The Uncommon Man

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 February 12, 2007 03:31 AM


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