Yearly Archives: 2011

Gratitude – By Kevin Vowles

I’m feeling very grateful as of late.  I read this quote tonight by Anthony Robbins, and it summarizes how I’ve been feeling lately:

“When you are grateful fear disappears and abundance appears.”

However, it is not enough to simply feel grateful.

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it,” said William Arthur Ward.

It was only a few months ago that I was living in a cabin on Denman Island, splitting wood, reading by candlelight, grateful that a winter had passed and I was no longer freezing due to lack of insulation.  I loved the experience immensely, living in such amazing and raw nature, relatively self-sufficient and happy.  Something was missing though and I tuned into this gap in my life.  I had gone to Denman to write and put together a portfolio to apply to UBC’s Creative Writing program.  I had completed this task, and yet knew that I wanted to work with youth again, and so I started searching.

I can vividly recall the day that I sat in the coffee shop, and found the job posting with SWOVA.  Lynda Laushway called me up and asked me if I would actually move to Salt Spring Island…I said of course!  Unencumbered and free to go, I took the opportunity with a great deal of humility and gratitude.  Shortly thereafter my partner bought a house, also sensing the need to move to Salt Spring Island.  I am so grateful to be living with a woman who has dedicated her life to ensuring children’s rights are upheld.  She travels a lot and I am blessed to be her rock on this rock.  I am grateful for electricity and the warmth that a house can provide, and I am grateful to have healthy food in my home.  Most importantly I am grateful for the love that can grow in a house where there is no violence of any kind.

I know that the staff at SWOVA all share the sentiment in that they are grateful for the opportunity to be involved in the journey to end violence in the world.  Gandhi once said that we must start with the children if we want peace.  And so it is that the staff at school district 64 have chosen to include us in the lives of the young people of Salt Spring Island.  It is an immense honour to work with young people and to hear their voices.  I am grateful to listen each and every day and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the students, staff at GISS, and in advance SIMS for their wonderful hospitality.  I have also heard a lot of gratitude about the wonderful funders who make the programs possible.

None of this would be possible without people who believe in ending the violence that has hurt so many and hindered the positive development of many. We would like to express our appreciation to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, the United Way of Greater, Victoria, B.C. Gaming, Saltspring Island Foundation, Victoria Foundation, Coast Capital Foundation, Telus Victoria Community Fund, SD#64, Mid-Island Co-op, Thrifty Foods, Country Grocer, and individual supporters.

Blessings to all.

Kevin Vowles – Adult Facilitator, Respectful Relationships Program

The Man Box – by Christina Antonick

These days there are a wealth of online resources that compliment and inform the work we do here in the Gulf Islands with the Respectful Relationships (R+R )Program. At each grade level we have the opportunity to work with youth as separate gender groups to discuss stereotypes, healthy relationships and what youth feel makes both men and women powerful. We articulate the development of critical thinking skills as it relates to gender, race and sexual orientation.

As a youth violence prevention educator, I love watching TED videos as a source of inspiration, knowing how many other incredible agencies, organizations and individuals have committed themselves to peace in our world through education and social justice work.  Tony Porter, with grace and deep heart, talks about the notion of a “Man Box” that has historically impacted masculinity as well as a culture that condones violence against women and girls. I appreciate the clarity and honesty he brings to the talk.  It’s a great video that we‘ll bring into the classroom in the coming months.  Give it a watch and pass it on!

http://www.ted.com/talks/tony_porter_a_call_to_men.html

By Christina Antonick, R+R Adult Facilitator

Discovery – by Kevin Vowles

This Saturday, November 19th, I will be travelling to Vancouver, to celebrate International Men’s Day (http://www.international-mens-day.com/Canada.php), and train with the highly respected and dynamic creator of the day, and many other programs, David Hatfield (www.davidhatfield.ca). I am excited for many reasons about these opportunities, because it will give me the chance to become more articulate about my reasons for standing in solidarity with women, for peace and social justice, and to put an end to the terrible and on-going violence, which we see everywhere in the world. Whether it is young women beaten and left to die at the side of railway tracks just over on the B.C. mainland, or the ongoing degradation of our natural environments, the cycle of violence continues and must be stopped. By re-thinking our own conception of violence, true change can be fostered, and this is what I hope to do by further exploring with David Hatfield what it means to be a facilitator in a world where masculinity is both involved in the perpetration and alleviation of violence.

