Hargeysa, Somaliland – 11/20/08 (Part I)
I am beginning this entry on November 18th, just a few hours after having completed my final facilitation in Somaliland. I am euphoric. I just finished uploading the photographs that were taken during the day and strangely enough, I have been reminded of Julia Gegenheimer. It was a photo of her, facilitating a workshop in Cambodia, that had first attracted me to the Fellowship program. At the time, I wondered, “Could I possibly muster the guts to do something similar?” I often questioned myself during the ups and downs of my first three months in Boston. But here I am, two days away from leaving my first international placement in Somaliland, and I have successfully trained 150 young men and women in the peaceful articulation of grievance. In only a few short months, I have become what a year ago I had only dreamed of becoming. I am imbued with warm pride and a profound appreciation for all that Insight has empowered me to do. The feeling is incredible.
So what’s the final word on the workshop series? Truly, I think it was a great success. There were problems that my co-facilitator Adnan and I managed to surmount through trial-and-error, like how to frame questions in such a way that the most passionate response possible is coaxed from the participants, how to give instructions for some of Insight’s more complex simulations (the Pricing Exercise comes to mind), and which parts of which lectures are best translated into Somali. Other times, we innovated, like when Adnan suggested during our first workshop in Burco that we give working groups the chance to act out various simulations in front of the rest of the class. Somalis seem to be a very theatrical people, and the examples they provided us with gave everyone numerous opportunities to practice, critique and grow. Moreover, watching two Somalis try to act out an adapted version of the “Miss Congeniality” case study – “Inna Boqor” in the local tongue – is comedic gold.
It is true that I still have moments of complete ineptitude, when I stumble over my words and give the most roundabout descriptions of the simplest techniques. But with practice, I have felt myself improve. Indeed, this morning I gave my finest Seven Elements presentation to date, and with the generous help of Adnan, I managed to facilitate a flawless five-round Pricing Exercise. During the debriefing, I ran through a one-minute activity taught to me by Ericka Gray called “The Kisses Game.” This simulation helped to highlight the competition vs. collaboration dynamic within the Pricing Exercise in such a way that participants gave me a standing ovation! Haha!
One of the most fascinating and well-received parts of the workshop has been the Hot Buttons exercise during which participants are obliged to debate a controversial topic of their choice, with a procedural focus on inquiry. Contrary to what one might expect, the youth I met proved time and again their keen willingness to discuss the most explosive of issues. During one workshop, half of the group chose to debate the merits and demerits of suicide bombings. This came only days after the October 29th suicide attacks in Hargeysa. My assumption was that the wounds were still too fresh to discuss the event candidly and objectively, but I was proven very wrong. The other half of the group chose to probe the pros and cons of promoting immigration amongst young Somali men and women. In another workshop, participants evaluated the government’s responsibility (or lack thereof) for Somaliland’s high levels of unemployment, the importance or unimportance of wearing the hijab (Islamic headscarf), and the role that qat should play in daily Somali life. Issues that most adults in Somaliland politics are unwilling to touch were embraced wholeheartedly by my workshop participants. It was an inspiring thing to watch.
No less illuminating were the evaluations that took place at the end of each of my workshops. It was during these discussions that I learned how to correct many minor facilitation problems (e.g. in Somaliland, it is extremely important to provide participants with copies of one’s Powerpoint presentations before the workshop begins), how keen most students were to see a workshop like mine expand into the most inaccessible (and therefore politically marginalized) parts of the country, and interestingly enough, how important it is for one to frame all politically sensitive material in a way that is digestible for devout Muslims. Indeed, on one occasion, I was asked, “Why should I be listening to you and your teachings if you haven’t even read the Qu’ran?” Good question. If I were ever to return to Somaliland with a similar project in mind (and I certainly intend to), I would take it upon myself to do a better job of translating my material, both linguistically and culturally.
I would have to say, though, that the proudest aspect of this whole placement has been the coaching that I’ve done with my good friend Adnan. This 23-year old Somalilander has been my greatest ally for the past two-and-a-half months and has soaked up every bit of information that I have passed his way. Indeed, at this point, I could probably say that he knows almost as much about mediation and negotiation as I do. Every one of the tools and techniques that Insight taught me in Boston I have passed on to him, and in his own quiet way, he has started to express his new knowledge on a daily basis. The way he conducts himself in conversation has changed. The vocabulary that he uses to describe his opinions has changed. His confidence has increased and the ease with which he now takes hold of a classroom of thirty workshop participants is nothing short of remarkable. This guy is brilliant and I know that if he manages to construct a life path for himself over the coming year or two, and if he manages to stick to it, he will do great things. We have been each other’s star pupils and it has been a privilege working with him. I hope he and I remain friends until the day we die.
Meanwhile, several thousand kilometers away from my Somaliland workshop series, another project I had had a hand in was unfolding. On November 17th, the Child Soldiers Initiative (CSI) held the final academic consultation for its rehabilitation and reintegration toolkit at Insight’s office in Boston. I had helped plan this event when I was in Boston back in July, and had assisted in establishing connections between the CSI office in Ottawa, General Dallaire and Insight. The event attracted some of the biggest names in the fight against child soldiery, including Lt. Gen Roméo Dallaire and Peter Lancaster, Director of the UN’s DDR program in eastern DR Congo. Insight founder Patrick McWhinney and senior associate Emily Epstein facilitated the consultation, and from all accounts, it was a superb event. I was thrilled at this news, since I will be partnering with the CSI in Côte d’Ivoire for my third and final Fellowship placement.
Before I continue any further with my journaling, I’m going to take a break. I’m back in the Academy mefrishe for one last qat-chewing session and I want to make the most of it. More soon.