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Azi Khalili &
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More on the Workshop in The Gambia

The Gambia Introductory Workshop [see previous article] was a follow-up to the Sustaining All Life (SAL) Project at COP21 [the December 2015 United Nations climate conference in Paris, France]. It was organised by Saiba T. Suso, to whom I’ve been teaching RC over Skype or VSee [ways to communicate by video over the Internet] since meeting him briefly at COP21. At one of the “speak out” forums conducted by SAL, he spoke about how climate change had affected his family’s farm. (He and other young African activists had come to COP21 hoping to pressure rich countries to compensate for the “loss and damage” their wasteful practices had caused in poor countries.) 

At first what I had to offer Saiba seemed irrelevant to his needs. However, over the weeks, being listened to and hearing about RC theory made a difference to him. He read RC literature and became seriously interested. (Our contact was often interrupted by power cuts or our own busy lives. At one point Skype was shut down because it was interfering with the income of the Gambian telephone service. Then we had to use a less reliable form of video contact.) 

Over the months, our contact and relationship became important to both of us. When The Gambia’s dictator refused to step down and other West African countries sent in their armies, Saiba and some members of his family remained in their rapidly emptying city. At that point I was closely following the news from The Gambia, and Saiba and I often spoke a couple of times a day. It wasn’t really possible to Co-Counsel because the Internet connection was terrible. The point was to be there. 

Saiba started using RC in his activism, by listening in a different way to fellow activists and talking to some of them about RC. Alima Adams [a Co-Counselor from Burwell, Cambridgeshire, England], Janet Kabue [the Area Reference Person for Nairobi, Kenya], and I, along with others, were in a monthly Skype support group led by Diane Shisk [the Alternate International Reference Person] for people following up on contacts made through SAL. 

It was decided to have a workshop in The Gambia, led by Janet and attended by Alima, who has Gambian heritage; Karl Lam (the Regional Reference Person for Cambridge, Herts, Beds, Bucks, and Norfolk, in England); and me. Saiba was willing to organise it. Janet pointed out that internalised oppression might lead the participants to expect me, an older white woman, to lead. We agreed that I should be at the workshop, because of my relationship with Saiba, but I promised to keep a low profile. I was able to make a recording of what Janet said, which was later circulated as a resource. 

Saiba did a terrific job of getting all the participants to the workshop, encouraging them, and inspiring them. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) run a lot of trainings for activists in African countries. They pay the activists’ expenses and offer a daily allowance. Saiba had to explain to the participants that they would not get any monetary benefit from spending their weekend with us. The group was enthusiastic and co-operative.

At the workshop we had interpretation into Wolof and Mandinka, two of the languages of The Gambia. Janet covered an enormous amount and explained things, such as the structure of the RC Community, that are typically left to the end of a fundamentals class. She managed to do this by having many mini-sessions and getting the participants to contribute. For instance, she asked them what good guidelines would be and used that for introducing our key agreements. She did an excellent piece on women’s oppression and how men are set up to be the agents of sexism. Following that we separated into almost equal-sized groups of women and men. On Sunday morning she reviewed RC theory, again asking the participants to contribute. 

In teaching people to Co-Counsel, she emphasised giving good attention but encouraged them to ask questions, such as, “When is the first time you can remember feeling like that?” if the client couldn’t reach discharge. Several times we stopped to play games. 

Saiba talked about building a Co-Counselling Community in The Gambia. There was a tremendous amount of interest. (People might have still been skeptical about some aspects of RC: “Are you really shaking, or is that pretend?” “Yawning! What’s that about?” But there was enough common ground to go forward.) 

The workshop participants seemed to have a more rational attitude toward RC than I usually find here in the United Kingdom, where ideas are commodities and we are bombarded with distractions and become cynical in self defense. I am thrilled to be part of this project. 

Caroline New

Bristol, England

Reprinted from the e-mail discussion 
list for RC Community members

(Present Time 189, October 2017)

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00