By Beth Downey Sawatzky
On Staying Strong
Marian De Couto, a Toronto native, lived for several years’ time in the city's chapter of L'Arche—a mixed community of people with various disabilities, as well as people generally considered “able”—exploring what she calls “applied solidarity.” This was the same interest that ultimately drew her to Christian Peacemaker Teams [CPT], through whom she has been on assignment in Columbia since December 2015. Her term will not be up until Christmastime 2018. Between now and then, it's up to De Couto and her colleagues to find ways of keeping fit for their task, despite the job challenges.
“The work we do with CPT is difficult on all elements of a person—physical, mental, emotional—so it puts team-members in a kind of 'at-risk' position. We travel a lot, our schedules are pretty irregular, there is a lot of violence in the area generally, and the demands of carrying others' stories bring a natural risk of vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, things like that. As a result, CPT really encourages extra outside education and training to strengthen team-members in their work.”
Enter intensive training through Canadian School of Peacebuilding. De Couto first heard about CSOP through a CPT colleague. “The training sounded exceptional,” she says, so she enrolled in Al Fuertes' “Psychosocial Trauma Healing” course, seeing it as a valuable professional development opportunity. She did not expect it would be as applicable inwardly, on a personal level, as it was outwardly.
“The professor was really dynamic and experienced! I think the biggest thing I learned is that talking about trauma and healing with others brings up all kinds of wounds, fears, etc., so as we enter into those spaces with others, we need to remember to take care of ourselves. For me and my colleagues in Columbia, self-care is critical to the sustainability of our efforts there. If we're going to do our jobs well, we need to recognize our task is hard!”
In fact, De Couto found her experience so valuable, she's already planning ways to share the wealth: “I just think this information is so relevant to our work, and it's really taught me a lot about what self-care could look like for us in Columbia. I hope to engage my teammates in the material, and the administration team as well. Perhaps through a workshop or something.”
She's not stopping there either. Asked who should know about Canadian School of Peacebuilding, De Couto is exuberant: “Non-Mennonites! When I come here, everybody knows Christian Peacemaker Teams because of its Mennonite roots, and that's great that our work is known, but there's so much good work being done here that other groups need to know about it. It's important! The material is rich and it's not necessary to be Mennonite or even Christian, strictly speaking, to really benefit from the training.”