When I was leaving for SANGAT course at Nepal in August, many people thought it was going to be more like honeymoon trip and less class and activities. I won’t blame those thoughts, may be most of courses are like that; there you get more fun time than activities. But I knew from the very beginning SANGAT course was not going to be like that. In our acceptance letter, it was explicitly mentioned that the course needed strong time commitment which means almost no personal time and its going to be physically challenging as well. They never forgot to remind us in every email followed by that and requested us to quit if we think it’s unbearable. Well, I mean who was gonna call off this amazing opportunity reaching this far! And yes, SANGAT made 38 participants from nine different cultures and time zone spent 30 days with the exact same schedule. Our day would start at 6.30 pm with at least 1 hour of yoga session followed by breakfast within 7.30 am to 8.30 am. Our classes would start exactly at 9.00 am till 5.30 pm to 6.00 pm. We would get 1 hour personal time at max given that we have to complete our dinner within 7.00 pm to 8.00 pm. After dinner, every day we would watch movie/ documentary/ local videos/animations and discuss about it which is relevant to that day’s course content till 11.00 pm. Throughout that whole month bed seemed sweeter than anything in this planet to me! Needless to say, this one month course was challenging not only just physically but also psychologically, socially and spiritually for me and I think for all of us. We got to challenge our physical capacity to keep up with all those new activities that most of us never tried before. We had to challenge our prejudices in order to construct what was needed and enable free thinking. We had to let go our presumptions towards border hatred and embrace South Asian solidarity! We had to challenge all kind of internal and external comfort zones here.
2 days ago, I went for a field visit at Khulna district. I was staying at Brac Learning Center (BLC). The first day, I went to have dinner at 7.00 pm only to find out that they serve dinner at 8.00 pm!! I was there before, how could I forget their timing! I realized later that it’s SANGAT’s habit; I somehow was sure that dinner had to be at 7.00 pm. I am happy that this little habit remained with me! I wish to adopt and continue to practice so many other things that we talked about across the month, though in theory, I want them to turn into my lifestyle practices! One step at a time!
Whenever I look back to that one month, I get so amazed that I got to know 37 amazing participants! To me, each one of them was like a book in their own way. It was not just the course content and the trainer, my biggest learning came from these incredible participants! I get confused whom to name first, one who was more than six month pregnant breaking all the myths and taboos and social norms about functionality after getting pregnant? Or the one who joined all the way from Kashmir knowing that she would be totally disconnected from her family and friends during this indefinite lock-down? Or the one with vision disability, brightest of all who never hesitate to question a single non-inclusive language and teaching methods we used? Or the one who would ask the most relevant questions so beautifully narrated whose only barrier is the English language? I still get flashbacks of those discussions, reactions, emotions, thoughts and still have goosebumps often! Dear sisters, you made my journey of that one month more worthwhile than ever!
My favorite part of the course was getting to know about course methodologies! My profession requires doing and receiving a lot of training. I always look forward to learning about new approach and methods that are effective. In that sense, SANGAT course opened whole new perspectives for me. I must appreciate the whole planning team and trainers! I could see the effectiveness of roommates changing in every week to build friendships beyond the borders. Having us sit on a floor without having any chair-table in the room to deconstruct power relations. Meeting SANGAT core group in such a lovely way and knowing them was really wonderful! I can still feel the power of the room that night! Leaving OBR and Meeto Memorial Award launching event totally on us only to make chaos, divide, and fight but in the end learn to rise as a team! To me that preparation week has been most challenging! That was the time we divided nation wise at its worst, we experienced each other’s difficult parts! But that was the only event through which our identity as South Asian got stronger and real! So it was needed, it was needed to face that differences in opinion, to see each other’s insecurities! I learned that it was needed to experience those tension among the group, hold that tension and let group come together stronger with more clarity and purpose.
Each session was particularly designed with different activities, games, group works, music, song writing, drama, jokes, movie, animations, documentary, cartons, questionnaires, metaphors, storytelling and field visits!
Whenever we discussed on any issues our trainers would bring out cross-cultural examples, it could be a proverb, song, movie or movement that I might never be aware of before that mention! It felt like they know my origin and culture much better than me! All of them are so knowledgeable and up to date sometimes it felt so unreal to me! They know so much, working so hard for decades for gender equality yet they are so grounded and empathetic! Each session would be full of their sense of humor and fun loving activities! Not only just the subject they taught, their personal journey towards activism left strong and powerful impact on me! How they turned their loss and trauma into working force and spirit is something I would remember my whole life! Our trainers came from different countries but their understanding was never confined within where they came from! They helped us thinking not from linear but circular perspectives. They practice what they believe! They helped us to see what is happening with me is also happening with other women in South Asia. It’s almost like a net, each cell is inter-connected! Our countries are like cells which make South Asia! I realized that we are more similar than different and we have so much work to do other than border hatred!
I love to take notes during classes. And guess what, I finished two and half notebooks during that one month (thanks to Minal for providing me the extra notebook)! Having said that I meant I have so much to study now. Firstly, I am gonna read my notebooks all over again. Secondly, I am gonna make a list including all the reference books were recommended in the classes. I do not know how much time it will take to collect and finish reading all of them! On top of that there is this pendrive SANGAT gave us with other materials too, like music, documentaries, short movies and interviews etc. I just checked it for once and I figured this much already! I don’t know what’s actually waiting for me in the drive to watch! I am so excited to explore everything it has soon after I get a little bit more relaxed. I cannot thank enough this incredible team (Minal, Pooja, Diti) who worked so hard to make our experience memorable and organized everything so perfectly. Also bearing with these 38 different personalities with patience!
My journey as sangatee started with a warm welcome by Kamla di and her team. We were welcomed with a colorful scarf; we lit a lamp and stood side by side holding each other’s hands! It was powerful! I did not expect such warmth on the day one. And it was no less the day we said goodbye as a group! Rather it was more emotional and spiritual than ever. It was a lovely evening; we all lit a lamp once again! We put on a sisterhood band to each other’s hand; we gave feedback and hugged to exchange more love and power! We could feel the connection and inner strength we built over months through mutual understanding.
I thank myself to take the effort to be at SANGAT board. I am grateful to everyone who I met in Nepal, Tewa Center. You all contributed in my happiness and now a part my lifelong experience!
Experience sharing on – 24th MLC on on Gender, Sustainable Livelihoods, Human Rights and Peace (24th August to 23rd September 2019).
This piece was written by Rubina Jahan who attended the 24th Sangat Month Long Course in 2019.