Alternatives to Violence Project

IEU members Heather Millhouse and Frances Missen from Jabiru Community College share their experience delivering an Alternatives to Violence Project workshop, and how such programs benefit their school.

In July this year we ran an Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshop focusing on workplace trust, to education workers from around Australia, at the Doing Schools Differently conference in Adelaide on the Kaurna nation.

The Doing Schools Differently conference organised by the Australian Association of Flexible and Inclusive Education (AAFIE) brings together a range of participants from across education, academia, social work and more to discuss flexible and alternative learning.

We wanted the workshop to be experiential, as this is one of the most useful aspects of the AVP.

Civil rights movement origins

AVP originated in American prisons during the 1970s.

The Civil Rights movement in the United States, under Martin Luther King’s leadership in the 1950s and 60s, used non-violent strategies that were also used by India’s independence leader Mahatma Gandhi.

Many activists in the movement had training in civil disobedience, direct action and non-violence, guided by the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers), other peace church groups and Gandhian networks.

Quakers around the world have always been involved in social justice issues, including prison reform, the abolition of capital punishment and visiting prisoners.

For example, in 1973 there were big increases in drug arrests and prosecutions in New York, disproportionately targeting the poor and people of colour, which led to a rapid increase in the prison population at New York’s Greenhaven prison.

In response, some ‘lifers’ (people who were incarcerated for life) approached the New York Quaker Project on Community Conflict and asked them to facilitate workshops within the prison, centred on non-violent responses to conflict.

Early AVP facilitator and trainer from New York Steve Angell said, “The first workshop (in 1975) was very much centred on individuals telling stories of how they approached potentially violent situations with non-violence.”

AVP was incorporated as a separate organisation to Quakers and continues to be an independent, international association of volunteers.

Angell came to Brisbane in 1991 at the invitation of Lou Hunter and Ron Smith, after which AVP spread around Australia.

There are currently more than 60 countries offering AVP workshops across the globe.

AVP Program at Jabiru

We began running AVP camps at Jabiru Community College in 2015.

Jabiru Community College is a small, independent special assistance school of 80 young people and 25 staff, located in Zillmere in north Brisbane, on Jaggara and Turrabul country.

Previously, we had tried to run AVP sessions and programs onsite, but soon realised we needed an off-site setting to give everyone a better chance to connect and work together through the various sessions as a group.

As a result, our Jabiru Community College AVP Camp Program was developed.

We run between two to four camps per year at The Outlook Boonah, which is a Queensland Government run outdoor adventure and training facility, funded through Youth Justice.

Because of The Outlook’s long history of training community workers, we were able to incorporate adventure and nature-based experiences such as bushwalking, canoeing, and ropes courses with the AVP sessions.

This has enabled us to develop a learning program, that is centred on non-violence, grounded in nature and highly experiential.

Kindness and care were intentionally built in as part of our program, because many of the young people we work with have lived experience of trauma.

The workshops explore significant issues such as violence and we work to ensure that it is done in a safe and meaningful way.

We also want young people to learn how to support kindness and care in their daily activities.

Delicious and nutritious food is provided and we eat together as a group.

Finding small ways to celebrate the beauty of nature through activities like stargazing and watching the sun set is also very important to the program.

During the program, we explore important topics and unpack how the AVP mandala can be used to effectively deal with real-life conflicts and difficulties.

The camps run for three days, and we generally have no more than eight young people attending.

We typically run the program with three AVP trained facilitators and invite school staff to attend if we require more support.

On occasion volunteer pre-service teachers from the University of Queensland participate in this work, also helping us with food preparation and clean-up.

As we have been running these programs for almost eight years, they have become an important element of the school’s curriculum. We have facilitated two AVP training programs for Jabiru staff over the eight years, ensuring they are familiar with the content and style of the camps.

The camps have a basic structure we have honed and refined through trial and error. For each camp we pick specific themes to explore, based on the young people who are participating.

Love, leadership, care, trust and belonging are some examples of themes we have on different programs.

The importance of building relationships

A central part of both the AVP and our school’s ethos is the importance of relationships.

The AVP mandala gives people a framework for responding to conflict and difficulty in all types of relationships and human interactions.

Because of our commitment to the importance of AVP, its ways of working have become part of our school’s culture and the processes of AVP can be found across different aspects of the work undertaken in the school.

A few young people who have attended multiple camps have gone on to attend AVP Community Workshops, which are held at Lotus Place, Stones Corner, on weekends.

Some participants have also helped facilitate some further programs in the Brisbane Youth Detention Centre, because they are keen to be part of AVP in their post-school lives. So we celebrate these connections.

Exploring trust and what it means

When designing the Trust in the Workplace workshop for the Doing Schools Differently forum, we wanted to give participants a chance to really understand what trust meant for them and what helps to build or undermine it in a work context.

A critical part of AVP is the principle that everyone is a teacher as well as a learner and that information and ideas come from the participants.

We facilitated a mix of large group, small group and pair exercises to help participants consider trust from a range of different perspectives.

Participants said they felt more connected to one another after the workshop and a few people reported they were able to use the activities to explore a real-life situation they were wrestling with in their workplace.

More information

Find out about future AAFIE events at

Learn more about AVP programs at

Heather Millhouse

Heather has taught non-violence as a path to peace to school students since the early 1990s. She has taught Peace Education, a focus of the UN International Decade for the Culture of Peace, at the University of Queensland, School of Education for six years.

Since then, Heather has been teaching courses on Educational Psychology, Educational Sociology, Adolescents at Risk, and Inclusion and Diversity at UQ and Indigenous Perspectives in Education at QUT. During those years, she has also worked for the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) Queensland, co-facilitating workshops in the community, in Correctional Centres in south-eastern Queensland and in the Youth Detention Centre in Brisbane. Since 2015, Heather has been employed at Jabiru Community College to support the AVP camp program and other non-violent school-based initiatives.

Frances Missen

Frances has worked in Flexible Learning Centres for 14 years, at both Albert Park Flexible Learning Centre and Jabiru Community College. She has a background in social work, narrative practice, adventure based learning and constructivist education. Frances is currently a Co-Principal at Jabiru Community College.