Volume 17 Number 5
The Door, the Hinge and the Handle
01 October 2004
José Carlos León Vargas from Mexico describes his first experience of Caux, as one of the interns who ensured the smooth running of the conference centre.
The opening conference of this summer in Caux, called ‘Service, Responsibility, and Leadership’ (SRL), was much more than just an ordinary conference.
In the United States, there is a programme called the ‘Giraffe Project’, which promotes stories of local heroes, and in this way encourages people who think they can’t make a difference to take action in their communities. The SRL conference was like a Giraffe Project for the Caux community. Suddenly one discovered the charming lady, who had served tea and coffee yesterday, speaking from the podium about a community centre she has helped build in Simferopol, Crimea. The gentleman with a funny accent, who went to the trouble of cutting the cheese you had for breakfast this morning, is now sharing stories of a ground-breaking initiative from Australia: the Journey of Healing. You suddenly find yourself surrounded by heroes, and it sure is an encouraging feeling.
The team of young professionals from Eastern Europe who organized the conference, with help from Mexico, the UK and Switzerland, were hardly visible during the whole process—giving a worthy example of good, ie servant, leadership. The week was divided into three stages. The first two days examined how change could happen within the individual. The next two focussed on individuals bringing change in groups and communities. And the last two explored the possibilities of a community changing a whole society or nation.
On 10 July, people from outside the conference came in for the first of the summer’s Caux Lectures and a speech by the new President of the Caux Foundation of Initiatives of Change—former diplomat Bernard de Riedmatten. The Caux Lecturer, the UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, spoke of the way humanitarian action gets caught in the crossfire between governments and warring parties. There were some 20 crisis situations around the world, just as serious as Darfur in Sudan, where the victims could not be reached.
‘We need to see a moral and ethical revolution, in international relations and domestic politics and power struggles,’ Egeland proclaimed. ‘The humanitarian community must be able to act always and everywhere in accordance with humanitarian principles.’ Just a few days before coming to Caux, he had been on an official mission to Darfur.
In the opening address of the conference, Krish Raval recalled the words of IofC pioneer Bill Jaeger. To be a good leader, he had said, you must ‘always have a vision for what people can become’. And, at one of the first plenary sessions, pediatrician Omnia Marzouk spoke of the theme of the conference from her experience in managing emergency care for 200 children in Liverpool. ‘If leadership is a door,’ she said, ‘then the hinge on which the door rests and turns is service and the handle that opens it is responsibility.’
A three-day workshop was run by David Campt and Rob Corcoran of Hope in the Cities in Richmond, Virginia, a programme which builds bridges across racial, social and economic divides. It explored practical methods of building and sustaining diverse teams and creating a space for honest conversation, as well as developing facilitation skills for community builders.
Finally, John Mills from Australia spoke about Sorry Day and the Journey of Healing, initiatives launched back in 1998 in response to the suffering of Aboriginal people caused by the government policy of removing children from their families to ‘civilize’ them and bring them up in a white environment.
For me personally, one of the highlights of the conference was the hour every morning when participants met in smaller ‘community’ groups. The meetings began with about ten minutes of silence, after which the members of the community shared what was on their minds and in their hearts. There were no constraints, and the community leaders were an integral part of the group. Many said that it was the one time in the day when they could reflect in peace on what was happening.
The conference included many more stories of people making a difference; Lubow Zysko from Crimea, Richard Hawthorne from Nottingham, Randy Ruffin from the US among them, and there was a baroque concert and a variety night, as well as an evening of international dancing. The second week of July, for those who attended, was the ‘perfect introduction to the spirit of Caux and Initiatives of Change’. The SRL team is planning to organize another conference next summer: I recommend that you don’t miss it!
INTERN FOR CHANGECHANGE RESTS in the hands of those who have the courage to make a different future come true. I started believing in Initiatives of Change this summer after I took part in its internship programme at Caux, Switzerland.
As an intern, I was enriched both professionally and personally. I was part of an international team whose main job was to produce press releases and internal newsletters. When I interviewed important journalists and attended outstanding debates and plenary sessions, I felt as if I was in the UN headquarters, witnessing high-ranking discussions: the dream of every recent graduate in international relations.
The corridors of Mountain House exuded multiculturalism: people from many countries and backgrounds, full of thoughts. This created a stimulating atmosphere in which you could learn about a conflict transformation project in Africa while talking to a specialist on intercultural dialogue working in the United States or India.
Yet there was a more important element: the human dimension that permeated everything. Everybody worked together in the kitchen, dining room and conference hall as equals, without distinction; a former ambassador or a politician alongside a university or high school student, a talented musician alongside a medical doctor. At Caux I understood that change starts by recognizing yourself in the other, by putting yourself into someone else’s shoes. This is the filter through which I perceived and assimilated the spirit of Caux.
During the summer, 76 interns from 27 countries worked at Caux, attached to the kitchen, dining room, reception, press team, secretariat and other areas of responsibility. Our contribution was valued not just because we were all volunteers (as are most of those who run the Caux conferences), but also because young people are an essential component of Initiatives of Change. I have never before worked with people who dedicated time every week to ask me how I felt, what workshops or activities I was attending and how this experience was transforming my life.
The days passed quickly because there was always something to do: a plenary session on ethics and business, followed by a workshop on leadership and team building, preceded perhaps by a concert or a walk in the mountains. I found myself in an international melting pot of ideas.
Being at Caux has helped me to take another step towards understanding my role as an individual in an interconnected society. Initiatives of Change is undoubtedly contributing to my personal and professional growth. My ideas are gradually materializing, taking shape, the shape of change.
If you are interested in becoming a Caux intern in 2005, visit www.caux.ch