Posts Tagged With: Language

Learning Activism in Mongolia

sasa-logo-300x145 The organization that I’m working for just held a three day workshop on preventing violence against women, using training methodology developed by a Ugandan NGO called Raising Voices. SASA is a Kiswahili word that means now, and in the training context it’s also an acronym for Start Awareness Support Action. Here’s where you can get more specific information about how it works, but in general the methodology considers positive and negative uses of power, starting with participants’ personal experiences. There’s a real emphasis on taking action and avoiding what Raising Voices astutely describes as “the chronic cycle of awareness-raising.”

I’ve participated in a lot of similar workshops over the years, and this was one of the best, even in translation. The SASA structure is very well done: the progression of activities and information makes sense to bring people along. And the facilitators were great at generating discussion and contextualizing the exercises for Mongolia, where domestic violence is a big problem. IMG_0831I was glad to have the opportunity to learn about SASA, because conducting these workshops is a big part of “my” NGO’s work and understanding the methodology will help me help them with planning and fundraising. Personally, workshops are also a great way for me to learn about a country and what civil society is doing. There were representatives from two ethnic minority organizations, the LGBT center, multiple women’s organizations, the homeless services center, a children’s rights organization and a group that advocates for access to education. These are exactly the people I want to meet here, and it was so interesting to hear about their work.

However…I certainly miss a lot by not understanding Mongolian. One of my colleagues translates for me at meetings, and she’s great, but translation is really hard, and I usually settle for getting the gist of what’s said. Which means I missed nuance and pretty much all the jokes, plus I was unable to do the simple task of counting off when we divided into smaller groups. (Mongolian is a hard language, but I have to learn to count at least to five, if not ten. Right now I only know the word for one, which is embarrassing.) We also laugh about how I’m regularly surprised about what’s happening next.

The third morning we were telling what we’d learned the previous day and tossing a ball from one speaker to the next. One woman dropped the ball, and my translator whispered to me that now she’d need to sing. She stood up and said something like, “I am a product of the Soviet system, and people who went to university only studied. Other people were workers, and I chose singing.” She then casually sang a song a cappella in a beautiful, classically trained voice. Oh, my god, amazing — I had chills listening to her, just there in a nondescript hotel meeting room. Applause, and then we continued on to the next speaker, while I was left assuming that everyone else already knew her background and talent. As I say, constant surprises.

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