A Blog at it’s best poses questions which others feel compelled to answer to create a dialogue. While my job as a facilitator is to pose the most open ended questions possible, and many have struck me lately, I hope that others will come forward, particularly youth, to ask questions, because often it is the voices of youth which pose the most poignant and relevant questions.

SWOVA’s most fundamental mission is to end violence, and this is what drew me in to work as a facilitator with youth here on Salt Spring Island. One of the ways that the organization fulfills this mandate is to ask questions about whether norms, actions, words, images, entertainment, sports, economies and indeed society as a whole, are violent. Numerous questions have, one way or another, arrived on the proverbial doorstep of my consciousness:

  •  Is logging our old growth forests violent?
  •  Is the continual lack of criminal prosecution to protect unborn males from brutal and painful circumcision violent?
  •  Is reckless/dangerous speeding and driving violent to oneself, passengers in the vehicle, and other motorists?
  •  Are lack of shoulders and space for cyclists violent?
  •  Is the continual consumption and acceptance of food produced with fossil fuel based pesticides, which by their very nature harm this earth, and create countless and as yet untold problems for future generations violent?

I believe it is by asking questions that real change happens in life. Speaking with ourselves, friends, family, colleagues and indeed the world, about what is actually going on has led us to this point of immense awakening that we are presently experiencing. Even as the Police attempt to physically destroy the Occupy Wall Street movement with weapons of violence, we know that ideas of peace and non-violence cannot be quelled, and will endure. Their time has come. The time has come for everyone’s voices to be heard and everyone’s questions to be considered. The question which lingers in my mind and gnaws at me the most is how could we have arrived at the place where the freedom to assemble, without fear of violence from those who are supposed to protect our democracy, has disappeared? The next question that logically follows and angers me so, is how could we have exported this brand of democracy so arrogantly in the last ten years.

 

By Kevin Vowles, R+R Adult Facilitator

Aboriginal R+R

Participants in the R+R Facilitator Training - October 2011

In October I had the great privilege of with working with Musqueam Nation to train almost 30 men and women to deliver the R+R Program to youth within their community. The first weekend was spent  assisting new facilitators gain a more comprehensive understanding of the overall curriculum values and core philosophy of the program as well as assisting teams in beginning their preparation for two youth weekends in beautiful Pemberton.

Both youth weekends were a wonderful opportunity for Musqueam youth and adults to gather as a community to talk about the impact of violence in their community as well as work together to come up with ways in which young people can find ways to stay safe, connect and foster a greater sense of what it means to have a healthy relationship with oneself, family members and as a larger community.

Christina Campbell, participant in the training

Christina Antonick with participants at the training

The Salt Spring Island Peaceful Culture

There are a whole lot of people trying to stop violence and create a culture of peace in the world. It is absolutely amazing and uplifting to see it, and now I am part of such a remarkable movement. I’ve just completed delivering ten days of Respectful Relationships coursework in the school.

I’ve co-facilitated the Grade 9 and 10 curriculum and am amazed by not only  the remarkable thought which went into developing such an innovative violence prevention curriculum, but am equally ‘starstruck’ by the thoughts from students.  Hearing about what their experiences have been like, walking in both the more peaceful world that is Salt Spring Island, but also treading carefully in other less peaceful places. To say it has been an eye opener would be an understatement. I have seen and experienced violence in my life journeys, but the youth of today face different forms of violence and challenges than my generation did and it is my firm belief that the R+R program is giving them the tools to not only survive, but thrive!

More and more, we understand that violence is a growing, not shrinking global pandemic, affecting everyone. And when we say that it affects everyone, we mean that the health of people is dramatically affected. Violence is a determinant of health – whether it is women being raped, young men being shot and killed, or more subtle forms of violence. Huge portions of the global population are starving because of the persistent focus of resources to perpetuate violence and the promotion of and advancement of corporations, instead of food security or health care.

