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Peacebuilding en las Americas: History, Future Plans, & Needed Support

Peacebuilding en las Américas’ (PLA), a Working Group with Friends Peace Teams (FPT), provides accompaniment, project financing, Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) training, and skill-building to communities and organizations in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Colombia— places where the violent legacies of civil war and systemic violence perpetuate social inequality and injustice. PLA works to develop long-term relationships to create programs for peacebuilding, healing and reconciliation.    

SEYM has had long relationships with both FPT and PLA, supporting their vitally important, spirit-led work.


SEYM was one of the first Yearly Meetings to sign on to Friends Peace Teams (FPT) as a supporting yearly meeting. FPT’s founders Elise Boulding and Mary Lord have visited SEYM meetings in the past. SEYM has provided financial support as well as supported the work of volunteers including Gay Howard, Caroline Lanker, Daniel Doan, Shawna Doran, Nadine Hoover myself and others. Please visit their website,  friendspeaceteams.org> for more information.

I have just stepped down as the clerk for Peacebuilding en las Americas (PLA) for over 10 years and was on the working group prior to that. Our working group has partner groups in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Colombia. I was also the clerk of Friends Peace Teams for several years and have been active with FPT for over twenty years.

SEYM helped immensely with spiritual and financial support for me to visit Rwanda three times and Burundi two times. I remember being on a conference call when Elise Boulding said she heard from Friends in Rwanda saying that they “could not move. They were frozen.” It took FPT several years to develop the capacity to visit with Friends in Rwanda and Burundi and listen to their needs and discern how we could accompany them on their journey to recovery. Together we chose tools such as Alternatives to Violence to help the gacaca judges and many others, such as returning excombatants and communities torn apart. We also worked together to develop trauma resiliency programs with an AVP style approach that could be used in many communities. With very few mental health professionals, we had to develop programs that could offer emotional support to many.

PLA AVP workshop

At the same time, I was also working with Peacebuilding en las Americas (PLA). After describing to Alba Arrieta, a Colombian peacebuilder, what FPT was doing in Rwanda and Burundi, she decided she wanted to see it for herself so Val Liveoak, Alba and I went on an exploratory trip. As we sat in workshop with men and women from a rural Burundian community, ex combatants, displaced persons in rural Burundi and heard their stories, Alba began crying saying “We need this in Colombia.” We began making plans to develop a trauma resiliency program that we could test out in Colombia.

Later we adapted the program for Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and these are still going on today, along with AVP and other programs. Bev Ward from Tampa Meeting accompanied me on a trip and helped facilitate a program for families of the “false positives.” At that time it was believed that several hundred young men had been killed and dressed in clothing of the FARC to make it seem that the Colombian army was making headway against the FARC. Later we found that thousands of young men had been killed in this manner. We met briefly with members of the United Nations who were beginning their investigations into the “False Positive Scandal.” 

The Future

We want to continue to provide accompaniment, project financing, Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) training, and skill-building to communities and organizations in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Colombia, places where the violent legacies of civil war and systemic violence perpetuate social inequality and injustice. PLA works to develop long-term relationships to create programs for peacebuilding, healing and reconciliation.  Our programs build on extensive Quaker experience combining practical and spiritual aspects of grassroots peacebuilding.

A recent grant from Southeastern Yearly Meeting (and a number of other yearly meetings) has helped secure funds for our coordinator, Monica Maher, for the next six to eight months at least. The grant from SEYM was a tremendous help to PLA and this now allows us to go forward with several other projects.

Another Monthly Meeting is considering a grant for Honduras and El Salvador, for which we are grateful for their discernment.

We always work with partner groups in Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia and Guatemala and are guided by them in understanding the needs in their areas.

Projects Needing Support

We are looking for help with two projects described below:

CoMadres, El Salvador. photo: FPT

El Salvador

In 2014, Peacebuilding en Las Americas (PLA) partnered with CoMadres, an organization co-founded by former Archbishop Oscar Romero and made up of over 400 mothers and relatives of the disappeared who have maintained a consistent voice of nonviolent resistance since El Salvador’s twelve-year civil war. AVP workshops have trained 85 members of CoMadres with three CoMadres Facilitators now training other war survivors across the country. PLA provides funding, co-facilitation and accompaniment to make sure this crucial work continues.

Many Co-Madres members faced unspeakable suffering: witnessing loved ones tortured and killed, or living with the crippling uncertainty of whether their missing family members are alive or dead. Despite 25 years of advocacy and demands for justice, the government has provided few resources to help communities recover, heal and prosper. With your support, AVP and Trauma Resiliency workshops have become an integral part of CoMadres inspiring work to offer concrete tools to war survivors still struggling under the weight of trauma and social injustice.

