environmental sustainability have moved the participants towards answers which can be applied.

In the process of equipping themselves for the ‘action’ in other countries, they have gone through a series of IofC programmes, namely: Life Matters (a nine-day Course from Australia), Discover the Other (addressing difference), Creators of Peace Circles and an experimental workshop on the Caux Call to Action. With facilitation training provided by professionals from Mumbai, they will now offer modules from these workshops in the situations they enter.

Action for Life alumni, ready for the next phase

So the two months ended in a semi-circle in a rock cave on the edge of the 4,300 foot plateau. Someone drew the analogy of having been in the safe space where anything could be shared and addressed, where relationships bonded over a common experience of change. But now was the time to step out of that protected space and grapple with huge issues that are being faced in the regions they enter, and then ultimately in their own home situations. Each was asked to specify what they had gained and could take with them. And then, in the silence of the evening, one by one they marked their new commitment by saying, ‘I am ready’, and graduated through a narrow rock passage into the limitless horizon of the plateau above.

Action for Life reports can be viewed on or on the ‘Action for Life’ page of FaceBook.