As we at EPAF work to promote a new model of transitional justice that transforms the way that post-conflict work is conducted in the broader development field, it’s important to show how that work takes place on the ground with the people affected. During EPAF’s Peru Field School, students had many opportunities to interact with EPAF staff and experience EPAF’s model in action. One of the most important experiences the students have during the field school is an exercise where the students experience a module on psyco-social support and go through the same exercises as the family members would. A journal excerpt captures the session in action:
“After a trying day of hearing EPAF staff describe the long and unpleasant history of the conflict, punctuated by personal vignettes, the field school students were mentally taxed and wanted to rest and to decompress and digest everything they had heard. We were still in the first part of the school and the day’s grim discussion had emotionally drained everyone, but there was an important exercise yet to be done. The students were divided into small groups and asked to draw on a piece of paper how they felt. Simple, straight-forward and seemingly inane considering the work at hand. The students fell silent and then began to think about what they wanted to draw. It was difficult for many of them to start right away and it was evident they were deep in thought about how to express their current thoughts and all the images and stories going through their minds. Slowly, they began to draw and sketch and put thoughts to paper. Images emerged and stories were brought to life on paper. Sketches of people wandering alone in the mountains, emptiness, people waiting for someone to return and uncertainty were evident on all the papers.”
“After a few minutes, the group was called back together and people began to share their drawings and what they meant. The themes were emptiness, loneliness and pain. It was a difficult and emotional discussion for everyone present as the field school students unpacked their thoughts in a simple hand drawn picture. The exercise was then explained to the students as one which is used by EPAF and its partner NGO’s in an effort to provide psyco-social support to individuals and families affected by forced disappearance. The student’s experiences with the exercise were similar to the reactions by many of the family members and incredibly the themes of the drawings were similar as well. It was the first concrete experience the students had with the day-to-day work of EPAF and they could feel the effects themselves after they were finished…”
This exercise is important to mention for two reasons: First, it helps the students understand the effect the exercise has on people who experience it by putting themselves in their shoes and second, it demonstrates to the students the comprehensive and “people-focused” nature of EPAF’s activities. No one can measure how someone feels after they participate in an exercise like this, especially someone who has suffered in a conflict and lost a loved one. We can’t bring anyone back, but it has to be about more than law and forensics and analyzing remains. Real people suffered and real people remain. The focus now must be on the living. Memorialization has to take place at the individual and community level and the healing process has to be nurtured. EPAF’s interventions are an invitation to remember. They hope to empower and dignify and through that create a future for those abandoned.
Posted By Thomas Bradley (Peru)
Posted Sep 3rd, 2014