Helen Lowe of Pilton Health Community Health Project shares her experience as a participant in Residential Training of the 2nd cohort of the Organising for Power Programme.
Inspiring, innovative, challenging, emotional, intense and stimulating. These are just some words that come to mind when thinking about my experience of the Organising for Power Tripod Training Retreat. The retreat involved eighteen participants (mainly from BME backgrounds) who came together to share their experiences of fighting for racial justice in their organisations to help strengthen the anti-racist movement in Scotland. The course took place over the course of six days at Wiston Lodge in Biggar. The beautiful scenery provided opportunities for reflection and respite from what was a thought-provoking and emotionally challenging experience.
The course was delivered in an engaging and innovative way using multiple delivery formats. There was a mixture of structured sessions and more informal spaces for open discussion. Role playing and a session which drew on ideas from the Theatre of the Oppressed also made the course more interactive. Role playing enabled us to apply some ideas from the course in practice. One of the key themes of the retreat was conflict resolution. We completed a session on giving and receiving feedback. After being given some pointers on how to effectively give and receive feedback, we role played such a situation. I found this helpful as it showed me how important it is start with a positive comment on the other person’s actions so they will be more receptive to constructive criticism. I enjoyed the activity which drew on the ideas of the Theatre of the Oppressed. We were put into groups and asked to make statues with our bodies that symbolised the words collaboration and conflict. This was a thought-provoking session which highlighted our ability to express complex ideas without words. The opportunity to have open space to discuss topics of interest was also useful. A group discussion on creating meaningful alliances resulted in us building a database of our organisations to encourage more collaboration in the future. A discussion of the role of allies also highlighted the importance of making sure everyone in your group is heard when developing a campaign plan.
Pillars of support
We were taught about a useful method for campaign planning which allows for consideration of the factors that contribute to the persistence of an issue. The ‘Pillars of support’ method invites you to identify one over-arching issue and then write down the factors that are creating and maintaining this problem. The ‘Pillars of support’ activity allowed me to think about the factors which contribute to of lack of access to services linked to health needs for BME people in my community. This activity helped me identify a key problem to use as the basis of a campaign plan. I decided to focus on the lack of training and awareness of health care professionals which can sometimes make access to health services difficult for people who do not speak English as their first language. The ‘Pillars of support’ activity helped me break down the issues at stake in relation to the main area of concern for my organisation (Pilton Community Health Project in Edinburgh). The idea is then if you tackle one or two of the causal factors it may have a knock-on effect and make other pillars less stable. This will lead to an eventual challenge of the status quo.
In conclusion, the experience as a whole was eye opening as it taught me more about the challenges faced by migrants and asylum seekers in Britain today. The retreat gave me the opportunity to consider issues such as barriers to accessing higher and further education for migrants. We also discussed the issue of deportation and had an emotional start to a day after hearing about a deportation that had just taken place to Jamaica. The course was a powerful reminder of the importance of having empathy for other people facing difficulties in life. This reason alone made the experience worthwhile. I left the retreat feeling tired but also hopeful that we can all make a difference through careful preparation of campaigns designed to tackle some of the factors that contribute to the existence of racism in society.