Travelogue 5: Culturally (In)Sensitive Training
Over the last several years there has been much conversation regarding culturally sensitive education and training. This trip is testing my training mettle, however, here are some seemingly universal truths about training.
Communication Styles Are Different (duh): Monday was my first faux pas. We kick off class by asking students to draw a picture of themselves, things important in their lives, and how much experience they have with sanitation training. They were asked to share this information with the class. Like any good trainer, I explained the activity. Then, I modeled the behavior showing a picture I had drawn and explaining it to the class. The first two students did the introduction as I had demonstrated, standing in their place and explaining their drawing. Soon after, other students started taking their pictures to each member, one by one, around the circle. They shared their picture and did their introductions 13 times! Introductions were soon going to take all day! I didn’t want to hurt their feelings by correcting them. Finally, I said, “Let’s stretch our legs.” I invited the remaining students to post their pictures on the wall and explain it to all of us at one time from a standing position. Clearly this is a culture that values direct, one-on-one communication. It will be challenging to get this group to do presentations, however, the ability to connect at an individual level is invaluable for a community organizer.
Students Love Games: My second day went a little better. We’d divided the large group into 4 smaller groups. The groups were asked to select a team name. Two of the groups selected football (soccer) team names. After our instruction for the day, I devised a review activity called “Name that Latrine.” I was pretty sure no one in the group was familiar with game shows (although I’ve seen plenty of satellite dishes on the lowliest of houses). I divided the group into two football teams. I posed the review question. If the soccer team got it right, they scored a goal. If they missed the question, the question went to the other team and they had a chance to score a goal. At each goal, we’d raise our hands in the air and yelled “goal”! The teams were fiercely competitive and you would have thought they were playing a real football game.
Students Complain: At the end of each day, we ask the students to provide a review of the day; what went well, what could be improved. Even in Zambia, the number one complaint was about the snack. They didn’t like the cookies. These were chocolate chip cookies made by our Zambian “chef.s” Oh, and they didn’t like the types of drinks. Argh! These are also my least favorite types of training comments I receive at work in the United States. A wise person once told me that complaints are a gift. A starving person is grateful for any type of food. People’s basic needs are met when they can complain.
Students are Smarter Than the Teacher: Another student suggestion for improving the class was to sing a song between each section to signify its completion. Well, okay. The Africans love to sing. They riff back and forth. Different voices will take the lead. They harmonize. It is beautiful. As I’m writing this the Seeds of Hope team is starting their business day with song. We started doing songs between sections. The Zambians took the lead. We sang worship songs. We sang silly songs. We did an African children’s song dancing in a circle. By the end of the game the cannibals end up in the middle of the circle! All were sung in Bimba until I taught them the Hokey-pokey. We laughed. It was energizing. It helped us bond.
Finally, I am still learning. I have been in training and education for over 15 years. I still forget what I should know. Fortunately, my students are teaching me with grace, and humor.