Afghan trip leaves Ashlander restless

is just a little nervous.

Nervous as in waking up at night, tossing, turning and worrying for several hours before fading back off.

"My imagination goes everywhere," she said.

But mostly she's really excited about her August trip to Afghanistan, where she'll be teaching nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) the principles of nonviolent communication.

The first time the call from the Center for Nonviolent Communication went out for trainers to go to Afghanistan, Aitken didn't respond. But when the second call came, she thought seriously about it and decided to go.

The part that makes her nervous is, well, Afghanistan. It's a rather dangerous place, but mostly she's excited about the chance to go.

"As long as Dawoodzai says, 'Don't worry' &

I won't worry &

unless attacks in Kabul increase," she said.

Khan Dawoodzai is the program director for Afghanistan's Bureau of Reconstruction and Development.

The purpose of the project is to bring together people from NGOs, as well as civil society organizations such as teacher associations, professional societies, women's groups, student unions and youth organizations, who are involved in peace education at the grass-roots level, he said.

The idea is to give them nonviolent communication knowledge and skills that they can transfer to individuals within the community for conflict prevention and conflict transformation, Dawoodzai wrote in an e-mail.

"There are many small conflicts rising every day in the community between the groups and individuals by not understanding the needs of each other," he wrote. " sharing (nonviolent communication) we will give tools and skills to every individual to deal with anger, identify needs and give empathy."

His organization is not involved in the politics of the country or with the conflicts between the various international forces and various fighting factions. But he said that in the long run, possibly this kind of training will have an impact on that larger situation.

Aitken was co-director of Peace House from 1987 to 1993 and has worked at Southern Oregon University, with the international program office and with students who are the first in their families to attend college, for 12 years.

She wanted to make a move into nonviolent communication work for years and finally began working full time in the field in March. Her business is called Dance of Communication and she offers classes, workshops and personal coaching.

Aitken is flying into a brand-new situation, not knowing much about the people she'll be training, but said that whatever the situation is, she'll do it.

Nonviolent communication, or as Aitken calls it, "compassionate communication," is a simple process, but not an easy one because it goes against the grain of what humans are taught, which is how to get what you want, no matter what the consequences and how to always be right.

In the "compassionate communication" process, the idea is not just how to get what you want, but to create a situation that meets everyone's needs.

"It's a paradigm shift, really," Aitken said. "Philosophically, it's 'power with' rather than 'power over.' It's partnership rather than domination."

Aitken said the people in her workshops find it difficult to change their way of thinking and are surprised to realize how entrenched their thinking patterns really are.

As far as Afghanistan goes, she said it's really hard to break a cycle of violence.

Historically, Afghanistan is a country of small groups operating autonomously, resistant to a centralized form of government.

Dawoodzai's group, she said, wants to facilitate peace and social change in their country.

"When I think of people in Afghanistan doing the same kind of work, I'm in awe of the human spirit," said Aitken, referring to the difficulties of working in a war-torn country. "I'm in awe that (humans) keep trying. If we give up, it definitely is hopeless and futile."

Aitken's trip to Afghanistan is unpaid. She'll be trying to raise money for airfare and trip expenses.

Questions and contributions can be sent to , 446 Helman St., Ashland, OR 97520.

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