Life as a participant

Tuesday night, about 10:30

In the workshop room now. About half of the participants are here, continuing a session on adult education which they had this morning. We just got here, so we’ll probably stick around for about an hour. This doesn’t happen very often. With some workshops I take part in, the participants have their manuals closed and their mobile phones on by the time I say “And one last thing to mention…” Today’s sessions ended just before 5 (early for this group), but here we are again about 6 hours later. In between that time, a few of them (two of whom are now facilitating) were part of a 3-hour meeting that just ended. No wonder I always sleep well on the plane rides home.

I didn’t fall asleep in the workshop today, but one participant did give me a friendly nudge at around 4 o’clock. I tell you, I have a much better appreciation of being a participant after 3 days of this. In fact, I don’t think I’ve been a participant in a workshop lasting over 3 days in my whole life. So I get a bit dozy by mid-afternoon. We were being led by he Gender group by then, and the facilitator went through a thorough review of the gender concepts we have examined so far in the previous TOTs: defining gender, gender equality and gender equity (to be discussed more tomorrow), the differences between practical and strategic needs, and gender roles/responsibilities/relationships. It was a presentation with pre-written flipcharts, and, like a presentation this morning on different types of education (from behaviourist to constructivist to participatory), covered a lot of content. What each of these presentations lacked was an opportunity to engage the participants in seeing what they knew about these things. “What can you tell me about this?” or “What do you know about this?” or “What does this mean to you?” were questions I think could have been answered.

Please don’t find me overly critical. But this is a TOT where we have to point out the weaknesses (of which there are a few) along with the strengths (of which there are immeasurably more). These are people who have facilitated for years, and have facilitated Equitas programs too. But what I can observe is that, despite our good intentions on embracing a participatory approach, we sometimes find ourselves falling back on more traditional ways of teaching (a point brought up during the recent virtual conference). I do it myself, and I feel lousy when I catch myself doing it. With both of the presentations today, we certainly could have engaged all participants more (at the risk of covering less content – but it would have been content discussed/shaped/created by more of us).

Here comes coffee. Great, I’ll be up for another 4 hours. Snooze time during tomorrow’s sessions for damn sure!

Ah, one other point about being a participant. I have made very few interventions in the workshop, today almost none, but whenever I do want to say something, I have quietly raised my hand (no higher than my head) and waited for the facilitator (whoever it is, there have been over a half dozen so far) to see me. Most of the time, the facilitator has not seen me and it’s been another participant who mentioned to the facilitator “Paul has his hand up.” Goes to show you that if you are a quiet participant, it’s easy to be (and feel) left out.

All right, let me keep it to one page now, and listen in on the discussion that is still going strong. Too bad I can’t understand it!

Good night, paul

All right, one more thing. It’s midnight now, the extra session ended about a half hour ago. Two techniques to share with you: the Education team gave every participant some plasticine this morning and asked us to create a shape which represented “learning” for us – with a good discussion afterwards. This afternoon, the Gender team began with this activity: on a piece of paper, each one of us had to complete the sentence: “I woke up this morning and noticed I was a [person of the opposite sex] and…” So the men woke up as women and the women as men. The cards were displayed on flipchart and then we talked about our responses. Here are some (not hard to guess who’s who):

I am totally free
I can do whatever I want
I will have a higher salary
I won’t be harassed
I can be in control

And on the other side, stuff like this:
I would be closer to my children
Women are life
I could be a mother

That’s it for now.

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