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United Nations Day in Support of Victims of Torture 26th June

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Our Tree of Life Partners circle held special significance for us this month:
We stood together in a silent circle
remembering all those people across the planet
who had endured this terrifying experience

There were over 50 of us and more eighty percent are survivors of torture

We are a diverse collection of Zimbabweans who represent rural and urban communities
the women who are the farmers, look after the children, sell the vegetables on the side of the road
community leaders and elders and officials
street-smart young city kids
youth groups
church representatives

These victims of violence are the facilitators and organizers
who now own and use these workshops in their communities

and they are held together with one intention
to bring healing and peace

We passed the stone round the circle with a question -
‘What have you seen over this last year that has inspired you?’

‘We have now had workshops with our headmen and chiefs – we no longer have to worry about security’

‘Our Councilors from both parties are calling for more circles – everyone wants healing’

‘The Tree of Life circles in our community has held all of us – victims and perpetrators – the people are changing’

‘Our Chief no longer holds his meeting sitting at a table separate from the people he sits in the circle together with the people he is calling for more  healing workshops’

‘Yesterday the woman in charge of security (someone who had been responsible for so much of violence in the area) called me in and I went – unafraid. She said she wanted to thank me! One of her nephews had been on our workshop and it had changed his life. She told me that she supported what we were doing, and that it was good for our community’

‘The youth in our community now play football together across the political divide we talk to one another  – now we are friends we will not let it happen again’

‘Last week we had a Peace conference in our community (this is an urban area which has terrible violence with youth militia and neighbor turned against neighbor) representatives came from all the different wards and churches community leaders and help-groups and Tree of Life participants and we spoke of the need for peace. It was wonderful and we are now training as peace monitors’

‘We have been commemorating UN day in Support of Torture Victims lighting candles and having prayers in churches across Harare so many people have come’

I spoke of Sehlewle, sitting next to me:

When we met 8 years ago in South Africa
she had fled Zimbabwe after being terribly tortured and beaten
the bones in her leg irredeemably broken

A frightened young woman in terrible pain
living in a foreign city cut off from her community
She came to one of our first Tree of Life workshops.
and finally got to tell  her story in a circle she felt she could trust.

Now she is back home, and still facilitating with us
Last week, with Mike, she ran a Tree of Life workshop for the first time in her home town Bulawayo
They sat in circle with the old warriors of the nation
the former freedom fighters
and helped them tell the stories they had been holding onto for over 20 years.
They said it was just wonderful
and they have been asked to come back and run more!

I sit in a circle surround by people who have not just learned to survive
they have become creators of peace in their communities.

It has been 9 long years since the first Tree of Life Circles
and we have struggled through all sorts of adversity
but now it has found its time…
something is changing and we are no longer intimidated

when we confront the fear in ourselves
and join hands across the divides of separation that have held us in isolation
we become masters of our own destiny
we begin to see ‘peace’ emerging

the work begins at home

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