Written by: Susan Gage, Initiative Lead – Guatemala
How do we Canadian volunteers – most of us white westerners – decolonize our own thinking? None of us thinks we’re racist, but are we sensitive to the privilege and power we bear when we come into our partner communities with promises of money and support for community projects? And how well do we communicate with our community partners, whose values and ways of communicating may be different from ours?
On May 15, a group of ICO Initiative Leads and others came together on Zoom to wrestle with these issues. We broke into breakout rooms, and discussed 3 video clips:
- White Privilege (5 min.): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oI1h4maz2z0
- On Microaggression (2 min.): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDd3bzA7450
- High and Low Context Cultures (3 min.): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-ZWNy6vyfw
Each of these clips had a message designed to shake us up a bit and examine our own assumptions.
Then we moved on to consider situations of culture-clash, in which we found ourselves a) wanting to be sensitive to community priorities and values, but b) also wanting to be responsive to our own values and those of donors.
Again, we hit the breakout rooms, and then came back for a group debrief. Lots of ideas emerged. Here are some of the main themes:
- Many of the people we work with come from high-context cultures, where communication is more based on context and relationship, and is less direct than the communication style we’re used to. So take time to listen. Develop relationships.
- Curiosity and questioning – see the Importance of suspending judgement, looking for the nugget, being curious, keeping ears open and mouth shut.
- Shared responsibility/resources in projects – the community should contribute as well.
- There is so much wisdom in ICO to be shared. This is an important journey. We should do more of this and consider how to share what we’ve learned with each other and others outside ICO.
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