Mediation, from a Mental Health Perspective.

Darin Witkovic

Unlike the majority of the volunteers at the APADRC, I am not an aspiring lawyer or law student. In fact, I would have never discovered the organization if I hadn’t been looking over resumes at my current place of employment. I come from a mental health background with most of my experience and studies in counseling and psychotherapy. I’m passionate about working with Asian Americans and the LGBT community; if you’re an LGBT Asian American, even better.

I was drawn to the APADRC for two reasons. First, I wanted the opportunity to get direct experience contributing and working with the Asian community here in Los Angeles. Generally adhering to a collectivist culture, less acculturated Asian Americans are less likely to seek help with research stating that they fear asking would burden others, disrupt balance, and possibly bring shame to the individual and/or family. A center like the APADRC is rare resource offering advocacy and support for individuals frightened, ashamed, and conflicted.

Secondly, I was drawn to the interactions that mediators have with their clients. Conflict resolution between neighbors, family members, business partners are just a few intakes I’ve experienced during my time at the center. During mediation, emphasis is placed on communication and dialogue. Rephrasing, validating feelings through restatements, neutrality in the language used in mediation is very much similar to how mental health professionals interact with their clients.

My interactions with other volunteers and staff at APADRC have been insightful and rewarding. Everyone’s shared goal of advocacy and support with a real dedication to improving the lives of others can be witnessed here daily. I plan on continuing outreach with the APADRC all the while enriching my interpersonal skills and enrichment of my service back to the community.

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Imbalance in Power Dynamic

by Katherine Pham
Conflict Resolution Specialist

The APADRC has a strong sense of community, in that individuals who have sought help from us in the past have known that they can rely on us to help them in the future as well. James is one such individual who has had a lasting relationship with the APADRC, which is why he has reached out to us in need of some mediation help. James was in a relationship with Jane for several years, where they lived together and had an infant child together, Joey. James and Jane have recently decided to separate. He came to us in hopes of setting some boundaries between him and Jane, as far as the way they communicate with each other and how they choose to parent Joey.

The main issue between them was the imbalance in their power dynamic. Specifically, Jane felt like James had an extremely strong and dominant presence, whereas Jane was much more passive and slightly submissive, especially in the presence of James. This imbalance greatly impeded their efforts at accomplishing anything that had to do with Joey. As you can imagine, this created the greatest sense of frustration amongst the two. They both strived to become the best parents for Joey and tried to do what they thought was best for him, but almost every time they even tried to discuss anything with each other, the conversation would just erupt into an intense argument. As a result, nothing was truly accomplished.

This is where I, and my co-mediator, Sean stepped in. We both realized that it was extremely crucial for both James and Jane to be able to fully express how the other person made them feel in this situation in a clear and concise manner, without having to worry about the risk of an argument ensuing. So we both let them share their thoughts and feelings, and needless to say, many differences emerged that were the root of their problems. However, letting each party have their time to share their stories was significant in and of itself, they were both able to be open and free in their feelings for the first time. This was a breakthrough for Sean and I, just allowing the other person to acknowledge and be acknowledged was the key to setting the boundaries that James and Jane both desperately needed. As far as the male-female dynamic went, I felt that it was critical for me, as a female, to be there for Jane. I noticed that it seemed easier for her to express herself in the presence of another female, as opposed to just telling James or just telling Sean.

In the end, Sean and I were really able to get everything out in the open for the two and use that to guide them to a successful set of rules and boundaries that they both felt empowered to account for. I believe that this was a wonderful first step to being able to parent Joey and be civilized towards each other in the future. Organization and a willingness to resolve their past differences are what truly allowed James and Jane to do what was best for Joey.

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Restorative Justice Outreach Activities!

by Sean Dwyer
Assistant Program Director

What a day I had on Thursday July 24, 2014! As a reasonable addition to my bike and my bus pass, I got a Zip Car account, so I could zip, as they say, to Restorative Justice meetings both downtown and in the San Gabriel Valley. And I had a few!

