Earlier this month The F Word exhibition was displayed at the international CAUX-Initiatives of Change Foundation in Switzerland as part of a conference called Living Peace held by Creators of Peace (CoP).
It was so inspiring to see what the organisers had done to transform The F Word to fit into a magnificent space in the former palace hotel built in the mountains high above Montreux. The exhibition which shares stories of transformation and recovery perfectly echoed one of the key themes of the conference – living peace through telling a new story.
Creators of Peace is a global network of women with a presence in over 40 countries aiming to transform, empower and engage women in creating peace at all levels of society. It believes that a change of heart and attitude is the foundation of peace.
It was extraordinary to witness 200 women from 43 countries at the conference, including countries gripped by violence such Pakistan, Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan. The experiences shared were all from women who had for many years been building peace in their countries and communities. One woman from Romania spoke about confronting her own prejudice about the Roma people and determining to break the chain of hate from one generation to the next. Another woman from South Africa showed remarkable strength when she said that since being gang raped she had to rebuild her confidence and learn to put fear aside, so that now she had come to believe that “my beauty is defined by my calling, not my appearance”.
Two storytellers from The Forgiveness Project, Jo Berry and Gill Hicks, shared their stories at the conference to standing ovations.
Gill Hicks, a survivor of the London bombings, made a plea to the audience “does it have to take a tragedy or a disaster for us to feel deeply connected as One Species?” She spoke about the choice she had made in determining that the hate which had shattered her life must end with her. She explaining that “in understanding the power of choice I’ve never had to feel stuck, defeated or compromised.”
Jo Berry, whose father was killed in the Brighton bomb in 1984 and who ever since has dedicated her life to peace-building, spoke about listening with an open heart. “I believe in the power of empathy”, she said “because when I empathise with you it means I want everything for you that I wish for me and my loved ones. This is the beginning of a new story.”
There was a strong focus on forgiveness and some powerful sharing, including hearing about the peace circles in Kenya which have helped reduce interethnic violence, plus ways of responding to harm where no apology was possible – as one woman said “my service to humanity was to replace fear with love because I saw those who acted unkindly acted out of fear.” A powerful personal story was also told about holding onto a personal grievance. A woman from Australia told a story which many related to when she said “after 15 years I went up to my friend and asked forgiveness for something she had no memory of.”
On the final day of the conference The Forgiveness Project founder, Marina Cantacuzino, spoke about transcending and transforming your own story.
“Stories can be soul destroying or life giving” she said, “I founded The Forgiveness Project at the time of the Iraq war. These were narratives of hope at a very bleak time. It felt extremely relevant then but today it feels even more relevant – in a world where hate is so easily amplified through social media, where whole groups are dehumanised or demonised, and the political rhetoric of the day is so often, ‘if you’re not with us you’re against us’.”
This sentiment was echoed by Dr. Omnia Marzouk , a consultant in Paediatric Emergency Medicine who reminded 200 women that “alongside anger that things are wrong there needs to be hope that things can change.”