personal reflections on human rights...and other stuff

Workshop activities you can do on a boat, and other stories

Midnight, end of the first day

Finally a moment alone. My day started at about 7:30, went for breakfast. Third day in a row where the food’s the same, not quite tired of it (yet). Sat down with a facilitator and two participants. Before taking my first bite, one of the participants tells me that in the past year he’s lost his father, brother-in-law, nephew, and best friend to the fighting. I couldn’t think of anything to say. He shrugged his shoulders as if to say, That’s the way it is in Iraq.

Made our way to the workshop room. A tight squeeze for all of us. Chairs in a U, tables stuck against the wall, translators squished in a corner, Christine and I all the way in the back. Everyone was on time, with the exception of three participants who’d just landed at the airport. We decided to wait for them, which I think killed a little bit of our momentum; they arrived over an hour later. We used the time to react to a drawing of two hands clasped together, a symbol of solidarity. I was surprised at how that simple picture proved to create such a strong reaction among many participants. We offered participants Turkish coffee, which turned out to be a logistical nightmare, because this large hotel can only make 5 cups of coffee at a time.

Day 2, 10:21 PM

I hear the call to prayer outside, off in the distance, interrupted by the noise of the constant flow of cars buzzing by my window.

I can’t believe it’s this early and my meetings are over for the day. Had dinner with Christine and Sama, our resource person on gender. She has tomorrow morning with our participants, discussing gender concepts and gender in conflict environments. In the end, participants should have a better idea on how to incorporate a basic form of gender analysis in their work. One of the issues we raised was the resistance from participants we as educators always face in regard to this topic, from both men and women. Sama has been with us since the beginning of the workshop and has had the opportunity to talk to participants to get a sense of their understanding of gender. There are assumptions that gender is exclusively or primarily about women or that gender is a separate subject which is not integrated in their work. That’s not everyone, of course: as with many issues raised in our workshops, what we discuss can be totally new and interesting for some, but common knowledge for others. I think what’s unique about the learning experience of our workshops – and I hope we can manage to achieve this as much as possible – is to have everyone reflect on the impact of what we’re discussing on themselves as human rights educators. As we were discussing tonight at dinner, we don’t want to discuss some concepts, have participants practice some exercises on gender in their work, and then leave thinking, That was interesting. I’ve been through enough workshops where we raise the issue of gender and we encounter at worst outright resistance and at best acceptance that gender exists but it does not relate to them. And the resistance can be rooted in a genuine lack of awareness, a belief system which values static and patriarchal gender roles, or an upbringing which reinforces traditional gender roles, to name but a few. What I want the session to do tomorrow is to leave the participants with a sense that they should question their assumptions and beliefs about gender regardless of their understanding of it. And if they don’t believe in it, how can they educate others about it? I felt the same way addressing the death penalty with participants in Indonesia last year. There I was with participants who were learning about human rights education, and many of them were in favour of the death penalty.

Anyway, let’s see what happens tomorrow. As for this workshop, yesterday was good and today was a lot better. Our resource person, an articulate, gentle man who’s been a resource person on conflict and human rights education with Equitas for a while now, simply wowed the participants. We were slow at getting things started yesterday, and we (everyone, Equitas staff and facilitators, resource persons and participants) were still defining our roles. Today we were functioning much better as a team, and it showed. Although one co-facilitator mentioned in our debrief that she felt as though she wasn’t doing as much as she expected in terms of facilitation. It surprised me and made me realize that I do see things differently than others in the group, and I have to do a better job at perceiving that and also realize I can articulate my perspective more clearly. For me, facilitation is so much more than explaining activity in front of participants (and in the early days, that’s exactly what I thought it was and not much more). I told the facilitators they’d be making hundreds of decisions a day, most of them in front of participants. In response to the comment by the co-facilitator, I related what I thought was an extremely substantial part of facilitation, and that’s the guidance offered by the facilitators as they work with participants in small groups. The facilitators are the ones who know the content and process better than anyone in the workshop, and they are the ones who have to explain and clarify. And that is not an unimportant role; on the contrary, it’s pivotal.

I promised my readers I’d keep my entries short, and so I will end at this point. After tomorrow’s lunch, we continue our workshop…on a boat. We’re taking a cruise on the Bosphorus Strait. We’re there from 3 in the afternoon until 8 at night, and I’m making some assumptions on the amount of time the participants will actually want to work. We have to change the schedule around because we’d planned some activities which were simply not conducive to being on a cruise (the activities required a lot of reading. I get sick reading the newspaper on the bus nowadays. Yeah, yeah, don’t mention anything about my age.). So participants will work together in their groups, and then afterwards they will discuss their Middle East and North Africa network. I suggested to the facilitators a silly energizer where we imitate different swim strokes. We’ll see what happens. Until next time,


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