It started off with a presentation in a Community Center in South El Monte. I gave away free sticky pads with the APADRC logo as well as some of our brochures, and I spoke in Spanish and English about our Community Program, Restorative Justice Program and Divorce Mediation Program. It was really fun interacting with the people, relaying my excitement about our programs and seeing how interested they all were! Everyone wanted a copy of the brochures and, indeed, wanted as much information as they could get! Talking with a Director of that Center, I realized that there is a lot of need particularly for our Mediation services not only with the people who frequent the Center, but even with the people who run it! I am ready to do many more presentations of this kind.

As soon as I had shaken hands with everyone and had a chat with anyone who wanted one, I was off in my Zip Car to the next important meeting! This one was for a School Attendance Task Force (SATF), headed by Judge Michael Nash and held at the Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court in Monterey Park. It was attended by a wide variety of people not only crucial to the Restorative Justice process, in terms of its connection to the Criminal system as well as to community organizations, but also very enthusiastic about it! Dr. Hellen Carter, Director at Forensic Solutions Institute and CEO at National Corrections Solutions Institute, promises to be an invaluable partner with APADRC in Restorative Justice, and after a brief, most interesting discussion with her before the actual meeting, we exchanged cards and decided to meet later on. I found out upon returning to the Office after the meeting, that she had emailed me to schedule an appointment during the SATF Meeting itself!

In addition, there were representatives from schools interested in our Peer Mediation Program and Training. There were also community organizations who were interested in partnering with us as a conduit for Youth coming out of the Criminal process towards their programs. And then of course there was Judge Nash himself who became aware of the program and expressed his own enthusiasm. In the days following this meeting I have set up and realized numerous meetings and the network is beginning to form in an efficient and realistic manner.

My final meeting was with the Narcotics Consultant and Assistant to the Director of Probation for LA County, Michael Esparza. Mr. Esparza had worked hard with me to find a moment that would work for this meeting, and the Director was not able to attend finally due to an overcharged schedule, despite his earnest desire to find out more about the program and get involved. Nevertheless, the meeting that we had, accompanied by Jamie Romano, one of our expert facilitators within the Restorative Justice Program, was very positive and very efficient. We went over the entirety of our program, discussed in detail various possible integrations of it within the Probation system and specified what our next steps would have to be. This meeting will be in my mind as I meet in the next few weeks with people from the District Attorney’s Office, Police Departments, LA Superior Court and, indeed, Dr. Hellen Carter as well.

The most important thing, nevertheless, that I took out of these meetings is that the problem is not as simple as a big, rusty, old system that needs to be scrapped in favor of our new, shining program. There is a socio-legal context in which hundreds of people are working hard every day, and have been for years if not decades, to modify the dominant paradigm, to integrate innovative programs and to improve communities through concerted and interested efforts. It can be hoped that APADRC’s Restorative Justice Program will be able to find its place within this colorful and humbling array. We have something unique to offer. We also have a positive place in which to integrate ourselves: receiving participants from the criminal system as it currently exists, and connecting them, strengthened by the benefits of our process, to the numerous community organizations that are already out there doing amazing work. We are ready to begin any time.

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Restorative Justice in the Community

Restorative Justice in the Community

by Sean Dwyer, Assistant Program Director

It is nearly impossible to imagine a positive experience in the prison system. There is always the possibility of reading many books, working out, perhaps even taking school courses, but the experience for the majority of inmates is encouragement towards an ongoing path of criminal activities and negative social connections. Besides seeking to change this path for individuals having behaved criminally in our communities, Restorative Justice seeks to heal the effects of the criminal behavior and reintegrate the individual positively into the community. Not only, therefore, will youth and adult offenders be pulled away from a long-term criminal path in and out of prison, but they will have new opportunities to grow as people and as community members. The Restorative Justice program seeks to attain this goal through an extensive referral network, a solid, effective process and significant contributions to the community in which it operates. In this article, these elements will be explored in order to demonstrate the positive role that Restorative Justice can play in any and all communities, including your own.

Restorative Justice, in its very essence, must be firmly entrenched in the specific community that it seeks to serve. It must be established and maintained through relationships with the people of that community. This is no less true on the level of the referral network that channels cases into the program. The Police, the Courts, the Probation offices, the District Attorney and the Public Defender, to name only those, all play a very important role in, before and potentially during, the process. A solid relationship of understanding and a clear referral process is required between these institutions and the organization offering Restorative Justice.

