Yemeni participation in the International Human Rights Training Program 2005A place that lives in you once you stop living in it [Archives:2005/857/Reportage]

July 7 2005

By Sawsan Al Refai
Development Consultant,
Girls World Communication Center
Montreal Canada
For Yemen Times

It was only a year ago when I was in the same place I am in now, namely Ste-Anne de Bellevue, Montreal, Canada representing Yemeni Human Rights NGOs in the International Human Rights Training Program (IHRTP) funded by the Canadian Human Rights Foundation (CHRF).

I am so fortunate to be back, but this year as a co-trainer representing the Middle East Region.

I would like to give a brief idea on the program because I strongly believe it is an opportunity and a once-in-a-life experience that all Yemeni Human rights workers dream of and deserve. IHRTP provides a unique opportunity for human rights workers such as myself to deepen their understanding of human rights and of the essential role of human rights education in effecting social change. Through its different sessions and activities that participants are engaged in, it strengthens the capacity of the human rights organizations they represent to undertake human rights education activities (e.g., training, awareness campaigns, information dissemination, and advocacy). It mainly aims at building a global culture of human rights. Furthermore, IHRTP enables participating organizations to undertake more effective human rights education activities. What is unique about this program is that it places a strong emphasis on the transfer of learning and on follow-up activities.

The participatory and interactive nature of the program allows participants to draw on not only the vast knowledge of our instructors but to draw on and benefit from the experiences and opinion of their peers. Participants and facilitators commit themselves to indulge in a process of mutual teaching and learning. The emphasis is on practical application and on the development of strategies for action. I prepared an action plan before I left Canada, and it was implemented soon after my arrival in Yemen. The action plan was to conduct a similar (training of trainers) program for youth utilizing the training methods employed at IHRTP alongside my own training methods, which in turn has transformed the my training into a more motivating, humanizing, and ultimately practical process.

IHRTP was an important turning point regarding my perception of human rights issues. I grew to learn that to question the universality of human rights values is not offensive but rather inspiring. Culture is not an obstacle but a tool for HRE. Although the program is primarily aimed at a global audience, it invariably takes us to our cultural roots. One is repeatedly compelled to think, argue, analyze and compare the basics of his/her collective being. It is a chance of a life time to see our culture from beyond, and to be proud if it yet to be able to impartially criticize it.

I gained a better understanding of globalization and was able to convey it to my trainees and colleagues back home. I know now that we may be affected by what others in other countries do, but not necessarily share their same burdens and benefits.

Furthermore, through the open space provided for me as a participant last year and as a co-facilitator this year, I had an opportunity to reflect on and discuss with IHRTP colleagues from different countries issues that always has been critical for me as a person who believes that Human Rights and Islam are not incompatible. These discussions emphasized my understanding that religions provide us with basis of tolerance, humility and respect to those we disagree with rather than the contrary.

IHRTP was able to bring me closer to those in the region. I built excellent relations with IHRTP alumni from the Middle East and we were successful to establish a network that aims to organize regional Training of Trainers workshops for activists and educators in the Arabic speaking countries of the Middle East in partnership with CHRF.

Now in its 26th year, this annual three-week program brings together over 120 participants from approximately 60 countries. Among which was a group of outstanding who Arab participants joined the new patch of IHRTP. Two Yemeni participants are participating in IHRTP this year, one of which is Hanan Hobeishi, 26 years old, who is heading the human rights circle in the Green Party, Yemen. She shared with other human rights educators and activists from around the world the major human rights concerns in Yemen, such as violations against women, child, and political rights. IHRTP provided her with a universal sense of human rights yet with an awareness of her cultural reality. She says she will conduct training for young females in Yemen using IHRTP methodology and approach. Zainab Abdulnabi, 22-year old journalist is the editor of the human rights page in the daily Wasatt Bahraini newspaper. She works for promoting rights of torture victims and all forms of discrimination against religious minorities in Bahrain. IHRTP provided her with a better understanding of and new methods for Human Rights education. Zena Taher, 28 years old, represents Amal Association based in Iraq. She works in the field of disabled children rights. She plans to use skills learned in IHRTP to conduct a training program for teenage students in Iraq on conflict resolution and peace building.

It is amazing how the Yemeni and Arab group soon after their arrival integrated into the global society of IHRTP. Many relations were established among the Arab members and with other participants from other countries. Niamatullah Ibrahimi, a 25 year old researcher from Afghanistan said that he has established good relations with the participants from the Middle East region. He said that IHRTP was an excellent opportunity to meet Arab participants and discuss with them the human rights situation in the region and its impact on his country. Diversity provided in IHRTP, in his opinion, broadened his prospective and will definitely have a positive influence on his human rights work in Afghanistan.

There is a general consensus that the training program, which covered topics that may have been available elsewhere, was designed and implemented in a way that made every minute spent in this place worthwhile. The magic of this program lies not only within the manuals or books but deep inside the hearts and minds of the people who work on making the dream of many HR educators come true, namely the course coordinators and facilitators.

It is worth mentioning that the broader IHRTP alumni network formed of the 128 participants of IHRTP 2004 demonstrated great value as a tool of solidarity with one of our Middle East participants, Abdul Hadi AL Khawaja, who was arrested in Bahrain early October. The petitions and letters sent by the IHRTP alumni and all the people they have contacted definitely had to do with the Pardon that Hadi was granted shortly after his arrest.

As a Human Rights Educator, I pass through very frustrating moments – and I have had a lot of those. But, from now on, whenever I feel so down, at least there is this memory that I can recall and reflect on, and there are many secret friends whom I can be inspired by The moments of dancing, singing, acting, laughing and mourning that we shared have individually planted a seed of hope and persistence in my heart.

If so many persons from around the world were able to overcome all their cultural and ideological differences and have a dialogue of love for humanity, cultural harmony and peace and devotion to a cause of improving the worldwide understanding of essential human rights, then certainly this world will somehow, someday become a better place!

IHRTP is a place that starts living in you once you stop living in it!