"The means is dialogue, the end is learning, the purpose is peace." ~ Founder Dr. Jane Vella

Posts tagged with "Story From The Field"

Getting People Talking When Working in Rural Africa

Every teaching or meeting situation is unique and offers its own challenges. I work in rural Africa and have found the follow seven tools especially helpful for engaging community members.

  1. Use appreciative inquiry. In every community some things have worked well. It is therefore important for facilitators to appreciate and build on what is already working. In this way people are encouraged and feel ownership of the new initiative. People will talk about what is working and feel pride in it – start there. Resistance will be minimized, and next steps may be relatively easy to imagine.
  2. Agree on pre-set rules or a set the standards. Before any community meeting, facilitate a conversation about meeting rules or agreed protocol. For instance, begin by informing the group that “no answer is wrong, and no question is stupid.” Rules may include “no walking around during the meeting, no phone calls and no mini-meeting during the training.” The most important thing is that the rules come from your participants and are agreed to by everyone. Checking in on these rules from time-to-time can help keep them top-of-mind – one good time for this is at the start of each day in a multi-day event.  
  3. Manage the power in the group. Your ability to manage those with power or privilege in the community is crucial to the success and participation of others – some of these may include the chief, unit committee member, the rich, and men. Your event stands to risk being high-jacked by the most vocal or privileged unless you have strategies for equalizing this power. Some ways to do this are: solo work, pair work, small group work, and inviting in specific voices at specific times i.e. “Let’s start by hearing from those who live past the hospital, and then we will hear from a few people on the other side of the river.”
  4. Use energizers. People come to meetings and events with many things on their mind and with different levels of energy. Make use of energizers to keep participants active and engaged. They should be purposeful and easy to execute. However, sometimes it is helpful just to have some fun and be a little less focused on the goals of the day. Learning takes energy, so monitor it carefully.
  5. Schedule events at participants’ convenience. Meetings should be scheduled at the preferred time of the community members, especially to suit women to encourage their participation. As much as possible, market days should be avoided since most women go to the market daily. If market days are selected as the best time to meet, keep the discussion short and focused. It is better to have a successful 1-hour meeting than to have a half-day session with little participation.
  6. Share real-life stories. There is no better way to get people talking than through story. Invite them to share a personal story with a partner, to share through a proverb, or to create a song with a small group. Stories are powerful tools for learning and can take many forms.
  7. Ensure safety. If the community members don’t feel safe they will not want to share much with those at the event. Greet them as they arrive, check in with them often, ensure they know why they are invited and their input is of value, and engage them in meaningful ways.  


What tips or tools can you add to this list?


Augustine N-Yokuni (an-yokuni@canadianfeedthechildren.ca) is Ghana Program Manager of Canadian Feed the Children, based in Ghana.

Maximize Successful Community Engagement: Tips from Africa

Safety and respect are key to ensuring community engagement. This is as true in rural Ghana where I work, as it is in most places in the world. Here are some tips that I have found helpful for the African context:

  1. Understand the cultural dynamics. It is important that while entering a community the facilitator or community engagement person has a clear understanding of the “go and no-go zones,” as well as the totems and taboos of the community. These need to be honoured and respected during the period of work with the community and will increase the possibility of success.
  2. Stay away from party politics. In general, community members in Africa are passionate about their politics. In addition, many politicians have made huge promises and failed to deliver. They are not always trusted. To be safe, explain who you are and who you work for, and that you do not have an affiliation with any political party. Wisely and clearly decline political discussions and make relevant input devoid of politics.
  3. Know the religious dynamics. This is a sensitive area and should be managed carefully during your stay in the community. People are equally passionate about their religion as they are their politics, and therefore religious conversations or examples should be avoided. However, to maximize safety and respect honour people’s religious needs during your events as much as possible i.e. prayer time, food preferences, etc.
  4. Establish rapport. Entering the community should involve and engage all the relevant stakeholders in the project. Make sure your contact persons in the community are people respected and trusted by that community.
  5. Introduce yourself or team to traditional authority. The team/officer should introduce himself to the traditional authority on the first day of entry to the community. You will be more warmly welcomed and protected by the community when you are known by these leaders. Note: Meetings with chiefs sometimes involve you giving gifts. Find out what is expected and ensure you have exactly what you need to visit the chief or other community leaders.
  6. Know the community. It takes time to get to know a community. However, doing some research in advance can give you important knowledge about the people, their religion and culture, issues of concern and challenge, strengths and resources, as well as leadership practices. Do your homework.


