Peers for peace: building bridges of peace through peer counselling.
She said this as they shared how each one was using the listening skills learned in a training workshop. It was a meeting held to evaluate the first Echo Workshop in July and to plan for the next Peer Counseling Echo Workshop in September 2003.
I listened as several others recounted their first experiences in peer counseling. Jovy was one of the group of youth leaders who took part in a Youth Leadership Skills Training Workshop in Baguio City on May 1517, 2003 held at the Maryknoll Sisters Center for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation.
The youth came mostly from Nueva Ecija: the Parish Youth Ministry (PYM) of the St. Joseph Cathedral Parish, San Jose City; from CLSU (Central Luzon State University) in Munoz, and the quasi-parish of Mary Help of Christians in Malasin, San Jose City. All of them responded to the invitation for training on 'peer counseling' in Baguio City last summer.
What is 'peer counseling' and how does it lead to peacemaking?
Peer counseling is both a philosophy and a methodology based on the important principle that people are capable of solving most of their problems if given a chance.
In recent years, the Guidance Office of Baguio Colleges Foundation (BCF) developed the concept, philosophy and methodology of peer counseling as a response to youth problems.
Historically, the method came from three founders in the US in 1977; Stanford University developed a program called the "Bridges" Program to avert the youth from going into drugs and to encourage them to develop their self-confidence, sharing of information, collective action and a clearer sense of self.
In BCF, it has taken a life of its own through the training programs they developed for peer facilitators not only in Baguio but for others from other places in Luzon.
Peer counseling is a process of sharing that enables two persons, the counselor and the counselee, to enter into a relationship that makes possible the clarification of a problem, an issue or a situation at hand through good listening skills.
The process happens between peers--companions, classmates, fellow workers, partners in a program, co-members in an organization, between any two people who have rapport and have learned to trust each other.
By being a reflector, the peer counselor or the listener in the process, uses her/his listening skill to gather the facts about the individual counselee (exploratory stage) and to organize the problem. Then the counselor tries to paraphrase what was heard (interpretive stage) and interpret/reflect what is seen and heard back to the counselee. Finally, the counselee is enabled to translate the insights that come from the interaction into action (adjustment stage). This is the service rendered by a peer for another who may be in a stressful situation or is at-risk.
The national survey on Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Survey (YAFS-II) 1994 provides information on the kinds of behavior considered most to be 'risky' in nature such as those related to substance abuse, sexual risk-taking, or other risk-enhancing backgrounds--having only one surviving parent, living away from parents, living in a dormitory situation and living neither with parents nor in a dormitory. These risky behaviors could lead to problems that are grist for peer counseling.
At the meeting, the youth leaders shared their novel experiences on peer counseling and the first joys of being of service through this method. Having learned earlier that when the problem shared by a peer is beyond their capability to address, referral to another person a parent, a relative, a school counselor and/or a church minister with the counselee's consent is an appropriate step.
Learning skills for peer counseling is an important part of youth formation. Learning to listen is a needed step to develop attitudes for peace, attitudes for creating bridges of understanding between and among persons.
Building bridges rather than walls/pillars of separation and discrimination often avert behaviors leading to violence and violent responses to problems. We need to oppose any strategies for war of any kind and to encourage and support efforts for peacemaking. Peer Counseling is one of them.
A program that aims to developing skills for Peer Counseling among the youth helps us to develop groups and circles of young people acquire a listening attitude and good listening skills. A listening attitude is expressed through a listening behavior and a listening posture.
All of these could lead to peaceful situations that avert violent behavior in our midst. We can use our head, heart, hands and body to create an atmosphere of listening among the youth.
Achieving this in the youth sector will lead us to developing families that listen. Families whose members have acquired listening skills are an asset to a wider community of believers in a church, or a geographical zone.
We can widen the circle further and influence other groups until we would have done the barangay, or town, city, province and nation a service.