The Uncommon Man

May 25, 2008

MRI in Liberia: Recap of 4-Day Training

May 25, 2008: Recap of 4-Day Training

Dear friends and colleagues,

James and I are spending today (Sunday) resting after six days of consulting and training here in Liberia. A leisurely breakfast and a long walk on the beach gave us the chance to take a deep breath, share our observations and feelings about the week, and drink in the experiences of Liberia.

Our week moved from consultations with the GBV leadership team on Monday, to IRC GBV staff training on Tuesday, to four days of training (Wednesday - Saturday) with representatives of women's and men's action groups from 9 communities in addition to IRC staff (a total of 50 people). With the support of MRI training and consultations, IRC has been carefully supporting the development of a women's action group (WAG) and a men's action group (MAG) in each of these communities. And now it was time to bring representatives of each of these groups together to enhance their leadership and partnership skills, strengthen their organizational capacity as WAG/MAG collaborations, and promote a national network of community-based organizations modeling how women and men work together for GBV prevention and economic sustainability.

The experience of these past four days was remarkable in many ways. For many of the community participants from the rural areas ("the bush") this was their first experience of the city. Sitting for four days in an air-conditioned room with facilitators who spoke "American English" was challenging. And yet, what happened during this time was an exciting example of individual and collective consciousness-raising and movement-building.

Day One opened with each community of women and men introducing themselves using the ribbon pole ("commitment tree") that they had created in their introductory male involvement training. Using training handbooks and presentations by IRC staff, core components of the MRI training (beliefs about men, man in the box, male socialization and obstacles and strategies for engaging men) were reviewed. Inviting community members to give feedback to the female/male presentation teams helped to refine staff skills, empower participants, and model women and men sharing leadership.

Day Two began with an activity that helps participants see what they have in common and what is different. As people stepped into the circle to see who shares "common ground" the questions they asked became increasingly powerful and painful. "Who had both of their parents killed before the age of 12?" "Who was abandoned by their husband?" "Who saw 50 members of their community murdered?" "Who was beaten by their parents?" "Who was a beaten by their husband?" "Who has beaten their wife?" "Who has committed marital rape?" Breaking the silence is being taken very seriously by these women and men, knowing that this is needed for making the personal and social changes they want.

We then introduced the concept of "cross-gender dialogue" as an essential skill for women and men to build partnerships. Discussing the meetings of their women's and men's action groups provided an opportunity to apply this concept to their own experiences. There was a lot of interest in understanding the traps in cross-gender dialogue (e.g. men dominating the conversation, interrupting, ignoring and discounting what women say, etc.), and the different effects of using the words "but" or "and" was especially meaningful. Throughout the rest of the training there were many opportunities to practice and give each other feedback about these skills and traps.

The WAG/MAG teams then had a chance to meet to prepare their mission statements, a timeline of their histories, and assess the men's action group on their ally behaviors. Presentations for each group were made by woman/man teams, practicing shared leadership.

We ended the day with a slide show about the history of Men's Resources International and the men's initiatives we have been supporting in Zambia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Liberia and the United States. Participants were inspired to know that they are part of a global movement of women and men as partners for ending violence and promoting healthy communities.

Day Three focused on the process of behavior change and strategies for engaging boys and girls in GBV prevention. After describing the stages in a behavior change continuum we asked participants to talk with each other about the things in their own lives that helped them become more aware and engaged in GBV prevention.

IRC announced engaging boys and girls as a priority for the next stage of their GBV program. We showed the video "Life of a Boy" produced by Promundo in Brazil, and were amazed at how much similarity there is with boys' experiences in Liberia. Based on these experiences, participants had many ideas about how they could support boys and girls in Liberia.

Day Four, our last day together, focused on strategic planning for the women and men action groups. Participants were excited to envision community-based organizations with leadership teams composed of women and men working in partnership. We worked on a national mission statement for the network of community groups, as well as the second annual campaign for engaging men and boys as partners with women and girls for ending gender-based violence. And they were delighted when Gertrude (national GBV coordinator) announced IRC funding support for collaborative WAG/MAG proposals from each community for GBV prevention and economic sustainability.

After reviewing the activities of the past four days, men and then women recited their pledges about ending GBV in Liberia. We honored each person with a certificate of completion for this training. In the closing ceremony each community ribbon pole was connected with new ribbons to a central pole representing the national network. Bells were attached to the ribbons and we experienced the wonderful sound of the connections among community groups breaking the silence together. The ribbons with bells were then wound around each pole as an addition, which will help them remember the strength of their connection when they return to their homes.

The four days were filled with songs, and delightful group "energizers" shared by participants. And everyone left feeling inspired, informed and uplifted. We look forward to seeing what happens next.

In connection,
Steven Botkin

To read all Liberia entries in chronological order and to see photos from the trip, click here.

Posted by Malcolm Chu at May 25, 2008 12:10 PM


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