In marginalized communities where violence is pervasive and widespread, we often see higher rates of alcohol consumption. Studies done by Urban Networks to Increase Thriving Youth (UNITY) through violence prevention, indicate not only is advertising for alcohol more common in low income communities, but there are far more liquor stores in lower income areas. As the study indicates, “Alcohol is involved in two-thirds of all homicides and is associated with rape and battering.” (Links between Violence and Health Equity www.preventioninstitute.org/unity). Admittedly the consumption of alcohol is one of many factors in the ongoing perpetuation of violence in communities around the world. It is however the number one date rape drug.  It is also a significant factor stopping many people from making real and meaningful change not only in their lives, but in the world. There are many other factors which cause violence and many other affects that violence can have on health. For our children, most importantly, a climate of violence hinders their learning and development. I am in awe of the climate of learning at Gulf Islands Secondary School on Salt Spring Island. It is remarkable and enhanced by the Respectful Relationships program.

Where people, young and old, are encouraged to adopt a peaceful existence, and given the tools to not only be peaceful in their lives, but resolve conflict and unravel the layers of violence, society as a whole can live up to its truest potential. I see that here on Salt Spring Island in my day to day existence. Yesterday in a parking lot there was a group of young people hanging around their car. I was with my Mom who was visiting the island. I could see that she was slightly nervous because they were in her way, and she didn’t want to ask them to move, perhaps afraid of violence. The young people saw us and immediately said hello and moved themselves out of the way so that she could get into the truck. I think little stories like this, while certainly not news-breaking, are inspiring, heart-warming, and indicative of the culture of peace and respect for fellow human beings that is present. Not because it’s a great act of nobility or sacrifice, but because in bigger places; in more violent places, there would be the potential for an assault, particularly if there had been alcohol involved. I know it because I’ve experienced violence over less. It warmed my heart, and I thought I would share the story. I’d love to hear your stories of peace.

 By Kevin VowlesR+R Facilitator

The World Needs More Whistle Blowers (Edited)

There are many things which motivated me to jump aboard as a facilitator with SWOVA this month. I feel honoured to be joining a group of diverse and amazing individuals dedicated to the struggle for equality, and know that the Respectful Relationships program is a terrific avenue to channel my energies.

As a male, I am pleased to step forward and stand with females in the struggle to end violence and oppression which still exists around the world. There are so many issues which have prompted me to feel this way. As a brother, partner, and son of women, I am deeply affected by violence directed at women. It is wrong and must stop.

All of the people in the world are our brothers and sisters, and so an act of violence against one person, regardless of their gender, causes me to want to take action for a better and more peaceful tomorrow. To me, the most disturbing and widespread issue we are facing is that of human trafficking. While there are examples of young boys being trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation, young girls and women are the overwhelming and primary victims of this expanding and frightening phenomenon; a criminal enterprise second only to drug trafficking in profitability.

Although I have been in touch with this issue in the past, both through my writing, but also through work and travels in Africa and Asia, I again came face to face with the brutal reality of this issue and the roots of it, last weekend when I saw the film The Whistleblower. As with much exploitation, oppression and greed in the world, human trafficking stems from a callous desire to profit financially. The Whistleblower is a powerful, disturbing, real and apparently controversial film.

Critiqued by some as nauseating and overly complicated in terms of its politics, it’s been short changed by some reviewers as unable to make the mainstream because of these things. The Globe and Mail went so far as to say that the “storyline isn’t dramatically satisfying.”

The Whistleblower is a cinematic (and Canadian I might add) portrayal of human rights abuses of the worst variety. If the sexual enslavement of women is not dramatic I’m not sure what is. Is it because the story doesn’t have a happy ending that it’s not being heralded as a gem? The hero that Rachel Weiss plays certainly risked her life to expose the issue of trafficking and to attempt to rescue its victims.  So, if this film is not a winner because it exposes the issue and also honours the bravery of one woman, I’m not sure what is. The best storytelling does just that, it honours the hard work and courage of those who are true heroes.

The bottom line is that this film is real and that people in positions of power do take advantage of the powerless. Most often it is men who are exploiters and women who are exploited. That’s why we call it gender based violence. It’s not to say that violence against men by women doesn’t occur, because it does, but the overwhelming majority of violence is gender based. We’ve seen it in the sordid history of our own country, as religious actors set up residential schools to destroy culture and act out predatory sexual urges. We saw entrusted UN employees taking advantage of their power by exploiting those they were meant to protect, in Haiti, Sierra Leone, Cambodia, East Timor, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and of course Bosnia, as portrayed in the Whistleblower.

