The Uncommon Man

« January 2007 | Main | March 2007 »

February 16, 2007

MRI in Liberia: Saying Goodbye

This morning, with mixed feelings, I packed my bags and checked out of the hotel. James and I spent most of the morning with Kelly, debriefing the past two weeks, sharing our recommendations, and planning for the additional week of James’ stay. We all agreed the consultation and trainings have been tremendously successful, and see great value in continuing to build on the IRC/MRI partnership.

James and I took Ballah out for lunch in appreciation of his dedication and hard work in launching the Male Involvement Project and taking care of us during this visit. He expressed deep gratitude for the key role that MRI has played in his professional development and in establishing a strong foundation for the project.

Before departing for the airport, we helped Ballah and Kelly draft monitoring forms for the men’s action groups, and a form for gathering feedback about the men’s groups from the women’s action groups. We were also treated with a visit from Gertrude (GBV National Program Coordinator) and her 2-month-old baby, Berit.

After heartfelt goodbyes, James accompanied me on the 45-minute drive to Roberts International Airport for the long journey home. We were both sad to be separating, but grateful that he will have another week for additional consultation and training. He will be supervising the Monrovia based MIP trainers in their two day practicum. Then, the IRC trainers from Lofa, Nimba and Montserrado will come together and he will provide additional feedback and group facilitation training. If possible, a follow-up meeting with Ministry of Gender and Development staff will also be arranged.

There is no doubt that our time together with the IRC team in Liberia has been used effectively and produced great value for many different groups (IRC staff, men’s action groups, women’s action groups, Ministry of Gender and Development, international NGOs, community organizations, and MRI). We are grateful to IRC for the vision, commitment and courage to launch a Male Involvement Project. We know we have also learned as much as anyone.


— Steven Botkin, Executive Director
Men's Resources International, USA

To read a compilation of all blog entries from Liberia with pictures, click here.

Posted by Daniel at 01:54 PM | Comments (0)

February 15, 2007

MRI in Liberia: GBV Task Force of the Ministry of Gender and Development

Today’s training was presented to members of the GBV Task Force of the Ministry of Gender and Development. Participants included representatives from UNICEF, UNFP, Christian Children’s Fund, Save the Children, the Ministry of Gender, and community-based organizations. They were all eager to learn about our approach to engaging men, and we were excited by the conversations about the personal, cultural and organizational implications. The idea of a coordinated national awareness campaign was introduced by Kelly, and strongly endorsed by the group. A sub-committee was formed to further develop a proposal to be brought to the full task force. Everyone left with a copy of our training handbook, a Voice Male magazine, a new consciousness about involving men in the work of ending violence, and stronger connections with each other. Bringing MRI back for additional training was a topic of post-workshop conversation among a number of the participants.

— Steven Botkin, Executive Director
Men's Resources International, USA

To read a compilation of all blog entries from Liberia with pictures, click here.

Posted by Daniel at 04:56 PM | Comments (0)

February 14, 2007

MRI in Liberia: Reunited with James

After a night in Ghanta, Kelly, Edwin and I drove two hours to meet James and Ballah returning from their practicum training with a men’s group in Kolahun in Lofa. The ride back to Monrovia was filled with the excited sharing and comparing of our experiences, and drinking in the Liberian landscapes and villages.

— Steven Botkin, Executive Director
Men's Resources International, USA

To read a compilation of all blog entries from Liberia with pictures, click here.

Posted by Daniel at 04:54 PM | Comments (0)

February 13, 2007

MRI in Liberia: Gifts and Gratitude in Karnplay

Early this morning, I walked to the IRC-sponsored health clinic in Karnplay. There was already a large group of women and children waiting outside. Since I did not have time to wait, I discussed the situation with the IRC staff. Their social worker, Alice, took Josephine to the clinic, where she received a shot and pills. Alice will personally take her to the clinic for the next two days for follow-up treatment. It was impressive to see the coordinated system of IRC services mobilize to respond to this situation. I shudder to think of what might have happened to this girl if these services had not been available.

During the second day of training, more and more men stood up to talk about their own experiences of violence, as perpetrators, survivors and witnesses. More and more women stood up to speak, often in their native language, about the violence and disrespect they experienced from men. The men, as a group, asked the women how they could support them, and responded with words of commitment to serve as allies, role models, and change agents in their community.

