Saturday, 17 February 2018

The journey of "facilitator in me"

“I really liked the workshop, for the first time we were not given lectures or instructions, rather there were conversations, digging in our lives and engaging with each other to actually build understanding on gender.”
“There were so much openness, nothing was forced, no definitions no accusations in the name of gender”

As I entered the room with 50 police trainees, their superiors, I was scared, there was lot of emotions running in my head, my hands were sweating and somehow I was slightly trembling! I was facilitating a two day long workshop for the very first time that too with the police, along with designing the sessions on my own. There was constant struggle going on as to how I would engage with them, will they understand or how will they respond to it and others. 

I remember how I was not considered good enough to even facilitate 2 hour session forget about designing one. Though I facilitated a full day workshop, there was constant nagging as to someone would teach me how to facilitate, with all such speculations around my abilities I used to get nervous! But here I was standing on my own dealing with lot of judgments and curious faces looking at me. I took a deep breath and started by greeting the participants and at that moment, all my fears, the judgments around me melted away because this work is part of me, I breath in gender work and with time the personal connect to the issue has just strengthened.

I don’t know what does it mean to be a facilitator, or its technicalities or what actually is facilitation? For me, facilitation is as simple as co-creation of spaces where people can share their feelings, thoughts and experiences around gender and violence without feeling judged and build an understanding on the same. So, all the activities which were designed for the 2 day intervention were participatory, group sharing, mind mapping, role plays and games. With every activity, I could see myself stretching my comfort zone with confidence. The first session on gender was more of sharing in the small group on “messages they have received because they are boy” followed by Chinese whispers and co-creating gender story leading to explaining what is gender? It was interesting for me, because I loved the story telling part and I was doing it almost after 2 years, still it came in flow and sync with the participants.

This was also the first time, when we were engaging with Patriarchy – the term looks really big and distant for beginners, I remember when I first heard it- it was like a social worker jargon, so I made sure that instead of saying the word aloud, we could use lot of examples from the sharing on gender differences in various spaces and then come to Patriarchy and at the same time it should attack as if all men are responsible for the violence. 

The next session on gender based violence turned out to be challenging, intriguing and at the same time questioning the structure as to how a facilitator should react or behave during the workshop?  
“I want to have 5 min where I could say what I want to, can you assure me that no one disturbs me. I am apologizing beforehand, and I really don’t wish to offend anyone especially you because you have come here to give training. But since you are giving us space and time to share our thoughts, I am tempted to share”, shares a participant

“go ahead”” I nodded

“Firstly I don’t understand why are we having these workshops, because all these workshops talk about problems, last time one mam came she also talked about problems. Why don’t we talk about solution? Secondly I believe that all these problems have got nothing to do with gender because such things can happen to anyone. Also I feel it’s all about karma, or more likely tit for tat, if you have done something wrong you have to pay for it. That’s what a universal truth is! My family is doing very well, no one does interfere in anyone’s stuff, all is good we are blessed. Lastly I get a feeling that some man has hurt both of you very badly that you have started talking about gender.”

Half a day I had just passed, and I was astonished to hear such words from someone who will be posted as police officer! Before I could respond, one participant raised his hand and began, “they are not talking about problems or blaming anyone, you see those charts on the wall where we have written gender differences in various spaces, you don’t have to do that- and that’s the solution”

They are not giving us lectures, they are not forcing their ideas of gender on us, instead they have given us a space to think and reflect on the things that we do in our lives without realizing that we are creating inequality and snatching freedom from women”

I took a deep breathe, i had two options- either to let them go on with blaming each other, or taking the ownership of my vulnerable feelings which were forcing me to break the structure of calm, composed facilitator. I chose the latter; I believe that if I am not honest with my thought process and vulnerability then that truth won’t reflect in the conversations ahead.

So, with all my heart, I reacted telling him that he has no right to attack me personally, I shared my personal connect with the gender work, also I spoke how his ‘tit for tat’ theory not only infuriated me but hurt me at the same time giving out examples of various gender based violence incidents. Talking about the solutions, I explained how there are hardly spaces where we could have conversations around gender and reflect on it- until and unless we know the roots of problem how can we talk about solutions and more over solution is what action we decide to take once we are aware of the problem- and that’s what I have been doing over a year. Listening to the participant and sharing what was going on my mind was very tricky, difficult and I almost felt naked in terms of feelings. But then this actually changes the whole scenario of the workshop – the participants actually opened up including the one would initiate the question. 

The day ended with the role plays where the participants had to enact on the given situation. The plays were really beautiful reflecting their understanding of gender and gender based violence, but one play will always remain in my heart.

