Islandwide mediation conferences benefit our lives

Are you weary of news that is full of reports on wars all over the world, terrorism, brutality and harm, or families and friends doing horrible things to each other?

Well, take a deep slow breath and keep reading. On Feb. 13, I had the privilege of attending the 28th annual Peer Mediation Conference for middle and high school youth on Oahu. It was held at UH Manoa in their Campus Center Ballroom. Kapaa High School represented Kauai. Kohala Middle and Kohala High School represented the Big Island, and the other five schools were from Oahu. Hopefully Maui will be back next year!

This is such a great opportunity for students who truly care about peace in their community and beyond to come together with other students who feel the same way. There are speeches and presentations given by professionals and the mediation teams themselves. There’s also time for mixers and lunch. The Kapaa team knows the Leilehua team from previous years, so they spent time with them the Thursday night before. They then spent time Friday after the conference making new friends with the Kohala teams.

Susan Chang is the peace angel behind this event. She owns MediationWorks and specializes in implementing conflict resolution programs within institutions. She’s been contracted by Hawaii State Department of Education’s Conflict Resolution Program to implement Peer Mediation Programs from 1989 to the present. She has assisted dozens of public and private schools and trained thousands of students, teachers, administrative and support personnel, and parents, as well as written many of her own teaching materials.

Many people and organizations support her work. President Obama’s sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, Ph.D, assistant specialist from the Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution welcomed us all and validated the worth of knowing conflict resolution skills, hoping that students would continue this work in their lives. She appreciated the attendees for their peace goals. Anne Smoke, program manager for the Peace Institute, also spoke about the possibility of the peer mediators considering a career in the conflict resolution business. It is part of the UH Manoa College of Social Sciences.

Here’s info for anyone interested. The Matsunaga Institute’s website states that “The Spark M. Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution is a multi-disciplinary academic community of scholars, students, practitioners, and visitors, who, through teaching, research, service, and application, groom future leaders and professionals in applied peacemaking and conflict resolution. The Institute empowers students to better address contemporary problems within Hawaii, the Asia-Pacific region, the U.S., and the world.

“Conflict management and collaborative problem-solving skills, and conflict theory taught in our degree and certificate programs stand alone or compliment any field of study or profession.” http://www.peaceinstitute.hawaii.edu/

The other community sponsors were The Alternative Dispute Resolution Section of the Hawaii State Bar Association, The Association for Conflict Resolution, Hawaii, The Mediation Center of the Pacific, and the West Hawaii Mediation Center. It’s nice to know that all of these worthy institutions support peer mediation.

Dr. Thao N. Le, Associate Professor of the University of Hawaii gave a PowerPoint presentation on “Mindful Listening and Speech.” These are great skills for anyone to have, but especially for people helping others problem solve their differences. According to John Kabat-Zinn, who wrote “Mindfulness or Beginners,” mindfulness means “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

As mediators (and we’re all mediators at some point or another) our minds have to be focused on what the people are saying. Our minds can’t be wandering to what’s for lunch or if my sweetie will call today. We might miss the very statement that is common ground between the disputants, and help lead to a win-win resolution.

Learning to be mindful helps in all areas of our lives, because it helps us focus our thinking and awareness on a specific subject at a specific time. It is key in a classroom environment when a teacher or classmate is speaking, so that you can get and “save” that info in your brain, or on notes, or ask a question about the part you didn’t understand.

Then there was a fun mixer. All ages from 11-advanced age, races, gender preferences and Hawaiian cultures were represented. We all got to know each other a little bit, and saw the similarities we have in spite of what we look like on the outside or where we’ve been.

Then it was our home team’s chance to shine and shine they did. Kapaa High’s multimedia presentation was entitled “Bullying: Stand for the Silent.” It was excellent. I’ve seen it before, so I noticed how the audience was totally fixed on the kids, slides, and videos they showed. The Kapaa team has been up and running for almost eight years now. They’ve branched out into more than just mediation in their school. They’ve found out that if they see a dispute escalating to a possible fight, they’ll intervene right away. Their research indicated that if someone intervenes in a squabble, there is a 57 percent chance that they can stop the fight. They also shared six easy fixes we can all use to get out of a heated conflict.

After their presentation, a full hour was given for lunch provided by L & L Barbecue at a greatly reduced price, as their peace contribution. It gave time for kids and their sponsors, and team leaders a chance to mingle, and share ideas. In fact, getting to know each other, and share ideas with people who understand their passion for peace in the world is the favorite part of going to the conference for the Kapaa team. Plus they wanted very much to share their presentation. They’ve found that they offer a great safe place for a bullied student to go to for help in dealing with a bully.

After lunch there were two discussion in groups on topics as they came up, but also to distribute survey/suggestion cards. Then there was a group closing, and everyone scattered with new wisdom to take to the places of refuge that they’ve created in their schools, homes and communities.

The Kapaa team has been to other schools sharing what they know, and encouraging new peer mediation teams to get up and running. They’ve presented at peace conferences, and presented to Mayor Carvalho, several councilmembers, and Wanda Shibata representing Gov. Abercrombie, and other community members at Kauai Economic Opportunity for Conflict Resolution Day on Oct. 16. It was wonderful for the team to see the value that the mayor’s office, the County Council, and the governor place on conflict resolution because each of them gave KEO a Proclamation of Appreciation for their part in doing court, divorce, community mediations, some DOE mediations and helping to get it up and running in the schools.

Carvalho was moved and very proud of these students. He told me that he wanted some of his county staff to see this presentation. They’ll have that opportunity from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. April 24 at the Veterans Center in Lihue. The Kapaa Peer Mediation Team is hosting its first islandwide conference on mediation, “Making a Better Future for the Youth on Kauai,” and everyone interested in mediation or starting up a mediation team is invited. They will be sharing what mediation is, and how to get it going in your school or organization. They will also be presenting on domestic violence/sexual abuse, bullying, and leadership.

They will be providing bus transportation from the high schools and middle schools and lunches for all. They are raising the funds to do this, and estimated costs are about $2,000. If you’d like to make a wonderful contribution to peace on this island and in the world, please consider coming. If you can’t come, please consider financially supporting this worthy group. Contact Mr. Keith Kitamura, the Kapaa High School Peer Mediation coordinator at 341-2202, or keithkitamura@gmail.com.

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Hale Opio Kauai convened a support group of adults in our Kauai community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at aatkinson@haleopio.org

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