The training ended with the signature Men’s Resources International pole ceremony. Each person tied a length of fiber (brought from home) to the pole. As they stepped back, holding one end, we created a large circle of connection. Turning the pole, we wound the ribbons together into a symbol for their community. By the time James and I leave, there will be four communities with poles like this one. Upcoming trainings from the IRC Male Involvement staff will produce an additional six, created by men’s and women’s groups throughout Liberia. And they all know they share this symbol with communities in Zambia and Nigeria and the United States. The web of connection is growing.

To my surprise, another ceremony followed. The community presented me with a bowl of kola nuts, two huge stalks of banana, several pineapples, and a live chicken, with remarks of gratitude from the leaders of the men’s and women’s groups. As I climbed into the van to begin the return journey, my tears flowed, knowing that the bonds of connection will remain even as we are separated by vast physical and cultural distances.


— Steven Botkin, Executive Director
Men's Resources International, USA

To see a photo of Josephine and to read a compilation of all blog entries from Liberia with pictures, click here.

Posted by Daniel at 04:51 PM | Comments (0)

February 12, 2007

MRI in Liberia: Male Involvement Training in Karnplay

An early morning drive in the van took us further in to the "bush." For more than two hours we traveled over an increasingly small and rutted road, past rubber plantations and villages with one- or two-room homes constructed with blocks of packed earth. As everywhere in Liberia, most of the children and many of the adults waved and smiled when they spotted me.

I am told that Liberians have a special relationship with the United States, because many ex-slaves who returned to Africa in the second half of the nineteenth century settled in this country. The U.S. has been seen as a cultural and economic "big brother." Unfortunately, as far as I can see, we have not lived up to our family responsibilities.

When we arrived at our destination, the women's center in the small town of Karnplay, women and men came pouring out of the building singing and drumming, greeting us with big smiles and the characteristic handshake that includes snapping of the middle fingers. For the next two days, forty-five people (the 25 members of the men's action group, 15 representatives from the women's action group, and 5 community leaders) packed into the women's center to sit on wooden benches in the sweltering heat, to participate in our "male involvement training." Other adults and children frequently stood at the open windows listening and watching with great curiosity.

Ernest and Edwin lead most of the program, based on the training and the handbook that James and I had given the IRC staff last week. I provided them coaching and feedback, and conducted selected presentations and activities. They did an excellent job of translating the ideas into colloquial English, and using stories and experiences relevant to the lives of Liberians to make the concepts meaningful.

Once again we saw the power and effectiveness of a popular education approach, as we invited participants to share their personal experiences with violence and abuse. Ironically, staff and participants alike have become accustomed to a lecture style approach to education. The training themes included men listening to women, subtle forms of abuse, men and women breaking the silence about experiences with violence, male socialization to "be in the box," the relationship between powerlessness and violence, and men and women as allies.

Once again, the women's circle activity provided men the opportunity to hear the voices and experiences of women, without interrupting or reacting. When they are invited to really listen in this way, the men's response is filled with compassion, and a collective statement of "we are sorry."

Over and over we heard heartbreaking stories about surviving during the war, family violence, abandonment, sexual assault and child labor. More and more men stood up to tell about their own experiences of violence, as perpetrators, survivors and witnesses. More and more women stood up to speak, often in their native language, about the violence and disrespect experienced from men. As the gathered community received these stories, a palpable healing process connected our hearts together in the courage and strength of our collective compassion. And, once again, we ended the day with the ceremony of planting the pole into a pot supported by the rocks of individual's commitment to ending violence in their families and community.

As we prepared to go to the IRC house in Karnplay for the night, a young woman (perhaps 14 years old) approached me and showed me her hand, extremely swollen with a very large, pus-filled sore. She was very shy, but told me "it hurts." Josephine had only used "country medicine," and said she did not have the money to get other medicine. I told her I would try to find help for her, and asked her to meet me tomorrow. Edwin later explained to me that she was not from this town, and that a folk belief says a swollen hand of a visitor means you are not welcomed by the community (while swollen feet means that you are). I am challenged to figure out how I can be helpful...


— Steven Botkin, Executive Director
Men's Resources International, USA

To read a compilation of all blog entries from Liberia with pictures, click here.

