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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

A Healing Among Nations

February 4, 2008

Creating Connections Between Cultures and Countries

by Nicole Pugh
Vision Magazine, Canada
February 1, 2008

“Maslow said that our most basic needs are for food, clothing and
shelter. We have found that the need to tell one’s story, to be heard,
to be respected during a time of great shame at the hands of war, trauma
and inequities is an equal, if not a greater, need.” – Bonnie Mansdorf,
founder and Executive Director, Foundation for a Healing Among Nations

The phrase East meets West can have many meanings. It can signify, quite
literally, the blending of Eastern and Western ways of living, healing
modalities, and philosophies. It can also mean, in more general terms, a
meeting in the middle of different viewpoints and beliefs. Buddhism as
well promotes this “middle way.” In a world ripe with genocide, war,
extreme economic disparity and environmental crisis, how can individuals
and nations find a common ground? Perhaps it lies within the common
humanity that exists between and within all human beings.

There are people and organizations around the globe whose life’s work is
about finding the middle ground. These are the peace-builders. They come
in all forms—from a person whose smile towards another is sincere to
groups of individuals who have the skill and willingness to look at life
through the lens of the “other side’— and act within that energy. One
such peace-building group is the Foundation for A Healing Among Nations
(FAHAN), founded in 1999 by Bonnie Mansdorf, M.A., PhD.

Deep Listening for A Healing Among Nations

Bonnie Mansdorf the a mother of two sons and the daughter of a holocaust
survivor. In 1995, she was also an interviewer for Steven Spielberg’s
Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. The Shoah project was
created after the making of Spielberg’s movie, Schindler’s List (1993,
Universal Pictures), and was successful in documenting the stories of
over 50,000 Holocaust survivors, gypsies and WWII resistors. Inspired by
how the telling of their stories brought healing to the survivors,
Mansdorf decided to carry the basic concepts of the project and the
skills of deep listening to other groups who were suffering around the
world. She and others organized A Healing Among Nations Prayer Retreat
and Summit in the fall of 1999 as a forum for creating a “unified vision
for healing and reconciliation of [diverse] cultures.”

“I think one of people’s greatest yearnings is for their voice to be
heard and for their gift and their wisdom to have a place to be
released,” says Mansdorf. “[With] the skill of deep listening, you allow
them to experience who they are from that place because first they feel
your interest. That shifts the space tremendously when somebody feels
that you are there for them and you are interested in them.”

Deep or compassionate listening is a skill promoted by many spiritual
and peace-building leaders, such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Thich
Naht Hanh, Marshall Rosenberg and Leah Green of the Compassionate
Listening Project. Since 1999, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and Nobel Peace
Prize nominee Thich Naht Hanh has sponsored groups of Palestinians and
Israelis to come to Plum Village, his global community and retreat
center in the south of France, in order to dialogue in the name of
peace. Through learning the skills of deep listening and communication,
these participants are able to heal from the intense emotions that have
built up inside of them.

“With the Buddha Sanga supporting, they are able to breathe in and out,
generating the energy of mindfulness and embrace tenderly their anger,
their fear, their frustration,” explained Hanh in a September 2002
speech addressing issues of terrorism and global violence after 911. “It
is very moving to be there and to listen to them listening to each other
speaking to each other. And after several sessions of deep,
compassionate listening, transformation took place. This group realized
that the other group is made of human beings and they have also suffered
very deeply.”

Likewise, at the Prayer Retreat and Summit organized by Mansdorf,
spiritual leaders from all over the world, including representatives for
His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Thich Naht Hanh and the Hopi nation, Arun
and Sunanda Gandhi of the M.K. Gandhi Institute, Elaine Steel of the
Rosa Parks Institute, and many leaders from the Muslim, Jewish,
Christian and other communities were able to speak about the struggles
and triumphs of their particular nations, ethnic groups and cultures.

“This process assisted in the retrieval and release of the past patterns
of fear, creating a clearer and more enlightened future,” says the FAHAN
website about the Retreat. “[It] was life-changing for all of us.”

Helping with Peace in the Middle East

The Healing Among Nations Prayer Retreat and Summit was an immensely
powerful coming together of leaders in the name of global healing. It
was also a springboard that catapulted FAHAN into a spiritual
bridge-building journey that continues to this day. Mansdorf explains:

“Everything changed after we had that prayer retreat. Everything that we
planned to do no longer was the same. What began to happen was [those
who were at the retreat] became our inner counsel and they came forward
one-by-one very organically and asked us to help them facilitate with
things that they needed for their nations.”

One of the first requests was for an intimate meeting between the Hopi
prophecy holders and the Dalai Lama at the request of Hopi Elder and
prophecy holder Martin Geshwasome. The meeting itself was, in fact, a
part of that prophecy.

