Looking back on my summer at Equitas

By: Nathalie Laflamme

The few months I worked as an Education Intern at Equitas went by in a flash. In some ways, the internship almost seemed too short, and yet, as I look back, I realize just how much work we were able to accomplish in such a short period of time during the three-week-long International Human Rights Training Program (IHRTP). I thought I could use this blog post to write a little more about exactly what my role was during my internship, and to give you a better idea of what it was like to be a part of the IHRTP.

Before the IHRTP

In the first month of my internship, I worked at the Equitas office, located right by McGill campus. All the interns – 2 Education Interns, 9 Coordination Interns, and 1 Communications Intern – shared one conference room. It goes without saying that we all got to know each other quite fast. The funky ice breakers (or “energizers,” as they are called at Equitas) we did every day after lunch definitely helped our friendships blossom. During this time, my main task was working on a lengthy and fascinating report, which compiled much of the information incoming participants included in their Pre-Training Assignments. Using this information, I was able to write a report which included sections such as most prominent human rights violations, separated by geographic location. While this was a lengthy, often quite technical task, I found myself completely engrossed by the information provided by participants. The 40-page report is one of the things I am most proud of accomplishing during my internship. I learned so much about different parts of the world I previously knew nothing about, and got to learn it directly from the mouths of experts—it was unlike any learning I had ever done before.

All the Equitas interns! Photo by Michael Cooper/Equitas.

This task also allowed me to learn so much about the participants before meeting them. Not only did I learn their names, but I also got to learn about their organizations, the projects closest to their hearts, and their reasons for wanting to take part in the IHRTP. This also turned the first week of the IHRTP into a fun mental puzzle for me—putting faces to names was a neat experience, to say the least!

During the IHRTP

I blinked, and then we were moving to John Abbott College. I must say that it is impossible to list all the tasks I completed during the IHRTP, as there was so many and they were often quite technical. The days were filled to the brim with task after task, making for a very interesting—and definitely never dull—work environment. My main tasks consisted of setting up rooms for plenary presentations and working with resource persons to make sure their presentations went smoothly. During the plenary sessions, the other Education Intern and I would take notes (one in French and the other in English) that we would later publish on the Equitas Community (a forum for IHRTP participants), with translated PowerPoint presentations and other relevant documents. We also worked closely with Facilitators—former IHRTP participants who lead the small group sessions that participants take part in during the day—to make sure they had all the materials they needed. This involved many last-minute runs to the store to buy markers and flip charts. We also did instantaneous translations during many events, which was so much harder than I thought it would be. Additionally, I ran evaluations at the end of every “stream,” which is what Equitas calls the chapters of the program. This involved many hours working with participants in the computer labs, where I assisted them to make sure they completed the surveys.

A photo of me taken for the 2017 IHRTP photo campaign. Photo by Gabrielle Vendette/Equitas.

If this does not seem like much, I can guarantee quite contrarily that the days were packed. At the end of every day, when the intern in charge of driving the van back to Montreal texted everyone saying they were leaving, I was always left scrambling, hoping I had one more hour to finish up. The pace was like nothing I’ve experienced before (and I have worked in very stressful work environments!), but I must say that it was a pace that made me more productive than ever.

The IHRTP allowed me to meet so many incredible, passionate human rights defenders. While I was introduced to the facilitators on the very first day of their orientation during a meeting, I met most participants during meals, or at IHRTP events, and even sometimes while playing soccer! My biggest regret is not spending more time getting to know them. Getting to meet all of these amazing people was by far the highlight of working at Equitas for me.

I also had the privilege of spending some time in the classrooms while assisting a participant living with a disability. This allowed me to see the participative approach Equitas uses in action while also getting an intimate look inside the program. The program does not use a “classic” teaching style where a teacher lectures the class. Instead, a facilitator and co-facilitator facilitate the activities in the classroom. Participation is crucial, as participants are the true experts. The program works so well because participants get to learn from one another. The small groups are also purposely diverse to create an interesting blend of ideas and experiences. Participants learn through various interactive techniques so getting bored is not an option—the schedule is packed with activities. While in the classroom, I got to see all of this in action, and I have to say that it had me questioning whether a similar system could somehow be integrated into the law school curriculum.

The next thing I knew, the departures weekend was among us and it was time to say goodbye. I volunteered to help drive participants back to the airport, which allowed me to spend a few more minutes with the them. I truly hope I will have the pleasure of seeing some of these amazing people again in the future.

After the IHRTP

Returning to the Equitas offices once the internship was completed felt very odd. It was almost like that feeling we got as children when returning home from sleep-away camp. We all missed the participants, and generally the lively atmosphere of the IHRTP. Still, I had a lot left to wrap up in a very short time, so those last few weeks with the interns, back in our old conference room, flew by too. During this time, I mainly finished translating and uploading documents to the Equitas Community.

Looking back

Working with Equitas this summer was an unforgettable experience. Never in my life have I been in such an action-packed, diverse, multi-lingual environment, and I doubt I ever will again. I went into my internship knowing very little about human rights education or its crucial role in the protection of human rights on a global scale, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to learn so much about it. This is a topic I plan to further delve into this semester with my research. And, who knows, maybe one day I will work with some of the amazing human rights defenders and educators I met at the IHRTP.

Here is a photo of all the participants, facilitators, co-facilitators, staff, interns and volunteers at the IHRTP. Photo by Michael Cooper/Equitas.

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