Posted by Daniel at 03:31 AM | Comments (0)

February 11, 2007

MRI in Liberia: Getting to Ghanta

After checking out of our hotel, we climbed into an IRC van, picked up Edwin (Male Involvement Project trainer), Kelly (GBV Program Coordinator) and Ballah (MIP officer) and left Monrovia for the north of Liberia. The journey took us through the rain forest, past villages of thatched huts, UNMIL (United Nations Mission In Liberia) military checkpoints, large rubber plantations (the Firestone plantation is the largest in the world), and constant small groups of people walking along the road. After two hours we reached the "swap" point where James and Ballah boarded another IRC van for the four-hour trip to Lofa County, near the border with Sierra Leone. The rest of us continued for another two hours on seriously potholed roads to the town of Ghanta in Nimba County, near the border with Guinea.

Ghanta is a lively town with a central business district of small shops and a college of health sciences. The IRC office in Ghanta is surrounded by a large bamboo fence and a corrugated metal gate (very different from the cement walls and razor wire in Monrovia). I stayed in one of their IRC staff houses with Bernard, who I had lived with when I was in Liberia in November, and two others who also work for the IRC health program. Bernard and Moses are from Kenya, and Peterson is from Uganda.

That evening, Edwin and Ernerst (the Male Involvement Project staff for Nimba County) and I walked through town. The footpath took us past girls playing kickball (the ball was broken open and had no air), women preparing dinner, a man ironing clothes (the iron heated by hot coals in a central chamber), and children eagerly pointing and waving to me.

— Steven Botkin, Executive Director
Men's Resources International, USA

To read a compilation of all blog entries from Liberia with pictures, click here.

Posted by Daniel at 03:29 AM | Comments (1)

February 10, 2007

MRI in Liberia: A Painstakingly Slow Road to Recovery

We ended this day at a restaurant with tables literally on the beach sand. Sitting just yards away from the thundering surf, the offshore night breeze sending waves of mist over us, the sky awash with stars, drinking beer and eating a mountain of food, we were painfully aware of the realities of extreme poverty that surrounded us.

Chatting with the security guards at the entrance of the restaurant, I was told that they are paid 1,500 Liberian dollars per month (with the exchange rate at 60:1, this is the equivalent of $25 USD/month). He further explained that a sack of rice costs $1,400 Liberian. The weight of this reality is hard to fathom, and it is frightening to think what happens to people when they feel hopeless about anything changing this situation. The cynicism of the security guards about the government's ability to make any changes was reflected in a CNN report on Liberia later that night that said unemployment is at 85%, international economic aid is inadequate, and there are thousands of recently disarmed ex-combatants in the country.

The war is over, and the country is on a painstakingly slow road to recovery, but the desperation and frustration of these young men multiplied by an ever expanding urban population of repatriated refugees and internally displaced people leaves the peace on fragile ground.


— Steven Botkin, Executive Director
Men's Resources International, USA

To read a compilation of all blog entries from Liberia with pictures, click here.

Posted by Daniel at 03:26 AM | Comments (0)

MRI in Liberia: Ministry of Gender & Development

Training at the Ministry of Gender & Development

It's a day off today, and we spent the morning getting a driving tour of the city and surrounding communities. The combined traumas of poverty and 14 years of war are hard to fathom. And yet, life goes on. The streets are teeming with people, who are coming out and back from hiding in their houses or refugee camps. Burned-out buildings are everywhere. So much has been destroyed. The harsh realities of day-to-day life are against a backdrop of powerful and poignant rebuilding of lives and the country.

Yesterday's day of training at the Ministry of Gender and Development was very exciting. (The working air conditioning system definitely made our work easier.) The participants were engaged and inspired by our popular education approach to engaging men as allies with women in ending gender-based violence (GBV). While the concept of men's involvement is increasingly being recognized as important in this work, everyone is hungry for effective strategies and skills for actually doing it. By the end of the day, the 70 men and women had a personal and emotional experience of how men can be powerful allies with women, and were now a network ready for collective action. Next week we will be meeting with the Ministry's Inter-Agency GBV Task to begin planning a national campaign that can mobilize these networks of individuals, organizations and men's and women's actions groups.

Tomorrow we leave Monrovia (the capital) for more rural regions, and will support the IRC staff that participated in our training of trainers in conducting similar trainings with the men and women from these communities.

