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A unique way to tackle social issues

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 by Allyson Chiu

Guam - The Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center's Prevention and Training Branch is back again for the second time to hold the GoPeace conference.  

GoPeace, which stands for "Gathering of Pacific Islanders for Prevention Education and Community Empowerment", recently concluded their two-day conference in Guam. The theme this year was "Our Journey Continues Toward Community Healing and Empowerment". Guest speaker and Guam State Epidemiological Outcomes Workgroup Lead Dr. Annette David told KUAM News, "GoPeace is about the community taking charge, looking at the data, coming up with their own solutions to the problems we're seeing in the community, so this is about the community in the driver's seat and really empowering community partners with data, with interventions, with evidence so that the community themselves are the ones who develop the solutions to the issues."

The conference was unique because its main presenters were storytellers and focused on using their stories to serve as a way to use culture as a tool for healing and empowerment. "To be able to bring about the values the experiences that people need so they can connect to addressing why they need to be a part of addressing the issues in our community they need to be able to hear the stories to trigger their own experiences," she explained.

"It's an opportunity for them to share their own stories and learn from each other as well connect again."

Featured Native American storyteller Roger Fernandes shared his story of a little boy who is abused by his uncle and runs away to live with bears. He is raised by the bears and becomes one of them. Only after his uncle finds him and apologizes does the boy become a child again. According to Fernandes, these stories, although they are not true, use metaphors to teach lessons. "So within that story there are all these kind of lessons or teachings from this very, very ancient story is that our children will leave us they will go away from us if we don't fulfill the social contract that we have with our children can they come back to us though and they story says yes they can but certain things have to happen," he stated.

In addition to storytellers, peace partners shared their work in regards to the five-year strategic prevention plan geared towards creating a mentally, physically and spiritually healthy island community. "We felt that to be healthy in five years from now our community needs to address those strategies we need to talk to our youth we need to get everybody involved from traditional leaders to elected leaders to leaders in the schools and their families we need to be able to communicate with each other," said Dr. David.

A variety of topics were discussed, most notably the Peace Pillars for Success which included youth empowerment, safe and healthy environments, strong leadership, grassroots engagement, and effective communication. Conference participants formed groups during breakout sessions to dissect each pillar, its progress and what else can be done.

According to Dr. David, the movements inspired by peace are exerting a positive influence on the community as seen in the statistics. "They were really associated with good policies and programs where we had good policies and programs we saw successes over fifteen years," she shared.

However these are not just numbers as they represent the shift in the community towards a brighter tomorrow. She added, "Every number represents people, real people on the island and I think that really is the very important lesson that we may be talking about statistics and numbers but we are really talking about the future of very real people."

Community-based groups interested in getting involved with The Peace Project can contact 477-9079 or visit www.peaceguam.org
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