“Basically, the Hopi prophecy says that when the Red Hat [the Tibetians]
come to the West and stories [are] told at the house of Mica [the United
Nations], then a healing among nations will begin. We found that very
interesting because we didn’t realize that that phrase [A Healing Among
Nations] was very specific in numerous prophecies…In the year 2000, the
Dalai Lama was here and the Red Hat was very much in the West. They had
talks at the Lincoln Memorial on July 4th and talks in Los Angeles and
in New York. Then in August, 2000, the United Nations held the very
first talks for [global] religious leaders. The religions had never been
part of the United Nation’s agenda….I was [also] holding a forum in New
York based on moving from suffering to awakening through the heart of
our humanity. There were thousands of people there at that forum and at
the U.N. Spontaneously, what occurred was [the U.N. leaders] asked the
indigenous elders to get up and tell their stories. That was the second
fulfillment of what needed to happen for their prophecy.”

The next event that FAHAN was involved in was a trip to Gaza to aid in
negotiations between the Palestinians and Hamas. Mansdorf and her team
learned a lot from the visit, including how the truth behind
international conflicts is often ignored and replaced with propaganda
and sensationalism.

“In the Middle East, each organization is manipulated to create a
demonization of who they are—the Hamas, the bombers—and to dehumanize
the elements that bring them to that point...What we found in the Middle
East was there are thousands of peace-builders on both sides wanting to
shift the change. What was usually happening was at the governmental
level, the leadership would dismantle a lot of those efforts and the
media [would also]. Because of their need to sensationalize stories,
they would always bring out the worst crisis. It [creates] a lot of
disorientation. People don’t understand what is going on and there is a
lot of fear.”

FAHAN is not based in any one particular spiritual or religious
tradition. Mansdorf and her team believe that “under all the traditions
and at the root of each of those traditions, they are all connected.”
The Middle East trip, like their involvement in the Hopi and Tibetian
meeting, proved to be full of serendipity and spiritual guidance as well.

“There was this whole other spiritual, prophetic [turn of events] that
came through. [We found out that] the prophecy of Isaiah [from the old
testament] says that ‘When the tribes will be gathered, a healing among
nations will begin.’ The entire Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was
turned over to us. There was nobody there and we had it to ourselves for
hours to do prayers on behalf of the fulfillment of these prophecies. It
wasn’t planned. It just happened because it was such a dangerous time
and there were no tourists. We were able to come in and bring this
potent energy of awareness and the fulfillment of reconciliation and
forgiveness.”

Humanitarian Aid in Indonesia

Mansdorf and her team always do their work in response to an invitation
from a group or representative of a nation or organization. Their
diverse and high profile advisory board helps them to organize trips
quickly in response to these requests. This was how FAHAN got involved
in humanitarian work in Indonesia in 2006, roughly a year after the
tsunami of 2004 devastated eleven countries along the Indian Ocean,
killing hundreds of thousands of people.

“We were called first to Bandh Aceh, Sri Lanka by one of our partner
organizations who was unable to go,” says Mansdorf. “We had not
specifically been involved in humanitarian work before so we put
together a team of journalists, a village planner, an architect, a
filmmaker and myself. It was extraordinary over there because we were
dealing with such an overlay of issues…It was very intense.”

Initially, Mansdorf and her team interviewed everyone from UNICEF
workers to Indonesian public officials to investigate how funds and
supplies were being distributed and how villages were being rebuilt.
Then they met Kumari Kulatunga, often called the “Mother Theresa” of Sri
Lanka.

“[Kumari] is not religiously-oriented like Mother Theresa was but she
was a potent force in a certain area of Sri Lanka, working with the
women. She took us in to the refugee camps and we started really sitting
with the women and asking them what they needed and what the next steps
were.”

After listening to the needs of the women refugees, FAHAN was able to
start a program that provided them with sewing machines and funds to
help them get them back on their feet. The next year, they visited
Thailand and India as well as Sri Lanka and began working with female
tea pickers in Sri Lanka’s four tea estates.

“They are called the forgotten women [and] are virtually indentured
slaves that were brought over from India decades ago,” says Mansdorf.
“They have no identity and no rights. They have nothing except that they
can work on these tea plantations. The conditions are not very
good—there is no education for them and no particular future. So we
started a school for a hundred and forty children with [the help of]
Kumari and Healing Hands Women’s Collective, [an organization that was]
part of the tsunami relief effort.”

They also established a clinic that is supported by six volunteer
Belgian doctors and have brought school supplies, books, medicines and
food as well as pregnancy education for the women into the area. In
order to sustain the tea estates projects, FAHAN promotes and sells
“Blessing Shawls” that the women make.

“They weave their blessings in these shawls and they are really filled
with so much of their love. [The shawls] say ‘May you be blessed’ in the
Sri Lankan handwriting.”

Whether it’s through storytelling, deep discussion, prayer, direct
humanitarian aid or the making and appreciation of beautiful pieces of
art such as the Sri Lankan women’s blessing shawls, there are ways to
build bridges even across the widest of rivers. Take note of the
peace-builders like FAHAN. Then express yourself and build bridges of
your own in your own, unique way!

For more information on the Foundation for a Healing Among Nations or to
buy a Blessing Shawl, visit www.healingamongnations.org. Nicole Pugh is
editor-at-large of Vision magazine.
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