Our work in Liberia is touching many sectors, from the Ministry of Gender and Development to grassroots men's and women's action groups. We are deeply honored to be part of a growing movement in Liberia of healing and accountability for the legacies of violence. And we are grateful to the International Rescue Committee for providing the support to bring us here and the staff to work with the men and women throughout the country.

Steven Botkin
Executive Director
Men's Resources International

To read a compilation of all blog entries from Liberia with pictures, click here.

Posted by Daniel at 01:12 AM | Comments (0)

February 08, 2007

MRI in Liberia: Heat and Hope

The heat here is brutal, and there is less air conditioning than in any of my other trips to Africa. The last day of the training went very well, and everyone was very satisfied. James and I are a great team for this work, and able to cover a wide range of content and process issues, providing participants a very personal and emotional experience.

Today we were at the Ministry of Gender and Development for the first day of a two day workshop on engaging men for community members from the Monrovia region. There were about 70 participants, 2/3 men. The city power was out, so there was no air conditioning, and the room was stifling. Lunch was delayed by road blockage until after 2:30 pm, and the workshop process was challenging, with many different levels of experience with the issues.

And yet, it was great to be there and witness the process of a country struggling to address and end violence. The brutal reality of these people's lives, both currently and historically, far outweighs the heat and challenges of the day, and their commitment to the issue and their communities is monumental. James and I facilitate tomorrow's session, and we are looking forward to the challenge of helping the group move forward.

We have had the luxury of ending our work days around 5 pm each day, and have been able to take walks on the street each evening. The sense of safety here is significantly greater than in Nigeria, and even more than when I was here in November. Some street lights are now powered by the government, and the streets are teeming with life. It is mind blowing to imagine the years of violence that terrorized this country, keeping people in hiding and fearful of being out on the street.

The days are passing quickly, each one filled with great challenges and adventures that I relish and feel very lucky to have. Imagining the cold in New England is quite delightful right now. And for those of you who are living with that, we are happy to share some of this heat with you.

With love,
Steven

Steven Botkin
Executive Director
Men's Resources International

To read a compilation of all blog entries from Liberia with pictures, click here.

Posted by Daniel at 03:46 PM | Comments (0)

February 06, 2007

MRI in Liberia: Second Day of Training of Trainers

Dear friends and colleagues,

We have just completed the second training of trainers day with the IRC staff of the Male Involvement Project and senior social workers in the GBV (Gender-Based Violence) Program. As in Zambia and Nigeria our approach to engaging men is striking a powerful chord for this group of 14 men and women. However, unlike these other trainings, in Liberia the participants are staff of an established organization who are paid to carry out the ideas and activities developed from the training. The skills and strategies they are learning in this training will be immediately implemented through women's and men's group in nine very different communities throughout Liberia.

We began the day with a focus on the causes and effects of silence about violence. Because our emphasis is on being role models for a social change process, the work being done in the training is very deep and personal. The men practiced listening to women, a remarkably simple, but profoundly moving experience for everyone. A brainstorm and group discussion about being a man revealed the advantages and disadvantages for fitting in and stepping out of the "box" of masculinity. And the story of male socialization from the point of view of the little boy helped the group develop deeper insights into the root of male violence. The men then practiced telling stories about their own experiences with violence, further breaking the silence and contradicting the shame and isolation. The emotions tapped were moving for everyone. We ended the day with our bamboo ritual, planting the pole into a pot with each person adding a stone representing their commitment to the vision of non-violence and gender equality.

We are excited by the impacts this training will have on men, women and communities in Liberia. And the Male Involvement Project in Liberia has the potential to be a powerful model of what can be accomplished when Men's Resources International is able to partner with an existing program with the staff and resources for widespread dissemination and institutional support.

In commitment and faith,

— Steven Botkin, Executive Director
Men's Resources International, USA


Note: For a compilation of all blog entries with photos from Steven and James in Liberia, click here.

Posted by Daniel at 10:17 PM | Comments (0)

February 05, 2007

MRI in Liberia: First Day of Training

Monday morning I got up with the beautiful sound of a bird whistling and I felt blessed to wake with such a gift of sound. I got ready for the day ahead. Steven and I met for breakfast and then were picked up and brought to the training site: the YWCA of Liberia. It was good to feel the connection with this women’s organization — supporting us, and the men in the training — on this journey to healthy and positive masculinity.

