Dear Loved Colleagues,
I remember the day I learnt what I was going to be growing up. It was July 2009 and I was walking the streets of Nablus, West Bank (Palestine). I had spent the day doing a photography workshop in Askar refugee camp: the sun was setting with all of its stunning lights, I was sweaty and tired, I was in heaven.
That summer, I had managed to create an extraordinary experience for myself. I had designed a small project and approached a local organization, Project Hope, which had agreed to host my month-long workshop on cultural dialogue. It was no ordinary summer job and I had never felt so alive. I felt present, ‘with it’. I had no idea what I was going to do with the feeling.
Since then lots has changed. I dove into the stinky field of international development. I made mistakes. I studied, criticized, reflected. An experience decorated with laughter, endless Google docs, workshops across +10 countries, proposals, bucket showers, flip charts, lost socks, ego-deflating moments and countless hours of work.
I would not be who I am today without Recrear. In many ways, Recrear has been the guinea pig of my emotional, intellectual and spiritual development.
At the heart of Recrear is creating experiences of intercultural learning and reflection. Our mission is to empower young people to take ownership of their community by expanding the spaces where alternative ways of living can emerge . We work to recreate what community means for us.
In the back of our mind we have been hatching big dilemmas on how to transform international development into a field that promotes mutual learning across cultures and un-patronizing knowledge exchange. Our experimenting with different ideas led us to a methodology that, we then discovered, had a name: participatory action research. We develop and play with this methodology, making it more fun so it can suit young people.
What we have learned is that to be able to create transformational environments for other young people we need to be able to experience such transformation within our organization. Every year, Recrear Magnify, our annual conference, marks a moment of profound personal growth for me. Living, working, cooking and playing with a group of 15 people from all over the world for two weeks is a nerve wracking exercise. Magnify always tests my boundaries. It always tickles the ego. For two weeks, we share a rollercoaster ride. In the ups, and in the inevitable downs, people’s colors show. Dark sides, professionalism, deep silliness, collaborative nature, warmth, insecurity, paranoia and creative gems all come out to play. Each person manages the rollercoaster in the best way they possibly can: bringing their story, their ethos, and their nature into a jambalaya of personalities. People stop being Canadian, Moroccan, Italian, white, black or purple. We become unexpected combinations of incongruences and depth, an eclectic collection of unique characters.
“Each person manages the rollercoaster in the best way they possibly can: bringing their story, their ethos, and their nature into a jambalaya of personalities”
A crucial part of the two-week training on participatory research is the ability to stay with the experience. In this way, we are learning how to do research by researching ourselves.
RecrearMagnify 2015 was a soul-petting bubble of joy and learning for me. So I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on what I have learned:
Reality is co-created. In a discussion on participatory research, Peter Reason states that ‘the process of perceiving is also a meeting, a transaction, with what there is’. Our experience does not simply exist individually: we co-create it. We do so by being ‘engaged’. What does engaged mean? In an article titled ‘The Spiritual Architecture of Organizations’, Nilsson explains that ‘colloquially, when we say we feel engaged, we mean that we are connected in a relatively deep and ultimately positive way to what we are experiencing. We feel present. We feel interested. We feel part of.’ The Magnify experience is shaped from this space. So during Magnify we don’t only embody who we are: we re-create ourselves.
We explore different ways knowing. How do we know what we know? Participatory research stresses that ‘knowing’ happens in different forms. Magnify reminds me every time of something very profound to me: I know through experiences. When I feel connected, present, tuned in, I know. Reason writes that knowing happens ‘through participative, empathic resonance with a being’ allowing for the ‘co-creative shaping of a world through mutual encounter’. He concludes that ‘experiential knowing thus articulates reality through inner resonance with what there is, and is the essential grounding of other forms of knowing’.
How do you share deep experiences with others? At Magnify, we play a lot with the creative ways of sharing what we live: photos, videos, poetry and theatre. Whatever we can get. Creativity allows experience to resonate without loosing color – without paraphrasing. We use creativity because it makes it easier to express and share a bite of our lived experience.
Reflexivity: the process of learning cannot be separated from the ‘I’ reflecting on your learning. Reflexivity means that each of us is both a teacher and a learner. I hope to be hearing more reflections on Magnify, and that Recrear can keep connecting more dots to create a community where we deepen into ourselves. I feel such introspection is the prerequisite to change the way we see the world. Once we changed our perspective, we have basically changed how the world ‘is’.
Conflict? Sure! Magnify is not a smooth blissful ride. As I said, it feels more like a rollercoaster. But as we bump on challenges, seeing conflict as an opportunity for coming closer together changes the meaning we assign to those hard moments.
Accepting reflexivity as part of our organization also means that we are accepting that we are all on the same path of self discovering and that we are willing to have honest conversations with ourselves and others so that we can build more authentic relationships. It means that we can feel bad, that we can accept that our feelings can change, that we can forgive others and ourselves. It means that we can transcend our thoughts, and not succumb to our needy egos.
I realized that I have been ‘doing’ Magnify – I have been fully immersed in the experience. Taking a step back and writing about it is a whole other deal. I hope this will be a conversation starter, and that through our reflections we can socialize the meanings and lessons learned from our experiences with Recrear.