Eight years on

Wednesday afternoon, in the workshop room

I cannot understand why the people at Nescafe can’t make the effort to make a better tasting instant coffee. I mean, there has to be a way to improve the stuff.

Anyhow, here I find myself at the end of the fourth day of this TOT 3. As the day comes to a close, I take a moment to reflect on how things have changed for me over the last 8 years. I began my work at Equitas October 1, 2001, just three weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Those events, I thought wryly at the time, ensured my job security for years to come.

Eight years later and much has changed. Back then, I was eager to get back into the workforce. I had been laid off for a few months and felt the pressure of a new mortgage to pay and an infant son to care for. My first week on the job, my wife called me to say that our son took his first steps, and I cursed myself for not being there. Eight years later, my son wrote me a goodbye letter before this trip, the first time he’s ever done so. Things do indeed change.

Eight years later I am content with the changes I see as positive as the result of my organization’s work, but mindful of the programs which started successfully but met early demises due in large part to changing funding priorities from donors. Here I am in Beirut, a city “which was basically destroyed” as a friend of mine from Montreal wrote to me yesterday. Its people suffered greatly in the past, and even as recently as 2006 with the war against Israel, the bombed remnants of that brief but violent destruction still apparent as you walk the streets of the city. But the city, while showing the scars of that war and years of violence before, shows just as many signs of growth and rebirth, crumbling and decay.

Amidst all this we find ourselves educating each other about our work. And the most positive change I see is a confidence, an intelligence, a passion and a willingness to fight for human rights among the participants working and laughing together next to me. Eight years ago, this wasn’t possible. The training I did was top-down, written based on my assumptions and those of my colleagues of what people should learn and how they should learn it. Eight years ago, I did a lot of guesswork in developing a curriculum, and now the choices made in designing a training are made primarily by the participants themselves. It brings meaning to forever-ambiguous and ill-defined terms such as “empowerment” and “capacity building”.

Eight years later, I still ask myself basic questions like “Am I really making a difference?” and, more in-line with my craft as an educator, “Am I always reflecting on my work – and my understanding of the world based on the relationships I have built – in order to improve what I do?” As I see the participants facilitate this workshop with no help from me (or very little from one group anyway), am I being as critical of myself as I am with them?

Obviously none of these are straight yes/no answers, nor will there ever be a point where I can answer any of these questions with certainty.

There was a noise distracting me a moment ago. One of the participants was showing a video on his phone of a man on the street being beaten by 5 police officers while a crowd stood by.

Like I was saying, I don’t think I’ll ever get to answer any of those questions. Eight years on, police brutality is but one of the multitude of human rights violations – assaults on our dignity as human beings – that the people in these workshops fight against. Knowing – hoping – that a workshop like this helps them do their work just a little bit better gives me comfort.

As a friend in Toronto would say, You guys rock.


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