Digging Deeper

Brittany Steckel reflects on Day 3 of the European YWCA Study Session 

Can you understand someone or their needs until you step into their shoes? This has been but one emphasis during the study session. There have been some brief informational sessions as well as longer interactive sessions to help participants learn about and connect with the deeper issues. While the informational sessions provide some basis for further discussions, the interactive sessions have provided opportunities for the group to connect emotionally with the topics discussed. Both have played an important role in the dynamics of the study session and expanded perspectives for the group.

During one interactive session a few people were asked to take on the role of refugees from a small tight-knit community island who suffered devastating effects of a hurricane. These refugees came from a society which emphasized harmony and limited discomfort and disagreement. The other participants took on the role of inhabitants of a larger island. On the larger island, diversity in opinion and choice was very important, but there was a problem with violence and animosity between groups. When these two groups met there was a lot of confusion not only from a lack of information about the needs (immediate and long-term) of the refugees, but also about how to understand the perspective of the other group members. After enacting the initial meeting of the groups, time was fast forwarded by a year and other problems had arisen in the group dynamics including increasing animosity towards the refugees and hate speech. Throughout the exercise, the values of the two groups clashed and there was a lot of misguided or confused perceptions of one population for the other.

This experience was very enlightening for me as I had never taken on the role or perspective of a refugee previously. It was challenging to attempt a new mindset with values emphasized to such a great degree that are not valued half as much in my culture background. All participants then felt the tension of miscommunication and found it difficult to understand the other group without jumping to conclusions preemptively. The main lessons learned in this exercise were to begin conversations with refugees and migrants about their wants and needs, for they should be given a voice and have an understanding about what their needs better than anyone. Furthermore, there is a need to share a common goal and thus the dynamic must be shaped by both parties coming together to first determine and then solve the issue at large. Lastly, other perspectives may provide wisdom that will benefit one’s culture, yet there needs to be an openness to learn and engage with others in order to glimpse such wisdom. For example, the small island refugees could help the larger island inhabitants learn about respect for others and the value of common community. However, the larger island inhabitants could help the refugees learn about discussions and how to engage with opposing viewpoints. Both groups have something to gleam from discussion and interaction with the other group.

A second interactive activity was to imagine a world map on the floor of the room and to have participants move around the world in the following ways. The first round, the participants were asked to move according to where they lived (for periods of three months or longer) each year of their life. After beginning the same way, the second round had those living in western Europe and the Americas at age 16 were told that their home was no longer safe and to move to safety over the course of three years. Lastly, again after beginning as we had lived our own lives, those in Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia were told their homes were no longer safe and to move to safety over the course of three years. This experience not only enlightened members about forced verses chosen movement but provided everyone with physical movement to better attune to the issues at hand. Everyone had different ways they processed their original movement and then the forced movement which was then captured in icons and images created by all participants.

The experiences at the study session has given me a lot of insight into the problems migrant and refugee women face and have allowed me to personalize the issues. I have not had to think previously about what it would be like if my own home was suddenly made unsafe, and thus was surprised to find that I would not have a plan to follow in such a case. I am privileged in that way. Yet this allowed me to glimpse at a surface level the impact such movement of necessity has had on others, including other attendees. I hope to now be able to better communicate and understand the issues at hand, and to connect with those who have faced such situations in my own community.


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