There were about 20 participants from around the country and they were eager to get on with the training. The introductions gave us insight about where each person came from and what is their connection to this work.

The first part of the day went so quickly that we had to double check to see how much we had accomplished. The feedback we got to our questions helps us to guide them and to challenge their thinking and comfort zone. They know how valuable they are in this. Challenging their countrymen to look at this process of manhood without violence, oppression or coercion will not be easy.

I continue to feel the blessing.

— James Arana, Associate Director
Men's Resources International, USA

Note: For a compilation of all blog entries with photos from Steven and James in Liberia, click here.

Posted by Daniel at 10:14 PM | Comments (0)

February 04, 2007

MRI in Liberia: In the Air

In the Air

The trip from the U.S. to Liberia takes more than 38 hours of traveling. Navigating three plane flights, jet lag, and a five hour time change make it also a journey into a different consciousness. An appropriate entry into Africa.

The flights to Washington and Brussels were packed, but two thirds of the seats in the large plane to Monrovia (stopping in Freetown, Sierra Leone) are empty. So, this 8 hour leg of the journey we are able to stretch out.

Flying over the Sahara Desert is a dramatic experience. North African mountains, capped with fresh snow give way to vast stretches of wind swept rock and networks of dry riverbeds. And then, the endless sand dunes, seen from 39,000 feet as ripples on water.

It will be late evening by the time we make our way through Liberian customs and the 45 minute drive from the airport to our hotel in Monrovia.

Tomorrow morning we begin three days of training for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) staff who will be implementing their Male Involvement Project (MIP). Over the following two weeks for me and three weeks for James we will be providing supervision and support for these staff as they take the Men’s Resources International training to men’s groups in three regions of Liberia. In addition to Monrovia area, we will travel by jeep and U.N. helicopter to Lofa and Nimba counties near the borders with Guinea and Sierra Leone.

In addition, we will be conducting a day long workshop for community leaders sponsored by the Liberian Ministry of Gender and Development, another full day workshop for representatives of international NGOs (non-governmental organizations) working in Liberia, and a consultation about developing a national awareness-raising campaign with the Ministry of Gender Task Group on Gender-Based Violence.

In commitment and faith,

— Steven Botkin, Executive Director
Men's Resources International, USA


Note: For a compilation of all blog entries from Steven and James in Liberia, click here.

Posted by Daniel at 12:42 PM | Comments (0)

February 03, 2007

MRI in Liberia: 1776 miles left to Brussels

1776 miles left to Brussels.

9:47 pm
Our day started at 12 noon to catch planes from Bradley to DC to Brussels. Even though we flew from Bradley to DC we ended up flying over Hartford again towards Halifax and then across the Atlantic. This is our third trip to the motherland, and if this is not a blessing, I don’t know what is.

The past few weeks of prepping for this trip tells us how fast we have grown, how much we are learning, and how much more we need to learn and grow to enhance our development.

So, we began this trip the way we usually do, giving thanks for all the strength, guidance, courage and humbleness, and evoking the spirits of our ancestors to continue to guide us in all we do. We know this experience of our third trip to the motherland, to the cradle of civility and civilization is a gift and a blessing and we honor that. Like all our trips, this one is unique, and we continue to blaze new trails.

The years of civil war in Liberia, and the suffering of the Liberian people make it especially important to us to invoke these blessings. I am overjoyed and honored to be with my brothers and sisters who have gone through so much in the past few years, and to join with them at this great moment in time to work together to help support a healthy community.

As I ask for the wisdom to be present to this journey, I stand still, relax, and breathe deeply, using every cell in my body, and my third eye to listen quietly. I open myself to feel the pain, and relish in the hope of the coming generations of my brothers and sisters who will carry on the vision. Together we will work tirelessly to see that men in all their communities will be vigilant in their support of women and children in a safer world.

I thank the Supreme Creator for the opportunity to be a part of the vision.

— James Arana, Associate Director
Men's Resources International, USA

Note: For a compilation of all blog entries from Steven and James in Liberia, click here.

Posted by Daniel at 09:47 PM | Comments (0)




Make a donation to Men's Resources International