In this way, a referral agent, when confronted with an individual who has assaulted someone or who has stolen or vandalized someone’s property, will contact a Restorative Justice case worker.This case worker will immediately begin the process with the victim, the offender, their families, appropriate community members as well as representatives from the referral agent institution. The referral agent will be kept informed of the case’s progress, will be invited to participate officially in the Restorative Justice session and will be able to approve the agreement ultimately decided upon by the parties.

A police officer, then, can be associated with the restoration of the situation and the improvement of the community, as opposed to the process of taking away, judging and punishing the offender. This offending individual, finally, remains a community member despite their actions and despite their potentially long-term absence in prison. Their relations, as well as their potentially positive contribution to society, can be effectively encouraged and preserved.

Once a case has been referred to Restorative Justice, a consistent, transparent and participative process begins. The case worker will contact the parties as well as their families and any appropriate community members in order to fully intake the events of the case as well as to work with the parties to determine their willingness and readiness to participate meaningfully in the process. If the case worker believes the case is appropriate for the Restorative Justice process, it will be submitted to the Program Director for a second screening and a session will then be scheduled among all participants. The process must move along quickly for a variety of reasons, of which assuring a heightened sense of accountability for the offending individual and a better alignment with the regular system of Justice.

During the session, the facilitator introduces the process and invites all participants to approve of the session agenda. The referral agent is then invited to describe the events of the case. The offending individual speaks next, accepting or denying responsibility and speaking about the situation from their perspective. The offended individual, or victim, is then invited to speak about the effects that the offensive behavior had on them. Afterwards, all of the participants can contribute regarding their own experience of the situation and its effects on them and their community.

In the final phase of the session, the family of the offending individual is invited to move into their own private space in which they will create a proposal Restoration Agreement, while the family of the offended individual can think about what is important to them in such an agreement. All participants come together to discuss the proposed agreement which can be modified, not only by the offended individual but by all of the community members as well as the referral agent. An agreement ultimately will include such things as monetary or in-kind restitution, community involvement and competency development. The referral agent can verify that the agreement is not excessively lenient or hard on the offender. They can also potentially be involved in the realization of the agreement. Within a year of this session a follow-up will be performed with the parties to determine the agreement’s success.

The benefits of this process to the community are numerous. An individual who has faced their own responsibility, surrounded by those affected by their crime, and who has themselves proposed a solution and sought to realize that solution, has an exponentially decreased chance of engaging in criminal activity again. In addition to this important sense of accountability from having talked and listened through their crime, this individual is salvaged in favor of the community itself. This individual is not absent in prison, rather they are engaged in repairing the harm that they caused, whether that involves earning money to pay the victim or working to fix a hole in their home. Beyond even this restoration, the community will benefit from the creative solutions that the offender and the other participants in the session can devise.Whether it is simply performing community service, participating in a sports league, having regular therapy sessions, being required to submit their report card to show improving grades in school, learning a trade or helping in the garden, all solutions are possible and all are specifically appropriate and particularly beneficial. That is why an increasing number of people believe in the Restorative Justice process, because they themselves, within a safe and serious support structure, are participating in the creation of solutions for their community.

Restorative Justice then, far from seeking to replace the regular system of Justice, seeks to integrate into the existing social structure and utilize all of its elements to most effectively and efficiently benefit the entire community. Prison and the Courts will remain necessary, but a lot of individuals will be able to seize an opportunity right away to avoid that path and to follow rather the path back into their community.

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Leading A Successful Mediation: Tips

Daniel Cheung
Volunteer Mediator

A successful mediation will often leave you feeling accomplished because you’ve saved your parties’ from wasting time, money, and having a headache. However, leading a successful mediation will not always be easy as each case has its own challenges. Fortunately, there are some things that you can do to help your chances of getting past the barriers that stand in your way in any mediation. I am going to exemplify some of my tips by using a recent successful mediation regarding an alleged medical malpractice case.

