A day in the life

I end my day watching the 11 o’clock news, and I know I shouldn’t. I don’t need to hear news of two teenage boys in British Columbia who kidnapped, raped, tortured, killed and burned an 18 year-old girl just to see what it was like. After the body had been stuffed in a freezer, they put it in a bag and took a city bus to a location where they set the body on fire. The second story was of a child pornography online ring that had been busted. The youngest victim was a baby. Third story was a hockey coach who sexually molested the players. Things were a lot more upbeat a couple of weeks ago when the Chilean miners surfaced.
This morning I planned on writing something about the conversations I hear around me on my way to work. They’re the kind of stories that I’m quite sure will never make the evening news. I take the car to the train station every morning, board the train (sometimes get a seat) and either rest, read, or listen to music for the half hour ride. I sometimes have to wait on the platform for the train to arrive, like this morning, where I stood next to the same black-haired woman who likes to sit on the left side of the eight car, two seats from the door. On her left were two men in their forties who look like brothers and talk about their summer homes in the summer, skiing in the winter, and some economic stuff that is well beyond me the rest of the time. Both are fashion losers, the balder one being exceptionally challenged. Why wear white running shoes with a burgundy shirt and a red tie? He cannot pull that off. He also takes a shower every morning and uses Zest soap, and I wish he’d go for something unscented.
I have a tendency (but not a habit) of sitting on the right side of the train, hopeful for a sunny morning when I can bask in the sun’s rays. There’s a young woman frail as a bird who occasionally sits in front of me. Today it was an older woman, distraught and agitated as the train took off, flipping her phone every minute and hesitating to place a call. Finally she called her boyfriend to tell him she’d been singled out by a police officer who was handing out tickets for jaywalking. She’d been with a group of people crossing the street at the wrong time, she told her boyfriend, but the cop gave her the ticket. Thirty-seven dollars. She asked the cop, do you speak English? He nodded. She then said to him, Get a life. Not a good idea, madam. No.
I spent the rest of the day trying to save the world. All right that’s not quite right. For part of the day I analyzed data from some of our participants’ responses related to their knowledge and skills pertaining to human rights. We have an evaluation meeting coming up in Sri Lanka and it’ll be an opportunity for the human rights educators present to reflect on their practice, so I’m looking at some of the things they’ve written over the years. So I’m getting ready for that, among other things. “Analyzing data” just doesn’t sound nearly as exciting as going off to exotic places to educate people about their human rights. Sometimes we have slow days.
On those days life still gets in the way, or more aptly work gets in the way of life. A call from my wife at four this afternoon updated me on Boy 1 and Boy 2’s school day. One says he has no friends, another is being teased by a classmate. I’ve joked with friends that my day starts when I get home from work, and I’m sure that’s the case with many parents. Upon entering my house, I get my standard hugs from everyone and both boys pull out their recorders and start showing off how musically inclined they are. And since when do kids have so much homework? I never had that much as a child and I’m still mostly smart.
The news just ended, and gone are the rapists, child molesters, and murderers. The last story was of James Bond’s Aston Martin on the auction block, selling for over four million dollars. At least I can go to sleep now.

Notes from the Field: Playing with Trainers in Vancouver

Had a great day. It certainly helps matters that the sun is shining, the air is delightfully fragrant from the cherry blossoms, and the participants were eager and enthusiastic to learn. The participants in question are day camp leaders and coordinators who have been implementing the Play It Fair! program that Equitas has been running for a number of years now. The program promotes human rights values – cooperation, respect, acceptance…seven values in all – through games. The key to the approach is that the learning from the games is always discussed with the children afterwards and enables them to reinforce these values in the day camps and in their daily lives.

A number of participants highlighted a challenge with the group discussion that follows a game. The format of the discussion has questions relating to three aspects: the “feel” questions, asking children how they liked the game, the “think” questions, asking them how the game relates to their personal experiences and what the game makes them think of, and finally the “act” questions that prompt children to suggest ways they can improve day camp life with concrete actions.

The format is simple but there are still challenges to leading a group discussion. Some leaders do not have much experience facilitating such discussions, others rely too much on asking the suggested questions in the Toolkit (thereby making the discussion rigid), and others mention that having a group discussion is challenging with multilingual groups of children.

The challenge of leading the group discussion was raised last night over dinner (which included my first taste of beef tongue, masterfully cooked by Tom, one of the coordinators at the Britannia Centre here in Vancouver, on a small heated black rock. He also shocked me with the knowledge that I have been pronouncing Osaka improperly all my life.). My thoughts remained on this (the group discussion, not the Osaka thing) until this morning. I had some solutions to propose, such as developing cards with symbols signifying words or feelings and having the children use symbols to express how they felt, but I felt I didn’t have much to offer. A quick message to an online community of human rights practitioners yielded a number of good suggestions from across Canada, Egypt, and China. Some suggestions: drawing images, painting, pantomime, sculpturing (making human sculptures as a way to represent power relationships between different actors), theatre of the oppressed, using (and not using) symbols. We also explored non-verbal ways of communicating with each other. The response I got from my online inquiry reaffirmed to me the value of networking with others to get their ideas, and it’s something I expect to do more of in the future.

On another note, Tom highlighted the introduction of journal writing for camp leaders. The journal was a regular, often daily reflection the leaders made on the games they played. The journal was private and to be shared only with their supervisor. Tom praised the added value the journals made to the leaders’ abilities to facilitate the games; they wrote their impressions of the games, how well they went (or how challenging they may have been), and how the children were internalizing the values promoted by the games. Writing in a journal was not an automatic gesture for some leaders, said one participant who kept her own journal. And it has to be said that writing is not for everyone either, but it can be a powerful tool. I offered them a simple framework I use when writing a reflective journal (not my idea): three questions – What? (what happened), So what? (what did I learn, why is this important, what does it mean?) and Now what? (what will I do differently now?).  I’d read in Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of Freedom the other day that if we as educators want to ensure critical thinking among learners, we should be equally critical about our own practice. I felt I learned a lot from the participants today, and I’m thankful for that.

All the participants got to lead the rest in some of the Toolkit games, and we enjoyed being kids again and playing Rock, Paper, Conflict, The Inuit Hand Game, and my personal favourite of the day, Crazy Stories, which was a collaborative story-making activity that had us all laughing (the entire Toolkit is available here).
And now to end this entry, at least one mention of the joys of travel. The day more than compensated for minor annoyances the day before such as the customs officer in Montreal who felt the need to probe everyone’s carry-on luggage for liquids exceeding 100 ml. One could see his eyes bulge with rapturous excitement as he grabbed my new tube of toothpaste and searched for its volume. “It might be over 100 ml,” he whispered to his uninterested colleague. Alas, his disappointment was quite noticeable when he saw “85 ml” at the end of the tube. Honestly, our delays are long enough as it is at airports, should we not be entitled to qualified personnel who can do their job of protecting us rather than inspecting us in the hope of finding a liquid over 100 ml in our bags?
Perhaps one final note, a success story. Our lunch was catered by Pot Luck Catering, a small organization where former street children prepare the food, here they are: http://www.potluckcatering.org/about.html.

And another final note, to all Vancouver hockey fans, Canucks rock! And good night.