Sunday, June 18, 2006

Celebration & challenge

Yesterday I spoke to Quakers in Woking about Never Again as part of a day called Africa: Celebration and Challenge.

While I was there to talk about peacebuilding and reconciliation, the other speakers created an very varied programme. We heard about Quaker practice in Kenya, where there are more Friends than anywhere else in the world, from Hazel Morris who worked in Zimbabwe for 2 months last year and Robin Robison who lobbies huge international institutions for fairer trade and debt relief.

There were connections at many points. Hazel Morris painted a bleak picture of Zimbabwe, where people feel, she said 'very, very isolated'. On an international level the country is isolated, which is why the currency has been able to collapse where inother countries it would have been rescued by the IMF to avoid scenes reminiscent of 1930s Germany. Money needs to be transported in huge bags and nobody can predict prices or goods supplies from week to week.

The school at which Hazel taught operates a feeding programme for all the children and she said that many children had no food over the weekend - these children came in on Monday quiet and apathetic.

Just as Hitler was defended for his strong leadership, so Mugabe is now defended by many Africans who may be letting their anger at the West blind them to the cost of his failure to protect people.

In Kenya church-going is an occupation that takes all Sunday as people socialise and study the Bible. Nairobi has silent (unprogrammed) and programmed evangelical Meetings running in parallel so that people can join the worship they prefer for as long as they feel comfortable.

Various people at the talk were able to offer advice - and in many cases their children! - to Never Again. A Kenyan member of a London Meeting suggested that we work with the Friends Committee for Consultation, who have an office in Nairobi. Another Kenyan said that there is a lot of tribal conflict that still needed addressing and that Never Again's ideas would be welcome there.

In Britain, it was suggested that the Woodcraft Folk might make good partners, I know them from my childhood but hadn't realised they run projects around the world. Other connections were suggested that could see us reaching out to India and the Middle East.

The day was inspiring and its high attendance showed the level of interest in Africa and the willingness of Quakers here to reach out and learn more from their African Friends, Quakers or not.

Quakers in Britain have already supported Never Again generously, specifically helping to fund our Kigali office and a meeting between clubs. I hope we can call on them for help and support in the future - we have a lot to learn from their strong structures, core beliefs and practices like discernment and, in the words of George Fox 'Walking cheerfully over the word, seeing that of God in everyone'.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Never Again wiki now has over 100 registered users! Exciting as this is, the challenge now is to turn more of them into active participants, in the wiki and Never Again’s work as a whole, which is why they came in the first place (apart from the spammers, of course).

I was able to catch an interesting discussion last night on open source & non-profits with Boris Mann from Bryght. Since I don’t entirely understand exactly what Open Source covers, I was pleased when the conversation turned to wikis and how to involve volunteers in the tasks needed.

Never Again is a very empowering network and the wiki has a lot of potential (as I have been saying for nearly a year now). But it is hard to communicate to people that they really can be bold on it, that it is a place for collaboration, for adding ideas, for brainstorming. But the wiki is just one of our tools and it has become clear that it doesn’t function effectively as a way of channelling action, for that other tools are needed.

I’d like to share the tip from Boris that I found most helpful, which was to have a Gardener (I can’t remember the exact phrase he used, it was late in the UK, but the whole transcript should be online by the end of the week). I see the gardener’s role in a wide sense. Boris suggested that he/she would blog regularly to highlight the important areas of work on the wiki, or in other places in the network, and to ask for help where it is needed. Lots of links from the blog would make it easy for people to get to where they are most needed. With this sort of communication, hopefully ideas would be able to take root and blossom into something connecting lots of people. Of course, this doesn't have to be on a blog but also covers regular email communication and communicating updates to the clubs that meet in person.

There are lots of gardening jobs to do at the wiki too, of course. Pruning, tidying up, creating clear pathways, raking the lawn to keep it fresh and welcoming. Having an idea of what’s in the back of the shed so that it can be brought out at the best times. Holding regular barbeques, perhaps by Skype or IM - an empty garden may look lovely but it takes a lot of time for one person to maintain and isn’t much good unless it’s creating the connections and provoking the critical thinking that is our goal.

I thought this was a very helpful analogy and one I will be trying to use. Hopefully simply being a gardener would also give more people a role and a way of getting to know the network and what is around the wiki.

If I can only find my old watering can...