CoMadres, El Salvador. photo: FPT

“I was afraid to talk in front of others, but I learned how to overcome this fear thanks to AVP. These workshops make us feel better. It is like there is someone helping us and we don’t feel alone anymore,” said Mercedes Alas, a CoMadres member and AVP Facilitator.

“They have shown a tremendous capacity to reinvent themselves, to be resilient…We contribute to their ability to talk, to rediscover their ability to raise their voices against individual and structural violence and the injustices and problems that occur each day,” said Salomon Medina, AVP El Salvador National Coordinator.

 We invite you to join CoMadres Facilitators and other peacebuilders whose courage and creativity are transforming extreme conflict into collaborative actions for justice.

A pending project in El Salvador is Facilitator Training in Urban El Salvador with At-Risk Youth and I can provide an updated grant request in the near future.

Caldono, Colombia. photo: FPT


Project Description: AVP Workshops in Colombia with Communities Reintegrating Ex-FARC Guerillas. This is a high priority project, which needs funding.

PLA tends to work in areas where there is a high need and a place where we think we can make the best use of our resources. The location for this project is Caldono, the Department is Cauca, northwest Colombia.

This particular location was selected because of a contact in Caldono with a Pentecostal church, which supported the peace accords and has been the sponsor of the AVP workshops (many evangelical churches did not support the peace accords.)

That Pentecostal Pastor is very involved in the civil peace committee and peace implementation.   The area is a former Red Zone (controlled by the FARC) so has been selected within the peace accord for the DDR process (disarmament, demobilization and re-integration of the guerrillas).   It is an area where the National AVP Coordinator and her colleagues have experience, so they know how to navigate the dangers of travel there.

There will be 16-20 participants in each workshop, both community members and ex-FARC members.   These are areas designated in the peace accord as sites of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of the ex-guerilla forces; during the war these areas were controlled by the guerillas.

The grant request information:

The need in Colombia for the workshops in Cauca, Caldono (former Red Zone) is US $2100 in 2018.

The plan is for 1 Basic, 2 Advanced, 2 Trauma Resiliency, and 1 Facilitator Training.    Total workshops:  6 x $350 per workshop. This works out to about to a little less than $20 per person per workshop.

This work is very important, urgent, as the demobilization of the FARC into the communities is taking place. Please let me know if you have any questions.


Guatemala Police at an AVP workshop

Evaluation & Outcome Measures

At the end of every AVP workshop session, there is a collective verbal evaluation so that the workshop can unfold in line with participant feedback; ongoing evaluation is an inherent part of the workshop methodology and facilitators adapt to the group as they work.

There is also a facilitator team evaluation at the end of each day, and a final written evaluation by participants at the end of each workshop.

The last session of each workshop involves participants talking together about next steps, so that all follow-up is initiated by participants.   All activities are voluntary, and one volunteers only oneself.   Thus, the participants will assess the AVP workshop series at every step of the process.

Anticipated results, based on past experience, are: increased energy and enthusiasm among participants; greater cohesion and collaboration among the groups; improved ability to come up with a variety of creative solutions to difficult conflicts at home and in the community; greater self-esteem and collective hope; a strong beginning of healing of trauma experiences, and participant support groups for ongoing individual and collective healing.

Methods used to measure progress will be the workshop evaluations as well as close ongoing contact between facilitators and participants throughout and after the process to assess the emergence of the qualitative results expected.   AVP facilitators in each region are change agents committed to offering AVP workshops and also to modeling non-violent creative action as a way of life.   Therefore, another expected outcome is an increase in quantity and quality of the pool of AVP-trained persons who support each other as a community striving to put the tools of non-violence into practice in everyday life.


I will provide periodic feedback to the yearly meeting and monthly meetings about progress of the programs.

Ways You Can Help:

 All of our programs are made possible by people like you who help raise funds and donations to keep this vital work going.

  • Become A Sustainer One way to insure ongoing support is to become a sustainer by pledging to raise $500 annually to one of our programs
  • Join a delegation to visit PLA partners
  • Join our Working Group
  • Host a Talk at your Meeting, school, church, community group or organization. PLA Working Group Members or staff could meet with your group to speak about the programs, their impact and how you can become part of the work.
  • Donate! you can send checks to Friends Peace Teams, 1001 Park Ave, St Louis Mo. 63104-3720 and earmark a check for PLA, if you would like. You can also donate to via Paypal on their website>

Thank you from the Peacebuilding en Las Americas Initiative!

