Big Questions: Why we do what we do, and who inspires us

July 28, almost 7 AM
As we begin Day 4 in a couple of hours, I can’t help but feel lucky to be here. I’m sitting on the balcony of the restaurant, the music of Tibetan monks quietly playing inside the restaurant, and the indescribably majestic Himalayas finally showing themselves through the clouds, the first time since our arrival.

The environment in which we conduct this training is certainly a contributing factor to its success (and I realize it makes me the object of envy and hate for friends, family and colleagues who are not here), but it is not the most important one. The human rights educators who are part of this training of trainers are the main reason. We unreasonably asked them to start the day at 8 AM yesterday, and all were present and ready to go. They are kind, respectful, intelligent, dedicated, honest, passionate, and free to express their opinions as much as they are willing to laugh.

Yesterday was a turning point in the training. While the first day we were getting to know each other, the second day was good but by no means the “best” Day 2 of a workshop I’ve ever facilitated. But yesterday, Day 3,  was different. We covered an enormous range of topics, from social change resulting from our work, to an awareness of instructional design models and their relevance to our work as educators, to answering what we’ve called “The BIG Questions.”

I wrote the questions down on the first day and committed myself to making sure the group took sufficient time to answer them. Not all at once, but gradually over the course of the workshop. Some of the questions are already written in our training manual, next to a bunch of others, but not given the time they deserve. Here are the first two big questions:
  1. Why did you become a human rights educator?
  2. Who or what inspires you?

The format for discussing was as follows: participants were seated in one inner and one outer circle, facing each other (each pair was far enough from other pairs). Each pair took 15 minutes to discuss the first question; after that, the outer circle got up and everyone moved one position clockwise. Then they discussed the second question. After half an hour, we formed a large circle and brought the day to a close. Participants passed around a “talking stick” to share what they felt was “hot” and “not hot” during the day, and I was relieved to hear that many of them mentioned the big questions discussion. Some said it evoked strong emotions and enabled them to reflect on very personal reasons for doing the work they do, even bringing back long-distant memories. Sharing such personal stories doesn’t come easily, especially when some members of the group didn’t even know each other until a few days ago (and in the case of one participant who’d just arrived, it wasn’t days but 3 hours). It created an emotional connection which I find critical in these kinds of trainings. Connections which I did not think of enabling a few years ago; I was too busy focused on the content of a workshop, and easily ignored some of the profound reasons why human rights educators do the work they do. I’m grateful to the dozens of participants and facilitators, primarily from the Middle East and North Africa, who opened my eyes to this. More big questions are planned for later this afternoon.

It’s now a few hours later during lunch break, and while things are going well, news of a deadly plane crash in Islamabad has brought concern to the participants. It’s something which will inevitably preoccupy some participants’ thoughts, and with good reason. 

2 thoughts on “Big Questions: Why we do what we do, and who inspires us

  • Dear Friends,
    We have concluded the fourth day of workshop. There have been many interesting things to share. Very often facilitators have some preselected energizers to play at fixed time. I like it when our facilitator divided us into groups and allowed us 10 minutes to come with our own energizer which can be done whenever needed. It was a good example of making us more involved in the proceedings. Then the last activity of the day was “Some Big Questions”. It looked simple and I thought initially it would not be so productive. But it was not the case. It was very effective as it motivated us to share some of our inner emotions with each other. We also find we all have some common understanding and approach to human rights. It also helped us to revisit our yesteryears. We reflected on these two simple questions;
    Why do you become human rights educator? What and who inspires you?
    On day four we also discussed in groups about assessing the learning needs of target audience. The most common method of doing this is ‘Questionnaire’. However, some more methods or strategies surfaced during the discussion such as assessing visits, on the spot assessment, assessing learning needs during a workshop for the next workshop with same group. Then establishing a goal, objectives and expected results always bring some new questions to ponder upon. And of course we were doing this for a training session on human rights education. A compiled list of words (Verbs) can be very helpful while establishing objectives. The list is provided in TOT manual available online. Discussing in groups the human rights contents in terms of knowledge, skills and attitudes proved somehow problematic for us as our group was assigned to identify some values and attitudes necessary for HRE and the checklist provided to us containing these values was so comprehensive that we find it difficult to add some more to this list. Regards,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s