She looked around to see where in the world an army didn’t exist.
It was Costa Rica. So that’s where American peacemaker Rita Marie Johnson settled down 15 years ago to begin her quest to change the world.
Johnson is the director of the Rasur Foundation International and the founder of the Academy for Peace for which she developed the “BePeace Foundations Course.” She brings her teachings to Whidbey Island for a retreat at the Whidbey Institute at Chinook from July 31 through Aug. 4.
One of the program hosts, SingPeace! Earth Pilgrimage for Peace & Global Harmony founder and island resident Pushkara Sally Ashford said the program seeks sponsorships in order to send local teachers and community members to the BePeace Foundations Course at the institute’s Clinton campus.
The program has been taught widely in schools in Costa Rica since 2004 and is now moving into the United States. Rasur Foundation International aims to train educators in the BePeace method who, in turn, can train other teachers, students and parents in their local communities. The BePeace Course strives to equip people to use skills to resolve conflicts in a non-violent manner, while also providing life skills for making positive choices in general.
In Costa Rica, Johnson was able to influence lawmakers to establish the Ministry for Justice and Peace.
Also, since returning to the United States in 2009, she has taught at the National Academy for Peace in Shelburne, Vt. and in other locations around the country, including a model school program in Denton, Texas. The course in August will be the first in the Northwest region.
Ashford is excited by the prospect of creating a “BePeace” community on Whidbey Island.
“SingPeace! co-coordinator Julie Vosoba and I took the course with Rita Marie Johnson in Santa Cruz in April,” Ashford said.
The two singers have been spreading the word about the Whidbey Institute course ever since and stressed the celebratory component of SingPeace! that includes their fellow singer-songweavers who will share the experience at the institute. To that end, they have planned a pre-retreat meeting at Unity Church in Langley so folks can acquaint themselves with the practices of the BePeace program.
The meeting is from 7:30 to 9 p.m., Tuesday, June 28 at the church at 5671 Crawford Road. The goal is to eventually hold an ongoing series of classes designed for adults, families and children.
“Long-term, we plan to form a BePeace hub here on Whidbey that will ripple the methods for feeling, speaking, teaching and singing peace out into the community,” Ashford said.
It is not an unlikely vision as Johnson’s methods are meant to resonate with people from all walks of life and all ages.
The practice combines a scientifically proven method for “feeling peace” with a clear path for “speaking peace” that creates a compassionate connection to other people. The idea is a sort of “pay-it-forward” model, creating a continuum of non-violent behavior from one person to the next. Johnson says there are two skills that are essential for achieving a nonviolent way of life. One is an emotional skill, “feeling peace,” defined as the ability to remain peaceful under stress.
The other is a social skill, “speaking peace,” which is the ability to communicate empathically and honestly to others.
“Peace infrastructure is a new concept,” Johnson said.
“We have infrastructure for war — why wouldn’t we have infrastructure for peace? It’s so important to the well-being of our children.”
Her program has been extremely successful in Costa Rica. The Academy of Peace, where the program was first implemented, won the Changemakers Innovation Award: Building a More Ethical Society, and the Costa Rican Ministry of Education decided to implement BePeace in the national school system.
As an international peacemaker, Johnson has presented BePeace workshops in eight states and in Canada, Europe and Central America and at the United Nations University for Peace. In 2006, she completed a speaking tour in Japan on Costa Rica as a model of peace and in 2007, she served on the plenary panel “Women of Power” at the International Women’s Peace Conference in Dallas. That same year she was the keynote speaker for the World Day of Prayer at Unity Village, Mo.
Johnson was also instrumental in creating the National Peace Academy of the USA at Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland, Ohio.
Ashford, who built a SingPeace! caravan in which she lives when traveling to spread her musical message of peace, is excited by the prospect of leading the community on such a journey.
“It’s the nature of pilgrimage that you never know exactly where it will lead,” Ashford said.
“This one is a collaborative effort that has brought many elements; many ‘pieces of the peace’ together. BePeace is the latest addition to the journey and one that presents a clear path and steps toward peace,” she said.
The course is hosted by SingPeace! Earth Pilgrimage for Peace & Global Harmony, the Whidbey Institute and Aldermarsh/Marsh House Retreat Center.
The Whidbey Institute BePeace Foundations Course is from 6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 31 to 5 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 4. An early registration discount of $100 is available before July 1. To register visit www.regonline.com/wi_bepeace or call 341-1884. The Whidbey Institute at Chinook is located at 6449 Old Pietila Road in Clinton.