Be curious. The key to asking the right questions is knowing what to ask. The parties will learn to trust you faster and be more open to your ideas if they get the sense that you know what you are talking about. Although you have a case file in front of you, that will often not be enough! In my recent case there were medical conditions and some legal questions that I knew little about. I went on a search website and began reading about what my parties would be talking about. Next, I opened up a blank text document and wrote out a bunch of questions that were interesting to me and relevant to the upcoming mediation. Being ready allowed us to get to the heart of the issues that the parties faced.

Be sympathetic. In that recent mediation, my co-mediator and I were surprised at one parties’ comment. During a caucus we expressed that if the comment was directed to us, we would feel hurt, disrespected, and put up our walls and fight back. The next time the parties met back together, there were apologies all around. As you might imagine this was the turning point to the mediation. It might not always be something as cathartic as an apology; but both parties do need to realize that mediation is a time where they have a safe and open opportunity to work together. Often the best way to create this environment is to share what you, as a neutral third party, would think and feel if they were in their situation.

Be creative. Even if both parties show a great willingness to work together, there will still be times that barriers block your road to success. Money issues are perhaps one of the biggest barriers. Fortunately, you can be creative in your mediation agreements. Listening to your parties and drawing from your experiences will give you the tools to create ideas that go beyond the dollars and cents. Keep in mind that not everything has to be paid up front. Some of your ideas might involve charities, education, future efforts and payments, or even the aforementioned apology. When we were faced with a money issue, we heard that one of the parties was concerned that no one else had to suffer the same. We suggested that the other party use its connections and engagements into making a good faith effort to rewrite some of its practices to prevent the same thing from happening!

Each and every one of you is capable leading a successful mediation. We have all been curious, sympathetic and creative at some point in our lives. Follow these tips and you will be on your way to having a successful mediation. And of course, if you have learned any tips along the way don’t forget to use them. Happy mediating!

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The Role of Law in Mediation

by Shawn Jang

Who is a better mediator? A young lawyer or a grey-haired, non-lawyer community leader? This is one of the constantly debated issues in the dispute resolution field. Some argue that legal knowledge is an essential armor that an efficient mediator must be equipped with. Others say that the communication and facilitation skills and personality are more important. My response has been somewhat in the middle of those arguments. I graduated from a law college in Korea but do not identify as a lawyer. I have been a professional mediator and have relevant trainings and knowledge for that. From my experience, my answer is that it depends.

I facilitated a landlord-tenant case some time ago that is a good example of this. Hannah (tenant, Filipino) and Daniel (landlord, Korean) agreed on an apartment contract with Hannah paying $1,800 for the security deposit. Hannah’s lease was supposed to start in 40 days. Twelve days later, however, Hannah told Daniel that she was canceling the contract. Hannah demanded the whole security deposit back, but Daniel refused saying Hannah’s cancellation caused him to pay for a brokerage fee ($1,000) to find another tenant plus additional costs like reducing the security deposit for the new tenant for moving immediately. Take note that there was no penalty clause for cancellations before moving in stated in the contract.

Daniel, the landlord, knew the relevant law and court procedures really well, because he dealt with difficult tenants all the time. He held fast to the letter of the law and challenged Hannah’s claim to the security deposit. He felt justified and motivated to keep the money given the expenses he was incurring due to Hannah’s last minute change of mind. Hannah, on the other hand, felt that because she had not even moved in yet, there were no reasons for the security deposit to be kept at all. She had done no damage to the apartment, and her lease still had not technically started. I looked at the California law on landlord-tenant regulation, and I also looked up the Contracts case book for breaching the contract in Common Law. I found that under the California code, the landlord should use the security deposit only for back rent fee or the repairs. It seemed at this point that Daniel should give the security deposit back to Hannah. But, as Hannah breached the agreement by cancelling it without defense or justification (it seemed she just changed her mind), there was room for compromise from both of them.

After conciliating with them, both agreed to a mutual solution: Daniel would give back $1,000 to Hannah after her compromise of $800. Both parties also agreed to let the matter go at this junction and move forward. Although legal knowledge played a big role in this case, I don’t believe that it was the most important factor in settling this case. Building a rapport by good and active listening skill showing empathy and sympathy, making the parties comfortable for the options proved to be far more critical. I am happy that everybody is happy!

