Last month, I had the opportunity to provide a training about Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) to staff and community advocates that work with refugees from Iraq, Nepal, and Burma.
When I was asked to do the training, I got excited and concerned at the same time. First, being an immigrant myself, I got very excited with the possibility of working directly with advocates that belonged to immigrant communities. However, after the initial enthusiastic reaction, I started to get nervous and insecure about the presentation.
My main concerns were:
1. Though I am an immigrant, my experience arriving to a country as an international student is probably very different than the experience of a refugee that had no other option than to leaving their war-torn home country to survive.
2. I had no familiarity with the Iraqi, Nepali, and Burmese cultures. All I knew is what the news says about their ethnic diversity, and their historical political struggles.
3. Intimate Partner Violence is always a difficult topic; especially because it is – as any topic related with human sexuality – surrounded by values and morals about dating relationships, family, gender roles, privacy, etc. which are highly influenced by culture. In this particular case, I was questioning myself about the possibility that some of the participants would understand IPV as an acceptable behavior because of their cultural norms.
4. I was asked to provide a three hour training, not to do a comprehensive intervention. In other words, it was out of my scope to use any of the Health Planning Models presented by Perez and Luquis (2008).
These are the steps that I did to take care of my anxiety, and to try to do a presentation as effective as possible:
1. I asked questions. I asked as many questions as possible to the contact person that requested the training: Who really asked for the training? Why? Who will be attending? What were their expectations and goals for the training? Were the participants fluent in English?
2. I did some research to educate myself. Not in the I-need-to-know-everything-about-those-cultures way; but in the What-do-we know-about-IPV-in-immigrant-and-refugee-communities? way. Lucky enough, I found a report from the Family Violence Prevention Fund (2009); and I used the information from the report to enhance the theoretical framework that I usually utilize. You can find the report at: http://www.futureswithoutviolence.org/userfiles/file/ImmigrantWomen/IPV_Report_March_2009.pdf
3. I had to be clear with myself that, while I could be the “expert” in the dynamics of IPV, I definitely was not the expert in how these dynamics could look like or be present in these specific communities and cultures.
The three steps lead me to design a presentation in which I offered a theoretical framework –informed by the report-; and then provided opportunities to participants to come up with their own examples and situations, and different forms in which the information could be helpful for their work.
The feedback from participants was very positive; and some of them stayed a little longer to ask more questions and talk about the topic.
I have to admit I learned from them as much as -or more than- what they could have learned from the training. Among other things, I had the opportunity to meet a woman who did domestic violence advocacy in Nepal; talking to her reinforced my belief that even if IPV is more acceptable in certain cultures, it does not mean that all the members of the culture like to keep it that way.
Overall, and from a selfish perspective, it was just such an inspiring experience to have a room full of people from different countries and cultures talking about how to stop intimate partner violence in their communities.
I hope sharing this experience could be useful for you.