Despite the shocking brutality of male violence, I am more convinced than ever, largely inspired by the great work of organizations like SWOVA, and Paul Kivel, a violence prevention educator, that change is possible. People are capable of stepping out of roles and changing, and it is this optimism that I am filled with as I step further forward to work in the field of violence prevention education. The only way that dramatic change has ever occurred is by people having to squirm a little in their seats and seeing that for some people, a happy ending hasn’t and isn’t going to occur. Where does the inability, or perhaps simple refusal of some to see a film such as this for the gem that it is, stem from? Can we really be so blind to the need for justice? In a world where it is estimated that 2.5 million people are trafficked around the world, how can we make “being the change” more mainstream? Clearly, the world needs more whistleblowers.

Kevin Vowles – R+R Facilitator

The World Needs More Whistleblowers

There are many things which motivated me to jump aboard as a facilitator with SWOVA this month. I feel honoured to be joining a group of diverse and amazing individuals dedicated to the struggle for equality, and know that the Respectful Relationships program is a terrific avenue to channel my energies.

As a male, I am pleased to step forward and stand with females in the struggle to end violence and oppression which still exists around the world. There are so many issues which have prompted me to feel this way. As a brother, partner, and son of women, I am deeply affected by violence directed at women. It is wrong and must stop.

All of the people in the world are our brothers and sisters, and so an act of violence against one person, regardless of their gender, causes me to want to take action for a better and more peaceful tomorrow. To me, the most disturbing and widespread issue we are facing is that of human trafficking. While there are examples of young boys being trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation, young girls and women are overwhelmingly the primarily victims of this expanding and frightening phenomenon; a criminal enterprise second only to drug trafficking in profitability.

Although I have been in touch with this issue in the past, both through my writing, but also through work and travels in Africa and Asia, I again came face to face with the brutal reality of this issue and the roots of it, last weekend when I saw the film The Whistleblower. As with much exploitation, oppression and greed in the world, human trafficking stems from a callous desire to profit financially. The Whistleblower is a powerful, disturbing, real and apparently controversial film.

Critiqued by some as nauseating and overly complicated in terms of it’s politics, it’s been short changed by some reviewers as unable to make the mainstream because of these things. The Globe and Mail went so far as to say that the “storyline isn’t dramatically satisfying.”

The Whistleblower is a cinematic (and Canadian I might add) portrayal of human rights abuses of the worst variety. If the sexual enslavement of women isn’t dramatic, I’m not sure what is. Is it because the story doesn’t have a happy ending that it’s not being heralded as a gem? The hero that Rachel Weiss plays certainly risked her life to expose the issue of trafficking and to attempt to rescue its victims. So, if this film is not a winner because it exposes the issue as well as honours the bravery of one woman, I’m not sure what is. The best storytelling does just that, it honours the hard work and courage of those who are true heroes.

The bottom line is that this film is real and that people in positions of power do take advantage of the powerless. Most often it is men who are exploiters and women who exploited. That’s why we call it gender based violence. We’ve seen it in the sordid history of our own country, as religious actors set up residential schools to destroy culture and act out predatory sexual urges. We saw it in Haiti, Sierra Leone, Cambodia , East Timor and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and of course Bosnia, as portrayed in The Whistleblower. However, people are capable of stepping out of roles and changing, and it is this optimism that I am filled with as I step forward to work in the field of violence prevention education.

The only way that dramatic change has ever occurred is by people having to squirm a little in their seats and seeing that for some people, a happy ending hasn’t and isn’t going to occur. Where does the inability, or perhaps simple refusal of some to see a film such as this for the gem that it is, stem from? Can we really be so blind to the need for justice? In a world where it is estimated, that 2.5 million people are trafficked around the world, how can we make “being the change” more mainstream? Because clearly the world needs more whistleblowers.

by Kevin Vowles – R+R Adult Facilitator

Respectful Relationships is Back in the Classroom

At the end of this month, Respectful Relationships will return to SD #64 for its 12th consecutive year of delivery!  We are excited for another year of classroom delivery as well as training both new and returning youth facilitators who will then join us in the classroom for R+R workshops with  younger students.  Having worked with SWOVA for 8 years, it is always great to return to the halls and classrooms of the schools which feel familiar and inspiring as a community educational environment.

