personal reflections on human rights...and other stuff

Empty pools

Sunday night, about 7
Sitting on a diving board, overlooking an empty pool. I have a headache. Doesn’t happen too often, and maybe it’s because of the air conditioning, but somehow I doubt it. There were two groups that presented today: the Education group had the morning, in order to set the stage for the workshop, and the conflict group took the afternoon. The conflict group has all day tomorrow as well.
We said at the onset that the workshop is an opportunity to learn from each other and to give each other feedback. As a group that knows each other well, we could hopefully provide feedback that would not appear judgmental. On that front, we were successful. And the energy in the group was very positive, and we were eager to get going.
On the not so positive side, there were challenges in terms of explaining some activities, including an energizer which I found more confusing than energizing. Furthermore, there was a discussion early on about what human rights are which left me a little surprised. Some of the things participants were considering as rights were, as far as I know, not rights. It also took a while for them to remark that a right, unlike a need, is a legal obligation. It’s a discussion which I felt we should have had a couple of years ago during the first TOT, but perhaps we weren’t ready for it back then. Even having it today left me feeling that it could have been explored a lot more. I was left with a feeling of, “Yes, but…” I guess this is how it feels to be a participant.
The Education group led us through an exercise where two groups examined the impacts of 1) traditional expert-driven education (what most of us got in schools) and 2) non-traditional education, in particular participatory education. A wonderful exercise, it also left me with the sense that it should have been explored further. I plugged the proceedings of the last virtual conference on the participatory methodology and brought up the issue of power, but again I was left with a “Yes, but”…feeling. But the Education group will take up where it left off on Tuesday, where it will again have the morning.
In between, it was the Conflict group’s turn to lead us through an analysis of conflicts in the region according to participants. The work in small groups went well. OK, mostly well. I was reminded that, no matter how well people know each other, some form of workshop agreement at the start is important.
A second part of the activity was an analytical exercise done in the large group: a comparative analysis of the common and distinctive conflicts in the countries, their nature, causes, and how these conflicts relate to human rights violations. That one didn’t go so well. I think we had a hard time getting around causes and effects of conflicts and how interrelated these causes/effects are to each other. On top of that, there was a language particularity in defining different types of conflict, and participants had to get their heads around that. Those are at least a couple of reasons why it didn’t go as smoothly as it could have, the facilitation was a challenge as well. The Conflict team met after the session to debrief and then asked for input from the Education team. It looks like we’ll start the following morning by clearing things up and moving forward with what they had planned.
Despite some setbacks, I think the overall environment of the workshop is a healthy one and participants are eager to learn from each other and see how they can make use of this stuff in their own work.
It’s the following morning since the last paragraph, and my headache is long gone despite a crappy sleep. The birds singing in the courtyard offer welcome sounds to wake up to. As I awoke this morning, I was thinking back to the empty pool on the deck. A few years ago, during my second Equitas (then CHRF) mission, I was in Niamey, Niger for an evaluation mission for a project we had in West Africa. The hotel, a dive which had seen better days about 40 years ago, was called Hotel L’Avenir (The Future). Like this hotel in Beirut, it also had an empty pool in the courtyard, cracked and dulled by the sun, filled with leaves and bits of garbage. Whoever designed these pools decades ago may not have thought that the pools would become empty eyesores years in the future. Their ideas, however commendable (or crazy) at the time, were not sustainable. Looking at what the participants have done so far in this workshop, I like to think that there is the creation of a sustainable “pool of trainers” in HRE in the region as we’ve sometimes said. It isn’t always easy, but I think they’re building something that will last. Who knows what the future will be like?
Time for breakfast,

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