Monthly Archives: October 2011

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