Shaking Hands with Nonviolence

In my school in Berlin, all the eleventh-graders have a project called “Alle Ins Ausland“ (Engl. “All Abroad“): Every student has to go for three months in another country, to work and live there. The project has to be preferably social, ecological and/or cultural. The assignment is to volunteer somewhere and stay with a family there.

I was sure that I want to go either to the US or to England, to improve my English. I wrote e-mails to all of my family members and friends and asked them if they know someone in the US or in England. My mother’s sister has two friends living in Rochester. The two had the idea that I could work at the Gandhi Institute and stay with Barbara van Kerkhove and her great little family. After exchange of contact and Skyping, it was fixed, on March/24/2018 I was going to fly to Rochester, New York.

I’d never before heard of nonviolent communication and nonviolent living. I have the luck to live in Germany, where this fortunately does not matter too much. We have small crimes and drug trafficking, but not as much as in other countries.

Very excited and with no idea what will happen in these three months, I sat in the plane via Frankfurt and New York City to Rochester. Never before had I been in the US or outside of Europe. After a lot of different movies in the airplane and the long waiting period before immigration, I arrived after 24 hours of traveling, in Rochester at 11:30pm, received by all great people who helped me organize this project, those who I can stay with and those who are helping to make this project unforgettable.

On the next morning I ate pancakes for the first time in my whole life. Today, I‘ve eaten them more than just once. In the next days I get to know America better and I´m still fascinated. Grocery stores that are opened for 24 hours all week, very tasty hot chocolate consisting of hot water and powder, and especially the way people always greet each other nicely, no matter if you know each other or don’t. Surprised that the Americans don’t have a word to say “Guten Appetit“ (maybe: “have a good meal“), I got to know more tasty things like, French Toast and Grilled Cheese.

And then my work at the M.K. Gandhi Institute started. I got to know a lot of new and very friendly people and also the figure Mahatma Gandhi, his story and his goals. I didn’t know that much about Gandhi either, I only watched the movie about Mahatma Gandhi, a very long time ago.

Kit Miller gave me the book “Legacy of Love,“ written by Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson and the “Gandhi Knowledge Cards,“ developed by the Gandhi Institute. Through these very interesting presents I get to know Mahatma Gandhi and his convictions better.

I had the luck to participate at the Nonviolence Intensive in my second week in the US. There were a lot of interesting topics and activities. It was difficult for me to understand everything and to concentrate five hours a day, but I learned a lot nevertheless.

I got to know the nine non-physical needs of the human and learned what happens if they aren’t available. Also I learned how conflict can arise in different situations and how to handle those. Another interesting topic for me was how to build a community and how to build trust in different communities. It would be interesting to know if Germany or the US are built on those important basics. In the end, I learned the rough basics of nonviolent communication, I think this is very important and I hope that I can get to know it better during my three month stay.

It also was very interesting to talk with all the different 50 participants in these four days. Through those conversations I got to know the problems of Rochester, NY and the whole US. Many told me about their work in schools and I noticed that this is very different than Germany, unfortunately often negatively. The very bad or almost nonexistent health care for people surprised me too. It is a pity that those important things are problems in such a present and big country like the US and some people have to suffer from it.

Apart from the bad things that are happening, I learned a lot of different things during the days of the nonviolence intensive and I met a lot of very friendly people. I also can say that about the people I met at the Gandhi Institute. On my first days I was received and introduced graciously. Several times I got the offer to do activities on the weekends with different persons to get to know Rochester and the surrounding area better.

I like it very much that the people in the Gandhi Institute don’t have any disputes and all are having conversations on a friendly level. Belonging to this, the people are always asking for real answers and are interested in how you are doing, you can almost always tell what you had experienced and what your feelings were in this situation. There is also room for this during the Check-ins with small or in big groups, that sometimes happen during the week.

Also you notice that there is almost no hierarchy here, that is a goal of the Gandhi Institute, in my opinion this is very remarkable. Because of this, everyone gets a task to keep the house clean, for example I do the dishes every day.

Also there is a wonderful and big garden beside the Gandhi Institute. I love to do gardening, because you get time for reflection. Or you can just think about nothing important and you can switch off and relax. And after a few days, weeks, or month there is an beautiful result, mostly colorful.

Recently I’ve worked at School No. 12 too. Every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday I help at the after school program and play or do homework with the kids of the sixth, seventh, and eight grades.We always try to get outside, but this only works if the weather is good. Sometimes it is hard to have a conversation with the children, because most of the students are just learning English (my English isn’t that good either) and those native languages are Spanish or Arabic. Nevertheless, I had a lot of fun the few times I went there and I´m happy that I can go there now several times a week.

A little bit more than two month are left before I go back to Germany and I´m very happy to be here and hope that I will learn and experience a lot of different things.

In the end, I want to say thank you to all the people who made this project possible and great: Barbara, John, Piper and their wonderful huge family, who I live and eat with and who are showing me Rochester and the surroundings. Jennifer and Jenny, who helped me organizing this project and do different interesting activities with me. Kit, Jamie, Maria, Alex, Izzie, Matt, Hoody, David, Erin, Spero, and Nick, the people who work at the Gandhi Institute and have received me greatly, who are showing me nonviolent living, giving me something to do, and who do different things with me on the weekends. Thank you!

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This past September, more than thirty years after finishing my undergraduate degree, I entered a graduate program on Social Innovation and Sustainability at Goddard College in Vermont. The focus of …

Shaking Hands with Nonviolence

In my school in Berlin, all the eleventh-graders have a project called “Alle Ins Ausland“ (Engl. “All Abroad“): Every student has to go for three months in another country, to …