Having recently watched “The Interrupters,” a  2011 documentary film that tells the story of three violence interrupters who try to protect their Chicago communities from the violence they once employed, I am certain that it is through education and relationship skill building that we are able to create change in our communities whether urban or rural. Well worth watching, the film is an intense and realistic story of communities grappling with racism, poverty and violence. Whether in a US city or here on our small BC Island, it is hopeful to see the passion and commitment of individuals and communities to end violence in all its forms.

             By Christina Antonick –  R+R Adult Facilitator and Trainer

Respecting September

September is a time for fresh starts. No one enters school thinking they are going to start a fight, be a victim of a violent attack, or feel ostracized because of their gender orientation. Anticipation runs high. Sometimes too high. Youth have high expectations around clothing, technical devices, teachers, class dynamics, extracurricular activities, after school jobs, friendships, and romances. Emotions (positive and negative) are displayed for all to experience, no matter how discrete one believes they are behaving. The energy in the school is palpable. Layered on top of that are the emotions and expectations of school personnel and the families of the youth in the school. In everyone’s haste to be on time, be the best they can be, make the grade, and make the team, what often is forgotten is respect. Respect for different perspectives, orientations, responses, and requirements.

On Salt Spring Island, respect is an integral part of the yearly curriculum. The Respectful Relationships program has become a fixture in the middle and high school. It is a program that aspires to stop bullying, interpersonal, partner, and family abuse, through ‘relationship education’ with youth. For over a decade, School District #64 has supported this program and invited in trained facilitators to work with youth in grades 7, 8, 9, and 10. Each grade experiences 12 sessions a year focussed on bullying, sexism, racism, and homophobia, with a focus on the development of healthy, non-violent relationships among adolescent boys and girls.

Former RCMP Constable on Salt Spring Island, Sgt. D.F. (Danny) Willis wrote:

“SWOVA has been working with local youth for several years in the Respectful Relationships program that they developed. It is difficult to quantify such programs’ success. Anecdotally I can say that RCMP members that come to Salt Spring Island find that the youth they encounter are much more courteous than youth they had encountered in previous postings.”

The success of the Respectful Relationships program is a result of an amalgamation of partnerships within the community. It would not be the success it is without the endorsement of the RCMP, the support and willingness of School District #64 to incorporate the program into the curriculum, the honouring of the values of the program by administration and staff at the partner schools, and the acceptance and appreciation of the program by parents of youth. Above all, the youth, are Respectful Relationships biggest champions which is most evident in the Youth Team.  The Youth Team is a body of youth from grades 9, 10, 11, and 12 who meet weekly to gain facilitation skills, to learn more about advocacy and social justice, and to co-facilitate with the adult facilitators in the grade 7 and 8 sessions.

September is a time to reaffirm the energy and commitment Salt Spring Island has to its youth. The Island is our island and the youth are our youth. We’re here as a community to support our youth as well as to foster the kind of humans we all wish to live with. For this, our home is a better place. For this, we are thankful for the contributions each one of us is making to ensure the positive energy of September continues all year round.

To learn more about Respectful Relationships go to: http://respectfulrelationships.swova.org/

Chris Gay – R+R Coordinator

Ground Spark

Working in the classroom with Respectful Relationships (R+R) youth, we often find that media tools including YouTube videos, documentaries, and magazine articles assist us in our dialogues with youth. We encourage youth in their critical thinking about Media and its influence on our lives and try and present positive media that influences meaningful social change. San Francisco based Ground Spark, a producer and distributor of visionary films that address sexism, racism, and homophobia.  Ground Spark has an exciting library of captivating films that further engage island youth in meaningful conversations around violence, respectful relationships, school culture, and social norms.

“Let’s Get Real,” “Straight Laced,” and “Its Elementary” are films we use in R+R to encourage thoughtful dialogue. Academy Award winning documentary filmmaker Debra Chasnoff, president and senior producer of Ground Spark,  is a nationally recognized champion of using film as an organizing tool for social justice campaigns.  She is a pioneering leader in the international movement, working to create safe and welcoming schools and communities.

It’s exciting to continue to see the work we do at SWOVA as part of a wider global social justice movement dedicated to health and safety for all people. Check out Ground Spark at www.groundspark.org