The mayo’s sticking, or: human rights educators like the participatory approach

The first day’s over. I spent most of the day busying myself with the tedious but necessary work of writing daily plans for the facilitators. The real work was in the hands of the facilitators. The first day of any workshop sets the tone for the remainder of the training: do great and it bodes well. Do bad: well…
The ebullient facilitators’ were unshakable in their enthusiasm and their readiness to get going and do well. They did not disappoint. From the morning break the participants were saying how fortunate they were to be part of the program. Another mentioned he was having so much fun he didn’t realize he was learning, but in fact he was.
I’m glad, relieved, but most of all unsurprised that the first day went well. I would have preferred a slightly later starting time of 8 AM, but that decision wasn’t mine and I wasn’t about to question it either. Thankfully we ended early at about 4:30, which is basically the only time that will happen over the next two weeks. It meant that the end of the day came refreshingly early. However, the facilitators still had to meet to plan Day 2, and that meeting lasted for two hours. Planning for a Minister of human rights and an ambassador’s arrival takes a fair bit of though – the protocol issues were hard to agree on.
Something I insisted on –
Hold on, screaming women in the distance, hard to concentrate. Ok, they’re still fighting, but walking away from me at the same time. Not any of the participants, though.
– was to invite some of the participants to attend our end of daily debrief. One volunteer from each group showed up and shared their thoughts on how the day went. At this point I admit I was surprised, because they spoke of the things we normally hear about our programs, but it’s as though they were saying everything I would normally hear after a two-week program now stated after one day. One said, “Each one of us felt important.” Another participant: “We see we’re not only receiving something, but we have something to offer others as well.” One participant remarked how easily the facilitators opened the discussions by asking the simplest of questions, most of which require not-so-simple answers. Asking Why? How? goes a long way.
La mayonnaise a pris,” was a common phrase heard from many of the facilitators. Essentially meaning “Things have caught on,” it alludes to the readiness with which participants are easing into the participatory approach and happy that they’ve found a learning environment where they learn, express themselves, and are listened to.
For me the greatest comfort I get out of this day is to see how useless I have become. I’ve said that before about my work in Indonesia and the Middle East and I don’t mean it in a self-deprecating way. Anyone working in “development” should make damn sure that their work has an expiry date. If you’re doing the same “development” or “capacity-building” work over and over again, you’re not doing it right. You should be working your way out of a job. The process Equitas has gone through to make sure that its program alumni can do the stuff we do works. It takes time, and the alumni here in West Africa are not fully independent from our support, but they are certainly getting there. There’s a lot more to a training session other than facilitation. The entire organization of the session, including the fundraising efforts, is not to be neglected. My job is to work with the facilitators, and judging what I’ve seen so far, they won’t miss me when I leave by the end of the week and let them complete the program on their own. It’ll be time to move on.

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