For More Information:

Please see the PLA News page> for information about our ongoing projects in Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia and Guatemala.

Our most recent audit for the year ending in 2016 for FPT is on our Finance page>

Read more about our work in 2017, and plans for 2018 below this post.

Please feel free to contact me for more information: Cece Yocum 

—Cecilia Yocum, SEYM Representative to Friends Peace Teams

Cece Yocum

Editor’s note:

Cecilia ‘Cece’ Yocum (Tampa Meeting) received her Ph.D. in psychology from Ohio State University. She has over 35 years of experience working with individuals, families, communities and professional groups. Cece has also worked overseas with community based trauma healing programs in Rwanda, Burundi, and Colombia as a part of Friends Peace Teams. She has been actively involved with Alternatives to Violence Project workshops at Coleman Federal Correctional Institution for many years, as a facilitator though the Tampa Bay AVP Council. She is a past board member of the Florida Center for Survivors of Torture, and has provided psychological evaluations for political asylum seekers. In 2006, she received the “Outstanding Contributions to Psychology in the Public Interest” award from the Florida Psychological Association.

Peacebuilding en las Americas: 2017 Highlights & 2018 Goals

2017 Highlights

  • PLA’s partners trained 33 new Facilitators across Honduras, El Salvador and Colombia.
  • AVP in GUATEMALA reached 500 National Civil Police (NCP) Officers. AVP Facilitators completed 16 workshops (6 Basic, 4 Advanced, and 6 Mini-Workshops) with officers, chaplains and students, approximately half of whom were women.
  • AVP in HONDURAS celebrated three years of working with incarcerated persons in the El Porvenir Prison in La Ceiba. To date, there are 11 inside facilitators and over 30% of the men incarcerated have taken an AVP workshop.
  • AVP in EL SALVADOR and HONDURAS reached at-risk youth and community leaders in gang-controlled urban neighborhoods.
  • AVP in HONDURAS participated in the Municipal Committee on the Prevention of Violence in La Ceiba and trained Civil Society Leaders.
  • Mariposas Libres

    AVP in HONDURAS celebrated five years working with indigenous Tolupan women in Locomapa who face illegal transnational mining on their ancestral lands.

  • PLA strengthened relationships between its Working Group and partners through visitation. Fazilee Buechel and Shirley Way visited El Salvador to co-facilitate four workshops.  Initiative Coordinator Monica Maher also made visits to counterparts in all four countries.
  • AVP in EL SALVADOR celebrated three years of trauma healing with war survivors. Facilitators completed three basic, an advanced, and two Trauma Healing workshops with Co-Madres members across the country.
  • AVP in EL SALVADOR trained 70 Parish Catechists who work with at-risk children and youth, 86% of whom are women.
  • AVP in COLOMBIA accompanied ex-combatants of the FARC guerrilla force in the disarmament and demobilization process, offering workshops in areas of reintegration.
  • AVP in COLOMBIA continued trauma-healing work with educators and community leaders in the war-torn community of Granada.
  • Honduran Facilitators spread AVP workshops throughout the Americas to Mercy Sisters and Associates in Argentina, Belize, Chile, Panama and Peru.
  • PLA Friendraising Tour extended education and donor relations to the United Nations, Friends meetings, churches and organizations.

2018 Goals

  • Secure funding for PLA Initiative Coordinator Position
  • Train AVP facilitators within the National Civil Police in Guatemala so they can train police units across the country
  • Expand AVP program in the El Porvenir Prison in Honduras and strengthen other rehabilitation activities in crafts, yoga, meditation and music
  • Offer AVP training to the police force in La Ceiba, Honduras
  • Sponsor trauma resiliency workshops with AVP Facilitators in Honduras facing repressive political conditions.
  • Locomapas, Honduras

    Expand AVP work with indigenous Tolupan women in Locomapa, Honduras and Afro-descendent Garifuna women on the north coast of Honduras.

  • Offer a facilitator training in Honduras, which would bring the women together across geographical regions as a space to share common problems, creative solutions and the power of community among women.
  • Facilitate AVP workshops with ex-combatants of the FARC guerilla force in the disarmament and demobilization peace process in Colombia
  • Expand the AVP work of Co-Madres in El Salvador to other war survivors who still suffer poverty and trauma.
  • Train youth facilitators in Zacamil, a gang-controlled neighborhood in San Salvador.
  • Offer opportunities for persons with disabilities in El Salvador to continue their AVP training and serve as role models for others throughout the region.
  • Enter the El Salvador prison system