You have one unread message: We are going to kill you.

Day 4, almost midnight
Some participants said today was the best day yet, which of course is good to hear. One of our participants during our debrief meeting mentioned that the day was good, but we didn’t always respect time and that we need more energizers which are purposeful (and he’s got a point there). He mentioned something that I don’t notice so much through translation, and he put it this way: when the facilitator asks participants a question, participants have a tendency to answer the same way twenty times, only differently. They want to talk about their experience, and it’s true that there’s a limit to what can be said in a large group; after a while, many participants will tune out if the discussion goes on for too long. And I think that it might have happened a couple of times today. Problem is, folks in this group have a tendency to express themselves, and that’s not always the case. But I do think we can come up with other strategies for handling group discussions, because sometimes it’s too much. Mind you, after several days of sticking not-very-comfortable headphones in my ears for 8 hours a day listening to translation, my mind kinda goes to putty.

In the afternoon we shared with each other the reasons for becoming human rights educators. Answers – in terms of what was said and how long each took to reply – varied greatly. One of the more striking reasons for me came from a participant who’d indicated she’d been harassed and told to stop doing her work in Basra. She’d receive numerous threats, including messages on her mobile phone: We didn’t forget about you. We are going to kill you.

later, Day 5
We took a break afterwards, and returned to discuss the issue of security of human rights defenders. Most of our material was taken from FrontLine, in particular the section on risk assessment. One facilitator began the discussion on the distinctions between a human rights defender and educator, and then asked participants to discuss their ideas on the barriers faced by human rights defenders. Another facilitator (a late but welcome addition to the group, he arrived only the day before) described the terminology used in performing a risk assessment, namely the risks, threats, vulnerabilities and capacities to mitigate those risks. They split into small groups (according to the colours they were wearing – green, pink, yellow, blue/black, and red, I think) at the end of the day to conduct a risk assessment of their respective organizations. In our facilitators’ debrief, we put forward the suggestion to have each group come up with 5 concrete strategies which work for them and post them in a gallery. So that’s what they did, after returning in their groups from the previous day, and now sporting different colours.

For the rest of the morning, facilitators went over the Learning Spiral and participatory methodology and had them develop human rights education activities for specific case studies. The groups were given the following short descriptions:

  • You are a member of an NGO. You go to a small community to talk to people about human rights. Most adults are illiterate and do not send their children to school. You were invited by some community members to talk to them about the importance of educating their children.
  • You are a member of an NGO. You are invited by the government to talk to staff from the Ministry of Housing about housing rights. It is widely mentioned in the media that the Ministry of Housing is inefficient and corrupt. You will be conducting a one day workshop with senior and junior Ministry officials.
  • You are a member of an NGO. You are invited by the police to talk to them about human rights. Public perception of the police is that it is abusive and authoritarian and its officers routinely violate human rights with total impunity. You will be conducting a one-day workshop on human rights for police officers.
  • You are a member of an NGO. A new human rights club at the university in town is asking you to help them with promoting the right to vote among its students.

Each group was asked, What do you do? So each group developed one activity. The police group began with a role play demonstrating police abuse (the poor participant playing the victim began the day wearing a suit and had his jacket removed, makeup applied to his face to simulate bruises, fake bandages and his tie wrapped around his head). The work of all groups was both creative and thoughtful.

So one day left. The participants managed to convince us to have the afternoon off, so they’re busy doing their own thing at the moment. I’d like to join them, but I’m half-tempted to sleep…


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