“During the play, the participant who was a police officer comes home and sees that his wife is on bed and food was not cooked. He gets angry and scolds her, but while he is in a room he remembers (thinking aloud) that some years back Purvi conducted a workshop on gender where we spoke about gender differences and I end up doing the same. This is not right and then he goes back calls doctor, cooks for his wife and takes care of her”

I was stumped, my heart was beating faster, god if these people actually remember this workshop and implies this way in their personal life, and my battle is already won. I was beaming with happiness.
The first day went fairly well, but still it was emotionally draining and consuming. However thinking about the next day was sending chills down my spine because I will be doing this activity for the very first time, it involves personal and very intimate sharing by the participants around gender based violence. I didn’t know whether anyone would feel safe enough to let their vulnerable feelings out, to take that one step ahead to accept that such an incident had happened in their life considering the impact of masculinity on them where they are trained to keep their emotions to themselves and be strong. The day began with one of the participant sharing “I was thinking about the workshop a lot while I went to my room. Since we get little time to speak to our family on phone, I used to get furious when my wife sounded tired and sleepy over phone. But yesterday I didn’t pressurized her to speak to me, I could feel that she was tired so instead I told her to take rest”

So, I carefully explained the activity “common ground” putting an extra emphasis on the agreements, inviting them to take a stretch to take the opportunity to unburden their heart with all the emotions that they have been holding on to them. And then I said the first statement, my heart was actually sinking with the mere thought that no one will take a step forward, but 4 of them took the step, their eyes were full of trust and their bodies reflected their vulnerabilities. Then one after another statement, I saw the participants opening up, gaining that trust and support and taking one step ahead. The whole activity has gone really intense because of the strong statements so to ease it, in between all of us were taking deep breaths together and letting out emotions without words. It was indeed very powerful and magical and something at that moment changed in me. 

Once the common ground activity was over, I invited the participants to share their feelings or the incident about which they thought while taking the step ahead in the circle while a particular statement was said aloud again assuring the trust and support. It was extremely overwhelming to hear the participants share their stories of pain, regret, trauma, violence- be it parental, societal, expectation, failure, relationships, drug abuse, stress, suicidal thoughts and depression. I was actually very nervous and scared while hearing these stories, at the same time supporting the circle with my complete presence and trust. Never in my life could I imagine that I can co-create a space where people would share their stories which they have never shared with anyone before with 50 individuals. 

“I don’t know what you have done here, I have never shared this story with anyone in my full consciousness, whenever I did share I was totally drunk and wasted. But here, I feel safe and comfortable to let my heart speak”
“We have been here for almost 7 months, but never had we got a chance to sit like this, say our stories and listen to other people. It is very soothing and seems a huge burden is moved from my heart”
“I have been hurting since years blaming myself, I have never shared this with anyone but here I could say it so easily like all of you would just understand” 

It was also interesting to see that all these participants were behaving like children, being so vulnerable leaving all that ‘I am strong man image’, going to each other talking, hugging each other, flocking in groups and were not ready to leave the workshop space even for lunch. To our surprise they were back from Lunch 10 mins before.  The next session on ‘Power and how police in power position can curb gender based violence” followed by promise wall went really well. 

The closure of the 2 day workshop involved filling up of assessment form and open circle sharing about their experiences.

“I have grown up understanding that women are meant just for cooking food, cleaning dishes and clothes, obeying orders and men mean earning for home, being all strong – so when you constructed gender story, I was taken aback, nobody had explained anything like this in such a easy and convincing manner, that I could actually feel that so much wrong I have learnt while growing up”

“It was difficult for me to think that cooking food by women could also be a violence, but then you said if I am told to cook food for next 25 years all three times without any salary. It was so unimaginable to even think and then picture of my mother surfaced in my brain – I was shocked and sad at the same time, nobody including me ever asked whether she wants to cook or not, we keep demanding various things but never even tried to help her”

“I am gonna learn cooking, whenever I go back home I will cook for my mother and also motivate my brother so when I am not there he can help her in household chores without feeling ashamed ”  

“Also I understood, that we are not doing any favor to women in our life by helping them, that’s what they deserve, so instead of helping them we would support them with opportunities”

“This was one of a kind workshop where I spoke so much and even listened, I am not going to let this thing go and will speak about this to my friends, family as well as relatives”

“Can you stay for one more day, there is so much to talk about, please say that the workshop is not over”

“Now that, we have understood gender, while we go to the different villages on weekend for our duties, we can perform a natak and engage on gender with the villagers”

“Can you tell me how can I engage youth from my village so that they can also initiate gender conversations in my home town?”

My heart swelled with happiness and love on hearing feedback after just 2 day engagement on gender issues. Before I could say anything else, one of the participant asked me “You have asked us how are we feeling, I want to ask you what was it like to engage with us for 2 days?”

You know what I loved this statement, this made my day because whenever I loved some workshop and really enjoyed someone’s facilitation I asked the same question and at present a participant asked me this! Trust me I was on cloud nine and I was filled with gratitude. I could just fold my hands and express my gratitude towards each of the participants for trusting me and giving their 100 % in the workshop. I was beaming with happiness and I could see the same on their faces :-)

As the workshop came to closure, and we were leaving, all of them flocked around us talking constantly and bidding goodbye to us. But, in my heart I knew that this is just the beginning and these memories will occupy a special place in my heart forever and all I could feel was gratitude and completeness :-)

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