We have trained our first group of volunteers, and I could not be more proud. They’re trained. They’re trained! Now even if everything else falls apart, if something prevents me from doing any more work, if there’s a hartal every single day for the rest of the year – they’re trained!
Scheduling the training was a hot mess, in all honesty. Every time we made a decision, something happened and we had to change it. Coordinating those changes with the twelve trainees was just…a hot mess. For me personally, at the beginning this was wildly frustrating. Near the end, though, we’d last-minute-changed things so many times I became more able to laugh about it. Thinking about it now, last weekend was an almost comically difficult weekend to pull off a training session. (Did we do it? Of course! What sword, this is but my dagger!) The radical Islamist group Hefajot-e-Islam (who try and pretend they’re not connected to Jamaat but who are they kidding) was marching into Dhaka from Chittagong and rallying in Motijheel on Saturday. Over 25 organizations, including the Ghatak-Dalal Nirmul Committee, called for a strike from 6pm on Friday to 6pm on Saturday to oppose this rally. People began to gather again at the Ganajagoron Mancha at Shahbag.
And there we were, wanting to train. Cranky as I am at having to repeatedly cancel training sessions, my worst nightmare is something happening to one of our volunteers because they attempted to get to a KPR event when the city was unsafe. I would basically never be able to live with myself ever again. One the one hand, it might seem ridiculous to try and work on a weekend like this. On the other hand, everyone is beginning to become frustrated with the lack of productivity the repeated hartals are causing, a strike by these organizations is not likely to be violent, Motijheel is far away from our training location, and everyone is very, very eager to train. Rozy, Hammad and I went back and forth over and over on Thursday evening, and ultimately decided to go ahead with Friday at least, end before the strike was supposed to begin, and take it from there.
As it turned out, Friday training was WONDERFUL. Anyone who has ever furrowed their brows and crinkled their noses and said to me, “Will people in Bangladesh volunteer? They won’t,” – well, you are just wrong. I could not have asked for a sweeter, more dedicated and enthusiastic first group of volunteers. I am so, so proud.
At the end of Friday, we had put aside half an hour to figure out whether or not we would continue training on Saturday. Hammad asked for a show of hands for people who wanted to come. Everyone’s hand went up. I whispered to him that maybe he should make it clear that even though we were happy to train, they should consider the political situation, think about their own safety, etc. etc., before they committed. Secretly of course hoping that they would still want to come. So then Hammad made an impressive, frightening speech about everything that could potentially happen the next day that, honestly, probably would have scared me off if I was a volunteer at a brand-new organization.
And then he asked them again, for a show of hands. Despite the fact that ANYthing could happen the next day, how many people wanted to come?
Every hand went up.
You see, this is why we will be okay. I do not fear for the future of Kaan Pete Roi, or, for that matter, the future of my country.
Saturday’s training was even more fun. Despite the fact that the day was very tense and sobering news kept coming in. We decided again to let people go earlier than planned, and complete the pieces we couldn’t cover when they come in for their first shift. Again, I cannot say enough how wonderful everyone was. Cheerful and engaged; insightful, thoughtful questions; taking the role plays and running with them. The experience of working with them was fascinating for me. At Samaritans in Boston, both the training I attended and when I ran bits of the training myself later on – we would have to push volunteers to agree to do a role play in front of the group, and they were usually kind of embarrassed and awkward. I remember feeling terribly embarrassed and awkward myself. And this is in front of small groups of 4 or 5. At our training, we didn’t have time to split off and do role plays in small groups (I’m going to work with them on this individually later before they actually start taking calls) so each person just went ahead and did it in front of all twelve trainees. But no one had a moment’s hesitation. I’d say, who wants go to next, and hands would go up all over the room.
Hammad spoke to them beautifully to thank them all for being there and let them know how much it means to us that they are our first group. (And I’m glad he did, I sure am not one for inspirational speeches.) We gave everyone a KPR training completion certificate – they’re training isn’t QUITE done, but close enough and we’re not too nitpicky. We took a gorgeous group photo that I’ve only looked at about a thousand times with a fresh burst of joy since Saturday. I won’t put it up here because I don’t want the volunteers’ identities to be public unless they make them public themselves, but it’s a great photo of everyone holding their certificate and grinning.
It isn’t just that we’ve run our first training session, finally. It’s the fact that these kids came and worked and did it through a potentially very dangerous time. I keep thinking about how casually I got on the subway in Boston in the morning and the evening to go to my Befriending training. The most dangerous thing that might have happened was me spilling my latte on myself. And how very different it has been here. The risks that each of these kids ran to get there. I am so, so proud.
And realizing, with a thrill, that I am going to learn more from these guys than they are ever going to learn from me.
(…Just to complete the story of the weekend, once we let everyone go, my parents picked up Rozy, Hammad and I and we all went to the Gonojagoron Mancha at Shahbag. The atmosphere there was pretty agitated, given the situation of the day. We joined the crowd, calling out slogans and talking to people we knew. Pranto Bhai and his peeps showed up and joined us. Soon after we got there, members of the Hefajot-e-Islam attempted to attack the Shahbag group. We were all sitting down when this happened, and the way you know that something is happening is not so much because you see it but because there’s a sudden rush of activity. Just movement. Agitation. People immediately start getting to their feet. Everyone starts running around. There was a rush of movement towards where the Hefajot were coming from. We didn’t know exactly what was happening – it’s really hard to tell what’s going on in that kind of crowd, and it’s not quite clear where you should go or what you should do. Rozy and I had an intense grip on each other’s fingers, but I don’t think it occurred to any of us there that we should run away. My parents are the last people in the world to run away from something like this, and with people like Hammad around it doesn’t occur to me to be worried about my safety. So we just stood there, shouting the slogans. I nonsensically think if I’m loud enough, the Hefajot people will be able to hear me. Not just hear the crowd, but hear me, specifically. They didn’t get near us, of course, DU students and other Ganajagoron members chased them away. We were there at Shahbag for several hours after that. I’m never tired at Shahbag, but shouting slogans for four hours after having trained people for seven already is apparently tiring, and by the time Saturday was over I was very, very asleep.
How do I feel, about this Hefajot-e-Islam rally and their 13 demands? Particularly, their demands with regards to women? Not going to discuss it. I read this quotation recently, and I think it describes pretty accurately my feeling on them: “When you treat reprehensible and ludicrous arguments with respect you have elevated the reprehensible and made the ludicrous a bit more reasonable. Having a serious argument with a Nazi makes the horror of the Holocaust a debatable point. Don’t wrestle in the mud with pigs. You get dirty and the pig likes it.” – Jonah Goldberg)