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:
- Why did you become a human rights educator?
- 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.