Posted in 2014 March Tagged with: , ,

Yoga: The Light Within

 

“Yoga: The Light Within”

By Julian Lee

Upon taking on the role of marketing and development assistant at APADRC, I was overjoyed to find that I had stepped into a warm community of peacemakers. Being in an office environment where people take pride and ownership of their responsibilities as a professional and as an individual with similar life goals has been an amazing experience , and I thought things could not get any better.

But it did get better. Here I am, in an office yoga session, on a swirl-patterned yoga mat in between two of my supervisors and following yoga poses led by Dustin, one of our mediator specialists who has been practicing yoga throughout his life. All the stress and negative energy that had been stored away in my body and mind began to evaporate after every pose. We got to watch each other carry out different yoga poses (some of these poses are challenging!) and bonded over laughs and encouragement. In the final exercise, where we lay still and focused on our breathing, I felt completely relaxed and at peace.

And I realized how much yoga can positively influence APADRC and any other community. When I thought of yoga, I initially thought of yoga poses on a mat that I probably wouldn’t ever be able to do (or do gracefully, at least), especially in an office environment. However, I found that yoga can be as simple as exercising for 7 minutes sitting on a chair.

At the end of our office yoga session, we closed by saying “Namaste,” an expression that means, “the light in me honors the light in you and in the world.” I further thought this meaning out in the context of APADRC and became even more thankful to be a part of an organization that helps others resolve conflicts and overcome barriers such as language, culture, and income. Our peer mediator trainings in schools and conflict resolution services for the community strive to honor the light in other people.  For we believe the light within oneself shines the brightest when one is at peace.

Posted in 2014 March

A Third Party

volunteerspotlight

“A Third Party”

By: Andrew Mathews

            Prior to working for the APADRC as a Conflict Resolution Specialist, I had very little knowledge about mediation or the process and skills needed for the position.  I quickly learned that patience and persistence play a significant role in the success or failure of the mediator and case.  Our training sessions emphasize the importance of remaining neutral and impartial, but I quickly learned how difficult that could be. One of the first cases assigned to me dealt with a group of international college students and their University’s Student Housing program.  The square footage of the apartment was significantly smaller than advertised and the students felt they were being taken advantage of. English, after all, was their second language, and they were new to how things operated here in the United States.  After attempting to resolve the issue repeatedly to no avail, the students started to feel like they had exhausted all of their energies and time. After finding out about the APADRC, the students contacted us for assistance, and we were able to mediate a settlement that included a reduction in the rent and a refund of the previous rent checks previously paid by the students to the university. The negotiation process and settlement agreement took several months with several phone calls between the parties and myself, but it was worth it in the end.

I feel that we provided a beneficial service to both the international students and the university because we were able to help them communicate in their respective languages in a constructive and efficacious way. This case highlights the importance of having a person who speaks a party’s language fluently in order to capture the nuances of their words as well as convey to them the opportunity for change and agreement in an efficient manner.

For many non-native English speakers, the APADRC is a valuable resource. I take great pride in being a balanced mediator who possesses skills as simple as being able to open the door to constructive communication, a powerful tool that I had previously undervalued. These kinds of cases remind me that what we do here as volunteers, the time and the emotions we invest, go beyond just a case number and into the individuals themselves. There is a humanistic element that underlies all of our cases and all of our work as mediators. Thought we strive to be a neutral third party, it does not preclude our feelings of empathy and sympathy. In fact, it necessitates it, and cases like this, as well as the people that I work with in the center, constantly and wonderfully remind me of that.

Posted in 2014 February

Saving Business Relationships

savingbusiness

Saving Business Relationships

By Ying Wang

In this story of a successful mediation between a business and its long-time customer, we start with Sally, who had the tail light of her BMW repaired at Joseph’s repair shop.

Sally paid Joseph $700 for the repair. Two months later, one of the car’s sensors began to malfunction, so Sally contacted Joseph to ask if he could repair that as well. Joseph replied that he would try to fix it for her but that he couldn’t guarantee success. Later, Sally found reason to suspect that the sensor was damaged during Joseph’s repair of the tail light.

Surprised by this unusual negligence on Joseph’s part, Sally asked for her $700 back and an additional $400 to repair thesensor elsewhere as compensation for the damage. Joseph did not believe it was his responsibility to return the money and pay the additional cost for repairing at another shop, explaining that he had nothing to do with the sensor damage. After a few phone calls to Joseph with no progress, Sally decided not to deal with Joseph by herself and called us for help and told us her story.

