- Target Audience
- Youth/pupils/studentsVictims of terrorismLocal community organisations/NGOs
- key themes association
- Community engagement/civil societyVictims of terrorism
- Peer Reviewed practice
We have the choice
Has founded a non-profit (VZW/ASBL) with the aim of organising connecting intercultural circles.
Type of Organisation: NGO
The Circles are meaningful intercultural encounters where a group of people sit together, slow down and explore their feelings and their lives in the context of the difficult times being experienced by all. The circles are being organised for (among others) schools, NGOs, vulnerable communities and victims of terrorism.
In a Circle, people share their thoughts while remaining open to hearing others express their feelings, without interrupting. This can occur in silence or with words, music or other means of expression. Circle participants are always in touch with themselves and with others. Circles are healing experiences that offer a safe place of trust for sharing; they are modern forms of rituals, facilitated by two trained volunteers (with a professional background in facilitation and/or therapy). While offering the opportunity for participants to overcome sadness, anger, shame and intolerance, they also promote gratitude and engagement, inspire bonds and stimulate joy, solidarity and sense of community. Circles can be open to the general public or can be organised within organisations on demand.
By facilitating safe spaces, vulnerable people can freely talk about feelings. It creates mutual understanding and builds resilience in young and vulnerable people to ultimately prevent radicalisation. For victims of terrorism, Circles provide space and support to overcome anger and sadness, but also to create feelings of solidarity and community.
People increasingly face exclusion, polarisation, extremism, desensitisation, violence and terror leading to fear and trauma. In such times, there is an urgent need to build a culture of inclusiveness and resilience. 'We have the choice' allows people to sit together, listen and speak from the heart — with the restorative effect of recreating connections and vitality, a sense of community and a commitment to solidarity.
People who join a Circle are invited to listen and speak openly about what is important for them at that moment. All voices and emotions can be expressed without judgement. A Circle provides a safe and open space for sharing, taking on the creative form of an old ritual which builds an atmosphere of trust, connection, joy and solidarity.
The training for Circle facilitators lasts one day and is open to all, regardless of age. In this way, the Circles can be integrated into daily life, and ultimately, the goal is to provide Circles as a regular practice in schools.
Structure and objectives
'We have the choice' is a voluntary citizen movement, initiated by Kristin Verellen (who lost her life partner in the terrorist attacks in Brussels on 22 March 2016) and a circle of friends.
There are four interlinked objectives:
- psycho-emotional experiences
- socio-interpersonal experiences
- cultural-spiritual experiences
- educational experiences.
Achieving these objectives entails:
- raising awareness in society, and promoting a new culture of being still, listening and connecting with circle rituals;
- offering this connected Circle experience to young people and their peer groups;
- delivering diverse connected narratives;
- educating adults and young people to facilitate these Circle rituals themselves in their environments (schools, youth movements, cultural centres, psychotherapy centres, etc.).
The main focus is facilitating connected intercultural Circles. This is a new creative ritual based on old traditions. These Circles are provided offline as well as online, with a focus on vulnerable citizens who might be exposed to polarisation and extremism, in the following spaces:
- multicultural youth settings (both within and outside school) and related environments (including teachers, youth movement leaders, etc.);
- multicultural adult settings: Muslims in Europe, prisoners, fugitives, etc.
- multicultural peace and victim remembrance gatherings (many people are affected in these environments).
A Circle is a space where participants are still and become quiet. From that space, participants share their experiences and express their emotions. Everybody has the opportunity to speak, but they are not obliged to. A Circle is not a dialogue; each participant directs their input towards the middle of the circle. After someone has spoken, there is silence; listening is just as important as speaking. A Circle lasts 1.5 hours at most, and is managed by two experienced facilitators. Everyone can speak their own language. Each Circle includes around 20 participants.
Since March 2016, more than 180 Circle activities have been held, with more than 9 000 participants:
- international online Circles include participants from across the globe (Argentina, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Scotland, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, the United Kingdom, etc.);
- Circles have been held across Belgium;
- a third of the Circles are in multiple languages (10 to 250 people)
- Circles include people from different cultures and religions;
- Circles include people of all ages;
- Circle photos and testimonials from participants are available.
There is a pool of 33 trilingual Circle facilitators trained in the education programme to facilitate Circles, many of whom have a therapeutic background. Facilitators are provided with a one-day training session and a facilitator handbook.
Other activities supporting the Circles:
- photo exhibitions featuring the work of Johan Van Steen and promoting the message of 'We have the choice';
- motivational speeches by Kristin Verellen for large audiences (both in real time and broadcast) — videos are available;
- the yearly Circle ritual is held on the memorial day of the terrorist attacks in Belgium, in collaboration with renowned choreographers, for an audience of 250 people — videos are available.