In Quebec, Canada, the first residential Trustbuilding Training (TBT) took place from 6-8 of March, just before the COVID-19 crisis prohibited in-person meetings. The cohort was formed of 14 people from different backgrounds, origins and faith, with another 10 persons who showed interest in the training without being able to participate this time. Since lockdown on March 13, the team have organized several online complementary activities for the TBT group, as they prepare for the second part of the Trustbuilding Training.
The first training weekend
During the weekend of 6-8 March, a diverse group of 14 people came together to discuss and start the collaboration process of bridging Quebec’s identified divides: racial, colonial, as well as the disparity between French and English. Language is a sensitive topic in Quebec, where relations between French and English have always been marked by a rivalry, whose origins are of a historical nature. This was also reflected amongst the participants, some of whom were French speaking and some English speaking, but everyone in the cohort was mostly bilingual. As translation services are costly, the team translated some of the contents during the training to make sure everyone would comprehend the depths of the concepts presented. The bilingual aspect is always a challenge for the Canadian team, as translations in both languages are needed to have a deeper understanding of the topics discussed.
The group of participants consisted of people from very diverse background; Euro Québécois people, a recent Muslim Moroccan immigrant, an Innu woman, a pastor of a Seventh Day Adventist Church who is originally from Democratic Republic of Congo, a Muslim non-binary person of Turkmen origin who wears the veil, a Jewish Israeli woman, a black gay man, a woman of Vietnamese origin, a woman originally from Mexico, someone of Jewish and Polish descent and a Moroccan student of law who works in Indigenous rights for Amazigh peoples. Such diverse groups, composed of representatives of all sectors coming together, to create a wholeness that incorporates diversity is the most effective force for change. Failure to build a genuinely diverse network of trust weakens many worthy initiatives, so the team have been focused on inclusivity and diversity.
Workshop content and curriculum
The framework used for the workshop in Quebec is based on the curriculum originally designed for the Community Trustbuilding Fellowship (CTF) in Richmond, USA. Adapting the materials from the training in Richmond to the local context was mainly focused on finding the underlying guiding principles of the theory of change, and building a theoretical framework adapted to the Québec context, as the basis for the structure of the curriculum.
Adapting the curriculum was a challenge in various ways. First, the context is different, and even if some of the divides are similar in nature, they manifest themselves differently in the Quebec/Canadian context. Notably, the language issues that play a large role in shaping identity in Quebec create narratives regarding colonial and racial histories. These play out differently in the Canadian context, even though the impact may be similar to what is seen in other parts of the Americas, including the United States. Relationship to conflict is another issue that the team was mindful of.
The participants were introduced to the CTF background, the Trustbuilding Program framework, IofC four standards, personal and social changes. Through collective reflections, the personal Identities – considerations of our own role, personal values, privileges, and biases, in relation to structures – was explored with different workshops and approaches. Then the cohort examined the history and collective narratives in relations to personal narratives. With exercises like ‘the historical timeline exercise’, the participants revisited Quebec/Canada’s History to acknowledge and work on healing of exclusions and historical wounds. Reverend Sylvester (Tee) Turner also gave a touching talk about the three-legged stool of Reconciliation.
As racism and colonialism were chosen as important focuses to address, related external workshops were organized for cohort; an Indigenous-led organization, Mikana, was approached and presented a workshop to raise awareness on the realities of Aboriginal people in Canada. Marie-Émilie Lacroix, from the Innu First Nation, was asked if she could lead an experiential workshop called the ‘blanket exercise’, designed to walk through the history of colonialism’s lasting and deep impacts on first peoples. These experiences lead to a better understanding of bias and prejudice that First Nations experience from the province and country, and a lot of aspects can be extrapolated to discrimination and racism of other minority groups. An author and publisher who focuses on giving voices to African and Caribbean authors, who write about everyday struggles, Natacha Odonnat, led a workshop on the importance of imagination in creating a trusti ng world.
‘The collective space allowed us to hear other perspectives and to start building something in common; this makes my soul feel better.’
‘The training helped strengthen my understanding of indigenous rights, histories, and reconciliation,’ remarked one participant. Another said they gained ‘a new awareness of the complexity of Canadian history.’
Participants have mentioned that the first weekend helped them raise their own awareness and initiate personal change. They appreciated learning more about the situation around Canada’s history and those of the indigenous people. Especially the blanket exercise made an impact on people, as it recreates the history of the indigenous peoples.
‘The blanket exercise was a strong moment for me this weekend, because it allowed us to recreate the unjust situation of the First Nations.’
Until in-person activities can resume, the team have developed an alternative plan for hosting online workshops and meetings. These sessions are to address topics in depth and to present the 14-person trustbuilding cohort with a curriculum to support personal work and deepen the reflection related to trust, trustbuilding, bias and privileges.
The first online meeting with the cohort was held on 28 March. This was followed by various e-mail communications, one on one conversations with participants, the establishment of a Slack collaboration space, and follow-up online meeting on 8 May.
The first online workshop, an in-depth discussion on the definition of trust, took place on May 28th. A second workshop on bias and prejudice will be held later in the summer. The third workshop will focus on a topic that has yet to be determined but will be based on the proposals of the group members. In July, a new assessment of the development opportunities of the Trustbuilding Program will be launched, based on the expected context in the fall.
The Trustbuilding Program is aimed at addressing divisive issues at the international and national levels, on the premise that only those who have undergone the internal process of becoming trustworthy themselves can close gaps across the globe. The Program was launched by Initiatives of Change International in 2019 with projects in Kenya, Canada and France.