Taking anti-violence training to Africa

This ceremony was part of the training in Zambia presented by Men's Resources International.
Local group takes anti-violence training to Africa

By Lori O'Brien, Correspondent

SPRINGFIELD A local organization has taken the first step to end gender-based violence in one corner of the world Zambia.

During a slide presentation on the evening of July 13, representatives of Men's Resources International (MRI), a nonprofit group in the city, outlined its recent three-day men's leadership training in Lusaka, Zambia, located in the southern part of Africa.

Steven Botkin, MRI's executive director, and James Arana, program director, presented the training June 12-14 which was hosted by the Zambia YWCA and funded by private donors in the United States. The training sought to increase awareness of gender-based violence, as well as reproductive health and HIV/AIDS among members of the newly formed Zambia Men's Network.

Botkin and Arana facilitated the event which was attended by 20 men ages 18 to 35 from Zambia, four female YWCA staff members, and one delegate from the Ebonyi Men's Resource Center from Nigeria.

MRI's approach is to support the development of men's programs in diverse communities and build a global network of these organizations working in alliance with women to prevent violence and promote peace.

"It was particularly helpful to have the diverse perspectives of the women participants and our visitor from Nigeria," said Botkin. "Their combined stories helped reinforce both the personal and universal aspects of gender-based violence. It was a very powerful experience for all of us."

With more than 20 years of experience working with men and boys, both Arana and Botkin used a combination of story-telling, ritual, consciousness raising and team building throughout the training.

While the formal training took three days, meetings prior and after the sessions with key leaders helped Botkin and Arana understand the social and political dynamics, establish relationships of trust, and reinforce lessons learned.

"It was important to create a safe space for participants to share their own stories and recognize the effects of sexism on their own lives," added Arana. "This provides a personal context for discussing sensitive gender issues, and gives relevance to more practical lessons on community outreach, leadership skills, organizational development and financial sustainability."

In the future, both Botkin and Arana hope their initial training will help spread the word on the importance of eliminating the violence that has been experienced by women in this region including acid baths, wife battering, rape, harsh widowhood rights and spousal murder.

"I am proud of the work we did in Zambia," said Arana. "The confidence in our own skills and our openness to cultural diversity enabled us to work with this new population easily and effectively, creating a powerful current that swept our group towards action and positive change."

Arana added that as long as the momentum is sustained and increased, the Zambian brothers and sisters will be joined by allies in other African countries and from across the globe.

"I am committed to making it so," he said.

Botkin stressed that this experience has been a "tremendous affirmation that our approach to working with men, developed over the past 25 years in the United States, could be effectively adapted to African societies."

He added that while gender-based violence is a significant problem, he was heartened by the "determination of Zambian men to forge a positive masculinity from the fires of their own experiences."

Individuals interested in joining the MRI, located at 1695 Main St., or seeking more information may visit www.mensresourcesinternational.org or call (413) 214-6797.

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