Connecting local responses around the world
August 2011- Chiangmai, Thailand...Constellation’s Global Support team meeting is on, mid morning...with Jean Louis, Marlou, Gaston, Phil, Laurence We have faced the economic recession, are a bit low. As we discuss the coming year I spring an idea... I wish to meet all the Constellation friends face-to-face... how much energy it will give us. I almost took back my words...was it a far-fetched idea? When I saw everyone’s faces lit up...I knew we could nourish this dream. That is how Global Learning Festival generated. Within weeks, Siaap offered to host it in India and then there was no looking back.
A year later............................
Nov 11 2012- I woke up and realised that what I had been dreaming off was just a week away. I had taken on the gigantic task of coordinating the GLF... seven days to go, overburdened with work coupled with stress of my course assignments I wondered if I had taken on more than I could chew. Moreover, could we pull it through...would my friends who were joining the event like it...there were so many questions in my mind. I kept tossing and turning the whole night...
Nov 30 2012, now a few days later as I look back on the last 15 months I have many emotions and reflections. What was striking for me in this experience?
Preparations took more than a year, a journey where we worked with our heart. We did not see the festival as a Constellation event, we were connecting local responses, strengthening a movement. It’s a celebration, we can call it a Learning Festival, said Jean Louis.
As early as October 2011, we sent out an email asking for volunteers. Soon there was an international team, which helped in developing concept note and invitation. On X’mas eve I got the draft note from Namara...yes that was the commitment. First draft of the concept note was ready by Jan 2012. Meanwhile we fixed the dates and booked the venue by Nov 20th 2011 a year before the event. That is how we got good rates. We chose Mahabalipuram for its reasonable accommodation and proximity to international airport. Weather in November would be cool and yet not so near the December holiday season.
Who would come was the big question. I met Ruben in Nov’11 and he confirmed his participation for the event... the first confirmation. Would we make it to 10 participants? I asked JL. “I would be there; you would be there with Siaap team so we would have an international event, right? Jean Louis joked.
We thought that the event would be limited to Constellation facilitators but more we shared several people showed interest. We decided to make it open to everyone who had something to share and learn. There were no donors but we knew that we could not expect everyone to fund their travel. A team for fundraising came up around April 2012.
Slowly a group of people from India came forward to support me. Interestingly they had no background of Community life competence but resonated with the idea. My phone was constantly ringing. Ash accompanying me to meet people and trying to get airfare concessions, Sanjeev Jain with so many valuable suggestions and Roy sending out invitations...what more could I want! Rafique was in Chennai to discuss with the Siaap team. Global Support Team meeting at Belgium in July 2012 gave some concrete shape to the event agenda.
As the event drew near, we worked towards facilitation of the event, which we wanted to be as participatory as possible. Therefore, we worked on teams with participants for facilitation of the process, documentation team, photo documentation team, and cultural team. I was fortunate to get help from Living Bridges team who advised me how to bridge this event with other similar international events. We also thought of ways to engage people who wanted to come but could not attend.
Meanwhile with 10 weeks to go I was working very closely with Siaap team, which had superwoman Lalitha who led the logistics team. I aimed at virtual meetings with most participants before they joined us at the event. In the last three weeks, I was clocking 5-6 Skype meetings every day:-)
What was special about the Global Learning Festival?
We practised SALT in the agenda. Emphasis was to encourage every participant to share and learn. I remember when we were discussing the agenda initially we had a session on storytelling where the facilitator would speak on ‘what was storytelling’. Jean Louis gave us another lesson on SALT when he said we would not teach/preach on storytelling. And that is how it happened- participants learned from each other the techniques of storytelling.
Are we human? – This exercise Jean Louis and Indu pulled off beautifully. It set the tone for the entire event. One of the corporate sector participant shared with me how he had forgotten to be human in corporate settings:-). So, the lesson learned was that we might try a dozen ways of facilitation but the essential element for a successful Knowledge Fair is creating an appreciative, environment, which will inculcate sharing. Aha moment for me was when a very emotional Boris, from corporate sector in Holland shared the lesson of resilience he had learned from a sex worker.
With more than 130 participants and 10 languages, there was meticulous planning and preparation. We were flexible with the agenda and made changes to the process every day. Of course, we could have done many ways better.
Diversity of the participants- we had people from communities, NGOs, UN, private sector. Titles and background did not matter. The event clearly brought out that inspite of our external differences we are alike in our heart and emotions. Loli who brought her daughter Jessica to the event observed that with formal education, non-formal immersion is very critical for youth. “I want my daughter to be exposed to appreciative way of thinking early in her life”
SALT visits leave a deep impression and this time they yet again trigged a thinking process. The 400 kms on bus were they worth it. Why did we choose to go all the way? Siaap has worked with these communities and to see the impact we could go a few miles, which Siaap team travels several times a year. I compare the environment in my own bus when we were on our way to the SALT visit and back. On our return, the group was brimming with energy. SALT visit had some transformed us into a family. 12 teams of 15 people each with 13 vehicles for SALT visits. Hours, Marlou and I laboured to get the people in appropriate groups keeping in mind -language, CLC experience, mixed nationality groups had paid off.
Last but not the least, cultural evening was a fun-filled bonanza, we enjoyed even more because we performed ourselves. The evening was also a good break for the intense sessions we had the previous days. Cultural working group and Mahesh had anchored this beautifully.
Welcome dinner, morning exercises, GLF song, the calm, green venue with the sea in the vicinity, the volunteers who came forward all added to making this event so very special.
Philip Forth commented- "For me, the Market Place was superbly implemented in the Global Learning Festival. The Siaap team had overnight transformed the car park into a market with colourful stalls. Here people went shopping with communities visiting other communities to share and learn...
Earlier in a knowledge we would encourage sharing experiences around the practices of life competence. Here we removed the constraint of practices and saw the release of energy when people shared their experience of Local Response."
Says Marlou- Twenty four hours a day the sharing was ongoing. There was sharing in the official programme, in the meeting room, with the community during the SALT visit and during the colorful market place. But also outside the official programme we just could not stop.The combination of the programme and the setting certainly stimulated that. We continued exchaninging during the meals, in the mini-van, during evening walks on the beach and in our shared room.
Heartfelt gratitude and thanks to everyone in the Siaap team, Global Support team, and all the working group members. GLF in nutshell proved that “No one can whistle a symphony; it takes a whole orchestra to play it”
I conclude with Jan and Susanne’s GLF poem
We are learning, we are sharing
How about you? How about you?
Shall we come together? Shall we come together?
Where and when? Where and when?
Meanwhile I have attached a document with lyrics and transliteration of the GLF song. Enjoy! CLCP%20Theme%20Song%20Tamil.docx
Here is a quote from Jan Somers who works in the business sector in Belgium and attended the event with his wife May. The Global Learning Festival was indeed a "festival". Not unlike many conferences with keynote speakers and powerpoints, but more like a "large group intervention" whereby all participants actively participated in the learningprocess. This was achieved by connecting, sharing, appreciating, listening, dreaming, visiting, ... The visit to communities and paying them a visit was an intriging learning experience as well. For me appreciative inquiry, strengthbased approaches, coaching, and above all, human connection came all together in this global learning festival.