What do you do to ensure safety?


Augustine N-Yokuni (an-yokuni@canadianfeedthechildren.ca) is Ghana Program Manager of Canadian Feed the Children, based in Ghana.

Trust the Design: The Day I Tested this Theory

Since I received my Dialogue Education training with Global Learning Partners last Fall, I have developed at least five learning events. It’s been a game changer. The pre-event surveys allow me to develop a learning design based on the intersection between my expertise and the participants knowledge and learning goals. This alone provides me with a level of confidence in the relevance of the training that infuses every step of my work. However, it is a lot of work.

Attending to the six core principles of learning, the eight steps of design, and the 4-A learning sequence, requires a high level of focus and commitment. However, the result is trust, freedom, and empowerment: trust that even if I don’t sleep the night before or don’t feel well, I can rely on the strength of my design to lead the way; freedom to use my energy on the day of the event to express my joy in the topic and care for the participants; and, empowerment of the participants to lead the learning process by engaging deeply, collaborating and sharing existing experience and knowledge.

Every time I begin a training, I introduce participants to Dialogue Education and the design that is in their hands. I joke saying, “Using this approach means I can faint in the middle of our day together and you can carry on without me!” Little did I know that this “joke” would turn into a reality.   

From June 25 to 28 I was scheduled to teach a four-day course on restorative practices to 40 educators. I had invited Jessica, a fellow educator who had come to one of my seminars and was interested in becoming a trainer, to shadow me during the event. Jessica did not see the design until she arrived at the conference center and had never led a training, but she had a lot of enthusiasm and experience in restorative practices.

When the educators entered the room on the first morning after listening to a keynote speaker for 90 minutes, I felt nervousness growing within me. Their face and body language revealed the exhaustion educators commonly feel after the last day of school. I wondered how I would be able to energize them and then I remembered the strength of my design. Specifically, I knew that the inclusive and connection-based anchor activities would enliven them, and that the relevant, experience-based learning activities would engage them. I was right! By the end of the second day, the group was on fire.

It was after that second day that I chose to go on a bicycle ride. I rode carefully down the mountain road, leaning on my brakes as I carefully made my way through the switchbacks and potholes. When I got down to the main road I sighed with relief. Unlike most of the roads I commute on, this one was newly paved, wide and free of traffic. I let go of my brakes and allowed myself to relax and glide in the sunshine.

Suddenly, I was airborne! I hit the pavement hard, breaking a rib and suffering abrasions and severe bruising. I had hit a chunk of asphalt hidden in the shadows. When someone finally came to where I was lying in the road, the first thing I asked was for them to call the conference organizer to let them know what happened, and that they would need to ask Jessica to continue teaching without me.

At nine p.m. that night, as Jessica drove me back to the hotel, I asked how she felt about leading the last two days of the conference. She said, “Sure! I can make a few changes to the design to match my knowledge but follow what you have layout for us.” And that is what she did.

On the final day, I was able to join the training and watched with pride and joy as Jessica delivered the training beautifully. What moved me even more was how comfortable the group was in carrying on without me. They had clearly been empowered and engaged enough the first two days to move forward with great momentum. Dialogue Education had saved the training. Without it, those teachers would have been left hanging in mid-air without two crucial days of developing action plans for their schools.

To my great delight, the conference organizer sent feedback that confirmed what I witnessed:

Annie and Jessica are among the best presenters with whom I've ever had the privilege of working. They truly believe in students, are devoid of nonsensical educational jargon, and generously gave their entire curriculum to us.

Thank you, Jane Vella, and everyone who has contributed to the development of Dialogue Education!

When did you need to “trust the design” in surprising ways?

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Annie O'Shaughnessy is an educator and consultant dedicated to transforming classroom and schools through mindfulness based restorative practices. Check out her website: www.truenatureteaching.com