|By Jane Larsson, CIS Executive Director|
I’m just back to Leiden after leading child protection workshops with our team of experts in three cities with vastly different cultures. Our journey last month began in Nairobi, went on to Dubai and finished in Beijing. The presentations and conversations were riveting, as usual, but moving from one distinct culture to another in close succession was jarring.
So many memories are swirling in my mind. Overall, I came home feeling encouraged and impressed because I discovered a common willingness to engage on this challenging topic - across cultures, particularly those that have been traditionally closed to the subject of child abuse.
One moment stands out in my mind - a fully veiled Saudi school leader taking the microphone in Dubai to explain the difficulty of conducting background checks on women in Saudi Arabia. “Undertaking this action would dishonor women in my culture. You need to understand this.”, she said. Her eyes were bright behind her mask, showing her spirit...the room of mostly western school leaders sat in silence as they learned perspective from this dynamic Saudi woman.
Why do our workshops make such an impact on participants? Something distinctly powerful happens to shift your thinking when you sit in a theatre, the lights go down, and a video appears of an interview with a teacher who begins to coldly and dispassionately describe, in detail, how he manipulated us as school colleagues, his students and their parents, to think that he was a wonderful human being, who cared about kids, when everything he did was to bring him to a moment when he could be alone with a child and abuse him.
I’ve led and listened at nine of these workshops over the last two years, and these videos don’t get easier to hear or absorb. Most educators leave the workshop wondering how they will explain what they learned to their colleagues back at school so they too can even begin to understand the breadth of this behavior.
How can I adequately share these experiences with you? It’s probably better to use the voices of those who were there.
From Dhahran – You can't unsee, unhear, or unknow what you learn during the course of a few days and it will guide your decisions forever more.
From Amman - This past weekend, while not the most uplifting and fun, was so beneficial. I feel like we have some good systems in place and has done a good job developing our policies and procedures but I am walking away with 22 to do items that will guide my work as we get better at preventing and protecting.
From Nairobi - When a student comes in after more than 4 years and tells that she was molested by her teacher who had resigned, and he is not available now. How do we deal with a case like this?
One of the most important aspects of our work has been to seek out and include governmental officials, to encourage them to attend the workshops, to take part in the conversation, where we all learn from each other and of actions educators and local authorities are taking to address abuse and ensure student well-being.
What are our biggest challenges?
- This is a massive educational initiative.
- Different cultural norms in addressing abuse remain the biggest hurdle in reporting. But changes are happening:
The well-being agenda is at the top of the list in many locations. In Dubai, the local education authority, KHDA, has this purpose:
We support schools, universities, parents, students, educators, investors and government partners to create a high quality education sector focused on happiness and well-being.
KHDA officials attended and supported the workshop, taking time to directly address concerns expressed by international teachers that they would not be able to provide comprehensive relationship and sexuality education to their students: “Work with us and we will help you to frame these topics”.
For now, I’ll close with a voice from China. Last week, I was looking at the daily report that lists each time CIS is mentioned in the news. At the top:
It was written by Jian Sun, a teacher from Beijing City International School, who attended our workshop in Beijing. She wrote and reflected on her experience, sent it to a Chinese colleague who posted it in ‘WeChat’ where it was picked up by Chinese papers.
Workshop presentations in Beijing
- Child protection
- Networking & learning