Monday, March 25, 2013

Tanya: A Little Story of Hope

by Miki Kashtan

When an email was forwarded to me a few months ago about a woman who has been sharing Nonviolent Communication in the Middle East, I really didn’t imagine what it would lead to within weeks. I only knew that I was touched deeply and wanted to do something to support this woman.

Tanya Awad Ghorra lives in Lebanon. She studied Nonviolent Communication (NVC) for ten days in 2009 at Lebanon's Academic University for Non-Violence and Human Rights in the Arab World (AUNOHR) when doing a masters in nonviolent education and conflict resolution, with teacher François Bazier from Belgium’s Université de la Paix. 

Tanya caught fire and took it upon herself to spread the message of hope she received to people who she knew needed it. She has trained hundreds of people in a number of countries: including Egyptian and Lebanese NGOs; Ministry of Interior affairs employees in Kurdistan (after they signed a law protecting women from abuse, in order to help them understand nonviolence); students, parents and teachers in several schools; and the leading bank in Lebanon. As a coordinator on the national campaign to abolish the death penalty in Lebanon, she has introduced NVC to death row inmates. In addition to many media appearances and a talk about empathy with TedX Youth (video here), she has presented a weekly fifteen-minute segment for the last six months introducing NVC to the public on a TV station broadcasting to the Arab world, Europe and the USA. She is single-handedly continuing her efforts to respond with empathy, love, and determination to the plight of so many people in the region.

It’s hard for me to find words to explain the depth of how touched I was. Tanya wanted materials in Arabic, which are very scarce in the network of NVC trainers. Despite heroic efforts by many, despite extraordinary projects going on in several countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and despite the clear and persistent hunger on the part of so many people to receive training and support to bring NVC to their countries, I am sad to say that Nonviolent Communication is still, mostly, serving the countries of the affluent North.

I found some small amount of materials through colleagues, sent them to Tanya, and found it hard to settle. In no small measure, this was fueled by my anguish about the situation in the region, and the fact that Tanya and I are from countries that are at war with each other. I wanted so much to support her efforts. I invited her to join my monthly clinic for people teaching NVC, which she did despite the extraordinary cost to her of doing so. The bond was deepening. Everyone on the call was moved by her shining enthusiasm, determination, and deep faith in human beings. At the end of the call I had the idea of bringing Tanya to a training for trainers that I conducted in France ten days ago. The organizers and I agreed to support her with getting a visa and to take the risk of financial loss by inviting her to come and trusting that the funds would show up after the fact. Several weeks later, we kept hoping each day that Tanya would get her visa. 

The day that the training started it became clear that Tanya would not get her visa in time, or at all. We were ready to mourn and hope for another chance another time, another year. Then one of the translators suggested that we skype her in. From then until the end of the course, Tanya was with us. For some of the time she stayed with us even when airplanes of my own country of birth were flying over her city. She joined me, again, for another two-day course I did in Switzerland, which she had to miss a big part of because her son broke his wrist. 

Tanya is completely fluent in English and in French. She is now connected with a community of trainers in French-speaking Europe, and with a few other trainers from North America. She is connected with me. She is no longer alone holding the weight of hope against so many odds. This is a story that is going to continue to unfold. For now, I rejoice in finding a way to transcend the war between our countries, the mistrust of countries that don’t grant visas to people from the Middle East for fear of terrorism, (oh, the irony, if they only knew how deep is Tanya’s commitment to bringing peace to everyone around her), and the technological obstacles we had from time to time, to begin to forge a relationship I am looking forward to nurturing over time.

I hope you enjoy the photos of Tanya participating in the circle and joining a small group practice. If you feel moved to contribute to Tanya’s ability to continue to receive support for NVC learning, click here and please make sure to name “Middle East scholarship fund” in the notes accompanying your donation. 


  1. Thank you Tanya and Miki . The TEd x video gave such a fun and compelling experience of empathy . I loved it. I am grateful that Miki and Tanya are connected,gives me much hope for myself, my family, my friends, my communities, my country, the Middle East, and the rest of the world. Please continue the good work and know you have my support. ;-)

  2. Hey Miki... It's a treat to see someone so dedicated and passionate that lives in an area that has so much strife and struggle - it helps me remain hopeful on the darker days. As Tanya ended her talk with the youth in Hamra, I was hoping she would give the "compelling why" - the reason the people (youth?) sitting in the audience could resonate with that would help them want to take the step that she was offering. I was disappointed that it didn't come. I'm wondering if that was because she thought that she had already made it clear what she believed the compelling why was, or because she didn't have a way to express it in their language.

    In the time that I've sat in circles with people who didn't know about Nonviolence and hadn't heard of NVC or empathy, one things seemed clear to me - there wasn't much point in me talking about those things until people understood what their problem was. As individuals to experience why the current situation wasn't working and why. And then... I could begin to offer an alternative.

    So, I'm always looking for the ways in which people from around the world can describe "the problem", "the situation", or "the compelling why" that resonates for their people and add it to my bag of experience... That was why I was disappointed. Nothing more than that.

    I'm delighted that you are giving Tanya so many opportunities to walk by your side. Tanya feels like a shining beacon for me someone really out there in the world - or as I have started saying: out in the trenches - really doing it and sharing it and living this work. I know that I've gotten so much learning and growth and inspiration from the chances that I've had with you in the past 14 months, so it's a relief to think that others can too.

    Love, jas...

  3. Hello Jas, wow...You really pinned the dear question that I always talk about: WHY. In fact, the reason I did not go through it in the talk, is that another talk was about nonviolence as a choice, and the why was in some parts of it, so didn't want to sound repetitive. Plus, Empathy is such an alien word here, that organizers took long time to understand my topic before the talk :)

    But you're so right! Asking the WHY is so important. In my trainings I start with the "magic circle". Don't know if you know it? (Why, How, What). Changemakers always start from within, from the why, before asking the how and the what. I give examples of Ghandi, Luther king and Jobbs. 99% of people are used to start the other way around. And we remain focused on what we are doing, or have been doing instead of understanding.

    Asking oneself why, and keep asking it, helps people reach their inner deeper needs and it usually helps me promote NVC here.

    I really appreciate your honest thought and your comment. It helps me focus more, and keep my faith :)