Sally, Party 1 (P1), is a customer of Party 2 (P2), a merchant. P1 sought mediation services after realizing that she could not resolve the dispute with the business owner without the help of a neutral third party. The fact that P1 only spoke English and P2’s first language was Spanish made it more difficult for them to communicate.  However, our bilingual mediators allowed for smoother communication between both sides.

During the mediation, P2 confirmed that he said he could try to repair the sensor for P1. However, P2 said that because it took P1 two months to discover the faulty sensor, the damages were caused during this time period after instead of during the repairs. P1 explained to P2 that since her car was a BMW, discovery of the damaged sensor was delayed, because the dealership had to inspect all the electronic components to ensure the car was functioning properly. Furthermore, P1 also went on vacation for a month after repairing the car which was why P1 contacted P2 two months after his initial repairs on the tail light. P1 stated that she preferred for another shop to repair the sensor primarily because P2 could not promise a complete repair and secondly because she believed the sensor was damaged during the first repair by P2.

At the end of the day, the issue became whether or not the damage to the sensor was caused by P2. Neither party wanted to pursue further investigation as it was costly and time-consuming and so proving the source of the sensor damage became impossible. This left the dialogue at a “he said, she said” impasse, with neither party able to prove their side nor seemingly willing to compromise with the other. In mediation, however, there is a human element that is often pushed out of more legalistic situations. This knowledge enabled our mediators to restore the relationship.

Both P1 and her father have been long-time customers of P2, establishing a common interest in future business for both parties. P2 wanted to keep P1 happy to maintain a good customer-merchant relationship while P1 did not want to select another auto repair shop because she and her father were quite pleased with P2’s prior work and were quite surprised by this rare incidence of negligence.

Therefore their common interest was to solve the problem and continue the relationship. After a few conversations, P2 was willing to return the money P1 paid for repairs. Although there was a $400 gap, the parties were willing to compromise and P2 returned the original $700 and also gave an additional $100. These compromises demonstrated that there was hope of repairing their relationship. Our goal for this mediation was to guide the customer and the merchant to a mutual understanding and to accept the differences between each other to work out a mutually beneficial agreement.

Overall, the mediation went pretty smoothly. After a few conversations between the two parties through a neutral and bilingual mediator, they reached an agreement in which both sides made concessions. Today, Sally remains a regular patron of Joseph’s shop for all her car maintenance needs and even recommends his services to her friends and family. Joseph’s business is more successful and he is happy to have come out of mediation with an even better relationship with a loyal customer. Sometimes both parties just need a neutral place for them to communicate their concerns and interests and feel at ease in a safe, cooperative atmosphere before they can agree to a mutually beneficial solution.

Posted in 2014 February

Creating a Forum for Community Dialogue and Action in Japan

creatingaforum

After leaving the APADRC as Program Director and arriving in Tokyo this past August, time has been peeling away as I’ve acclimated.  There has been so much to learn: new cultural norms, language, re-establishing a routine, growing familiar with the institutions of International Christian University (ICU) where I am an MA graduate student, and getting to know the other 9 Rotary Peace Fellows and many other students here.  This spring though, I am dedicated to becoming more active in my community and on the ICU campus to bring new resources and trainings in collaboration with the APADRC and other organizations.

Every week I have been partnering with an organization called Space Hachinoko, which is a hub for social welfare and education related groups and activities.  I spend time conversing in English with women and mothers who are looking to improve their English-speaking abilities, usually in anticipation of returning to the job market.  The organization also include a daycare center and after school care program, a clinic, organic cafe, and various support groups for non-Japanese residents living in the area.  All of these activities are supported and run by the collaboration of parents, staff, and volunteers.

