Most mediation training sessions in the United States usually end somberly with handshakes, the exchange of business cards and perhaps a last bite of the refreshments that have been laid out for snacks during the day. Not so with the energetic group of mediators and facilitators who completed the third and final leg of training of the Athens Migration Dialogue Project April 7-12 in Athens, Greece. Following the Public Dialogue portion of the training week, everyone descended upon an extremely accommodating Hermion Restaurant nestled in the Plaka for traditional Greek food, drink and folk dancing.
It was a fitting celebration for a week of intense concentration as trainees in the Advanced Practitioner Training group began with Mindfulness Training led by Rachel Wohl, Esq. and Nan Waller Burnett, MA, followed by Community Dialogue Training and Restorative Justice on April 8, 2014 led by Rachel Wohl, Esq. and Alan E. Gross, PhD. On April 10, 2014 Thomas P. Valenti, Esq. led the advanced trainees in “Train the Trainer” sessions geared toward developing skills in dialogue facilitation and designing a “Dialogue on Violence.”
Ironically, the sessions for April 11, 2014 – entitled “Dress Rehearsal for the Dialogue on Violence” - were delayed due to a bombing incident near the building where trainings were being held. Fortunately, no one was hurt. As police searched for suspects, closed off streets and buildings, and public workers commenced clean up, the training group was able to connect at a nearby café and relocate to another site. It was an apt reminder of the words of Jelaluddin Rumi, 13th – century Persian poet, jurist and Sufi mystic: “Be grateful for whatever comes because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.” For the international team and local mediators and facilitators, the street violence was a poignant backdrop for the importance of the work at hand.
The public dialogue, designed by advanced trainees as part of their training, took place on Saturday, April 12, at the Agricultural University of Athens. The event drew approximately 40 participants from a wide range of sectors including the government, schools, and ordinary citizens wanting to engage in conversation about the problem of school violence. Participants reported that the small group discussions were some of the best they had ever heard as they identified problems and difficulties, uncovered underlying issues, and recommended solutions which were shared with the larger group at the end of the day.
Now that the Athens Migration Dialogue Project has been completed, the international team led by Kenneth Cloke, JD, LLM, PhD, will be coordinating with Mediators Beyond Borders International on possible future projects in other countries using the Athens model. Cloke stated he was particularly pleased with the outcome of the Athens trainings and public dialogue. In addition, “we are grateful for our partnership with the Hellenic Arbitration and Mediation Centre and its director Ioanna Anastassoupoulou for her assistance in making the project a success. We are also pleased that Metaplasis, the spin off group of facilitators, coordinated by Dimitra Gavriil, will be conducting future public dialogues on issues of importance to Greece.
Mediators Beyond Borders International is a non-profit organization based in Arlington, Virginia. The organization is comprised of volunteers throughout the world dedicated to building a more “peace-able” world.
Ken Cloke speaking with a 6 year old Athenian boy about public dialogues in Athens.