Following from last year’s five-day Introduction to Basic Mediation Training, the New York Regional Group of Mediators Beyond Borders International (MBBI-NY) and the City University of New York (CUNY) Dispute Resolution Center at John Jay College held an Introduction to Conflict Resolution Workshop on 10 & 17 June 2017 for members of the Union Of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA). ULAA is a nonprofit umbrella group of Liberians and their organizations in the Americas.  Rev. Philip Blamo, Eastern Regional Vice President of ULAA, initiated the partnership with MBBI in 2016, and it has developed into a skill-development opportunity for new cohorts (this year, for 15 members) of the Liberian community in the United States.

ULAA members from New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island attended the two-day workshop. Several of the participants are also leaders in their regional or local Liberian community organizations.  At the outset of the training, attendees were asked why they were interested in learning about mediation and other conflict resolution processes, and many responded that they wished to resolve conflict in their communities. A number of participants also mentioned that divisions in the Liberian diaspora community were connected to past conflict in Liberia, and voiced an aspiration to heal fault lines so that future conflict at home and abroad could be mitigated.

The interactive workshop provided ULAA attendees with a broad overview of conflict resolution principles and theory, as well as facilitated group exercises and mediation role-plays and reflection. Topics covered: a range of dispute resolution methods and conflict resolution styles, the advantages and potential disadvantages of various approaches, mediation principles and techniques, the stages of mediation, the role of the mediator as compared with other third-party neutrals, and related matters.  Role-plays provided participants with a relatively brief opportunity to experience the mediation process as both party to mediation and as a mediator.   

The workshop was engaging for both participants and trainers.  Participants asked many thoughtful and insightful questions about the similarities and differences between various conflict resolution processes and how the basic conflict resolution and mediation skills taught could be used in their personal lives and communities.  The trainers (Maria Volpe, Alan Gross, Patricia Araujo, Niki Borofsky, Brad Roth, and Karolina Galecki) appreciated participants’ eagerness to participate, and valued the warmth and generosity with which they shared information about Liberian culture, traditions and history.

At the conclusion of the two-day workshop, attendees received certificates of attendance and were provided the opportunity to provide feedback on their experience.  Comments included: “I learn[ed] a lot from the workshop.  It was very important, having gone through fourteen years of civil war in Liberia.”; “Our differences are not too vast; with better understanding, we can solve our problems…through the process of mediation.”; “I can take this in my community and be of great help to people of various ages and ethnicity.” Several expressed an interest in continuing to learn more about mediation and to spend more time developing skills introduced in the workshop.

Article with input from Karolina Galecki, Brad Roth and Anna Milovanovic-Fazliu
Photos courtesy of Niki Borofsky