The topics in these conversations vary week to week, but I have been learning about the challenges that particularly mothers face in Japanese society.  For example, the center helps support the children of non-Japanese families with after-school tutoring and support.  I can testify first-hand how challenging the Japanese language is!  Additionally, the organization just gave crowd-funded assistance for the first time ever to a young college-bound woman had needed to pay for her college registration, but her financial aid wouldn’t arrive until the following month.  Because both of her parents were between jobs at the time, she was ineligible for bank loans, and Space Hachinoko helped raise enough money to cover her registration.  It is heartening to have found this organization, affirming that there are incredible grassroots community organizations everywhere, working to support immigrant, non-native language speakers through the ups and downs of navigating cultural and bureaucratic challenges of their new homes.

This January, a delegation of undergraduate students from the University of the Free State, South Africa came to visit the ICU campus.  These student leaders came as part of the “Leadership for Change” program, which was a prevention intervention program launched in 2010 in response to racially motivated tensions and incidents on the campus.  I was honored to spend a good deal of time with these student leaders in both informal settings such as karaoke, and was honored when they invited me to give a presentation on mediation and the work of the APADRC.  Many of the students in the program were also medical students, and so they were very interested in the idea of using mediation as an alternative to litigation in their practices, as only one or two of them had ever heard of mediation before.  They also bravely offered to wake up a little earlier one morning if I would give a basic communication and conflict styles training, which we arranged for the day before their departure back to South Africa.  This was also their first introduction to these communication concepts, and we explored listening, communication styles, and diversity within the group.  At the end of the training one of the students presented me with a beautiful beaded bracelet that she had made that is popular and generally sold by beach vendors in South Africa.  I think that it was that moment where I was truly awed at how from Los Angeles and South Africa we were brought to Tokyo in order for this exchange of ideas, friendship and inspiration to take place, and felt blessed.

Also in January, I coordinated a workshop that brought Lissette Lorenz, a Shansi fellow from Oberlin, to ICU to introduce Theater of the Oppressed (TO) principles and exercises.  I was originally introduced to Theater of the Oppressed through the work of Gender Justice LA, ImaginAction, and eventually participated in an LA workshop facilitated by Sarah Shourd, one of the three American hikers detained in Iran in 2009.  TO is a model of community-based theater developed by Nobel Peace Prize nominee Augusto Boal. First started in Brazil, Boal’s native country, it has been practiced around the world for over 40 years.  The goal of TO is for participants to dramatically analyze real-life oppressions/obstacles/challenges they face and act out potential solutions to overcome them. The theater process thus empowers participants to go out into the world and take action against the oppression, using the very solutions they tried out during scene work. TO is, according to Boal, “rehearsal for the revolution.”

We had an incredibly diverse group of participants, including individuals from Sri Lanka, Russia, Thailand, Japan, and the U.S.  For all of these participants, this was their first introduction to Theater of the Oppressed.  In the workshop space, we explored a number of social issues relevant to the group’s issues and concerns, including the role of language and power dynamics on the university campus.  ICU offers courses in both English and Japanese, and so challenges arise in the classroom as students struggle to understand and express themselves in a non-native language.  In one of our Forum Theater plays, we explored ways in which teachers, non-native speakers and native speakers could make the university classroom a safer and more supportive environment for the open sharing of ideas.

Although it has been challenging to leave the incredibly vibrant mediation community of Los Angeles, I am excited to share these concepts and ideas with my new community here in Tokyo.  Whenever I speak about mediation or the APADRC and its role in peacebuilding across diverse communities in Los Angeles, I have been received by students and teachers positively and they show a tremendous interest in learning more.  I am excited to announce that our next large-scale project that will be taking place this spring is the APADRC’s first international Community Mediation training on the ICU campus!  We will be offering the training to Rotary Peace Fellows, Japanese Grant Aid for Human Resource Development Scholarship (JDS) Fellows, and ICU students, staff and faculty.  Stay updated by making sure to sign up for our newsletter (if you haven’t done so already) and please consider making a donation to help support the APADRC’s work in offering trainings and our other incredible programs.  From my perspective across the Pacific ocean, I can only tell you that my experience has reaffirmed how unique the APADRC is in its legacy and commitment to supporting the API community in Los Angeles and building bridges of peace across LA’s diverse communities through conflict resolution and mediation.  I send my appreciation and support to all of the incredible staff, volunteers, teacher sponsors, peer mediators and supporters that help make sure that these incredible services are available and look forward to seeing you all again soon!

Posted in 2014 February Tagged with: , , , , ,