Teaching Nonviolence

 

From the day I was born, everything around me was international. As a child born in Rome of Croatian parents, I was wrapped in a shawl made by the daughter of Leo Tolstoy.

When I was two, my family emigrated to Argentina, and I attended an Irish boarding school.

In 1965, I earned a scholarship to study at Cazenovia College outside of Syracuse, New York, and earned a BA in Liberal Arts.

I then went to live in London for four years and began to travel around the world, to Afghanistan, India, Brazil, and Thailand. Through a flatmate in London, I discovered Buddhism, which became a guiding light for my life and the beginning of my journey through nonviolence.

When I returned to Argentina in 1976, I landed in what the Argentines call “the dirty war,” a period of terror in which tens of thousands of those suspected of being guerrillas or sympathizers were kidnapped off of the streets by the army. They were either killed or held in clandestine prisons. I remember those years as "business as usual," but with a river of blood running underneath. When my friends began to disappear, I knew that I could be next.

Suddenly at one particular moment, I knew I was in danger and it was time to leave.

I went to Brazil, to the city of Salvador Bahia with its old colonial buildings, African music and culture and peaceful coastline. There I lived for three years in the Sri Aurobindo ashram, a spiritual community where I, translated books from English into Portuguese, lived in an intense community and made lots of bread.

When I came back again to Argentina in 1982, I was changed forever. But the people of Argentina had also changed forever. Neoliberalism had taken over. The country was in total shambles and the economy was bankrupt. It has not recovered.

In 1989, through a series of serendipitous circumstances, I came to Canada and landed in Quebec. There I studied transpersonal psychology, worked as a physical therapist and taught self-development classes and meditation.

Through another series of connections, I was asked to go to a Cree community in northern Manitoba to be a resident assistant in a women's shelter. I went. That would bring about yet another paradigm shift in my view of the world and in me.  I realized I wanted to dedicate my life to teaching nonviolence. For me, this was the best way to express my concerns, my need to serve and my longing for a compassionate world.

After a year, I returned to Quebec, called a friend who was a Franciscan monk, and asked him where I could study nonviolence. He told me about a group based in California, the Nonviolence Service Pace e Bene (peace and all good). I bought their curriculum, “From Violence to Wholeness”, and phoned them to say I was going to organize a translation of the book into French. They agreed and were surprised when it got done in six months.

They invited me to meet them, and promptly hired me as their international program coordinator. I had found my path.

For the past 20 years, I have been a part of that organization, travelling and teaching nonviolence in countries in South America, Europe, Australia and elsewhere. In those years, I met extraordinary people with whom I share a relationship of love and respect.

In 2005, my team at Pace e Bene wrote a handbook called “Engage: Exploring Nonviolent Living”, a work that Michael Nagler, a scholar and practitioner of nonviolence in California, described as a “toolkit for salvation.”

Today, along with a Dutch colleague, I am writing the sequel to that book.

 

By: Veronica Pelicaric, as told to Carl Stieren.

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