Earlier in the year, the Splice team had a couple of meetings about how we could continue to raise up the people in our community. Gareth had heard about a program called Active Citizens, and set to work to see if it could be the toolkit we needed.
Active Citizens is a social leadership program developed by British Council UK. It promotes intercultural dialogue and sustainable development. Active Citizens has been incredibly successful in over 46 countries launching almost 8000 social action projects and creating over 21,000 global citizens.
So after a taster workshop in April, John (our Chaplain at Large) told me and five other Splicers that we were going to Fiji to see how we could bring Active Citizens back home. I was ecstatic.
Then John told me we were sleeping eight to a room, with cold showers and no internet! I was slightly less ecstatic. Nevertheless, 2 months later I stepped onto a plane at 2am, armed with a lot of Vodafone roaming data, dry shampoo and ear plugs.
Over the week in Fiji, the Active Citizens course was very engaging, exploring concepts through movement, games and open conferencing. The master-facilitators (Professional World-Changers in my opinion) delivered the content in a way that encouraged us to unpack concepts instead of reducing them down into academic one-liners.
I realised how easy the course made it to be open minded, to listen to hear instead of listening to reply - we weren’t looking for one right answer, so we didn't have to agree or disagree on anything. I discovered a really beautiful space in conversation where the ideas got bigger and bigger while the barriers disappeared.
When we practiced facilitating, I found myself enjoying creating conversations between others even though I am naturally quite outspoken, and once would have been quite happy to tell everyone how I was saw things.
My biggest revelation was learning something I thought I already knew how to do. I learnt the difference between being tolerant of someone different to you, and being authentic with someone different to you. I realised that even when we hold different beliefs around life, God, LGBT+ communities and all those other things that can seem so important, our inter-connectedness is always precious and always worth investing in.
On Wednesday, we went to Cautata village to visit a group of woman selling crafts to build infrastructure in their little community. We sat in a beautiful bright blue hall they had raised the money for and there was a formal Kava Ceremony. When I talked to the village woman they told me how they loved village life but also how small it was. One woman told me of how she sold mats for over a year to buy a boat for her husband to start a little fishing business. The village was so hospitable providing an array of afternoon treats and Tara sought out fresh coconuts, we watched a young man wield a machete expertly to open them. One of the ladies offered me a puppy with big green eyes for just $50 FJD, I had to work very, very hard to say no. Then the Fijians began to sing songs of the different provinces, and we danced.
The night before we left was Cultural Night and I have to describe the quality of dancing for you (not something I could personally contribute to). David from Columbia had snake hips and could get almost anyone on their feet & on beat (again, not me); ALL the Fijian’s moved like water; Peruvian Charo made it look effortless, and Ingrid belonged in a ballroom. But the biggest stars of course were Tara and Serena with ‘if you’re an Active Citizen and you know it, clap your hands.’
I tried to convince the kiwi's to do a rendition of Fred Dag's 'if it weren't for my gumboots, where would I be?' or Split Endz - 'Six Months in a Leaky Boat' to no avail. Wayne sung Hallelujah and we all melted into the night (the Kava might have helped).
Having done the course now, I think I could expand on the official description of Active Citizens. It’s about giving anyone and everyone the skills to participate meaningfully in their communities, to splice together different kinds and take charge of making a difference.
The Splice team haven’t hashed out the details of our plans for Active Citizens yet but very soon we will begin making the course available to the city centre communities, and then… well, those plans are still top secret. (My personal goal is to create an army of community superheroes!)
At one point we learnt about a southern African bantu word – Ubuntu. It describes identity in terms of an individual’s relationship with others and is sometimes explained as:
“I am because you are, because we are.’
That’s what I’ll be remembering while I continue to practice my new Active Citizens skills.
That and my one run-in with a fruit bat.