Over the past few months, Riverdale Mediation has been conducting community mediation training in Grenada, St. Kitts and St. Lucia.
We were but a small part of an ambitious access to justice undertaking funded by the Canadian government, IMPACT Justice in the Caribbean.
IMPACT Justice is a 5 year project focusing on a wide range of legal and ADR initiatives across all Caricom countries. It includes judicial training, resources for legislative changes, and, in our case, mediation training for community leaders.
When we were first retained for this project, we were unaware of how profoundly it would affect us. We knew only that we would be delivering a 40 hour mediation program to individuals chosen for their affinity for such training and also for their influence within their communities. We knew that a certain amount of ADR is taking place in all of the countries we visited, including robust programs of court-connected mediation. The legal culture in all three countries is primarily adjudicative, and one of the program’s goals was to build capacity for informal, out of court dispute resolution to preserve limited resources for the cases that really need them. This goal is of course universal in all jurisdictions, including our own.
A unique 5 day training program was developed, one that combined civil, community and family mediation theory and practice. Because the history and culture of each country is different, we developed a workshop that could be adapted to the needs of each group we would be training.
We gathered three outstanding training teams of experienced mediators and coaches, created role plays that we hoped would be relevant for those taking the training, and conducted training sessions with our coaches so that the teams could seamlessly deliver the content.
We learned a great deal with each session. There were some culturally consistent features of the three countries chosen for the training and this enabled us to learn from the each round for the benefit of the next. And we found ourselves adapting agendas, role plays, lectures and in-class exercises on the fly each day to respond to the unique aspects of each country’s legal and dispute resolution culture.
We had the great privilege of meeting and working with educators, faith leaders, civic leaders, health-care professionals, social workers, police officers and many other Caribbean community leaders in three different countries. We had inspiring conversations with the impressive representatives of the IMPACT Justice program in attendance at each session, whose commitment to enhancing access to justice in the Caribbean was self-evident.
The days were long, with each team meeting for breakfast at 7 each morning and often working well into the night before every class.
The participants all had considerable relevant personal and professional experience, but few if any had formal ADR training. They compensated with rigorous attention, excellent preparation for each class and full participation in all of the role plays and exercises.
What was particularly impressive was that the 40-hour course, which was approved by the ADR Institute of Ontario towards a civil mediation designation, is generally preceded by a preparatory “introductory” course. These remarkable students learned, in only 5 intensive days, the essential theory and skills of dispute resolution and were demonstrating high levels of proficiency by the end of the workshops.
The students asked all of the important questions, including: how does a mediator decide the boundary between information and advice? How does one handle situations of risk to a party? Or to a mediator? When must a mediator violate their promise of confidentiality in the interests of safety? What are the best tools to help mediators identify the sources of conflicts and the best approaches to help parties resolve them? How do mediators manage their own emotions? What if the mediator does not share the values of the parties? What are the most important listening and questioning skills for mediators? How do mediators manage the strong emotions of the parties? What can mediators do to empower parties to resolve their own disagreements?
We all had the great pleasure of learning much about the cultures, cuisines, history, music, politics, economies, social challenges, and day to day lives of our Caribbean colleagues. In St. Lucia for instance, we had the pleasure of hearing a concert of the Royal St. Lucia Police Band, in which one of our students played. We attended local street parties, visited small fishing villages, spent time speaking with staff at the hotels, grocery stores and small businesses in the communities where we were teaching to learn as much as we could about the country. We attended a local Toastmasters Meeting as the guest of one of our students, learned about the children and families of many of our participants, shared meals where we learned new recipes and tasted many new things, and gave and received heartfelt thanks and appreciation for our shared passion for effective dispute resolution.
In the end, we were proud and happy to welcome into the dispute resolution profession over 90 outstanding individuals. If one of the goals of the IMPACT Justice project is to infuse community leaders with the passion for and professionalism of mediation, it was a forgone conclusion that the training would be a success. These participants came through the door on the first day with the right attitude.
And it had the added benefit of renewing our own faith in and passion for what we do every day—— help people resolve their disputes in processes of self-determination that are voluntary, confidential fair, safe, and informed.
Special thanks to my co-trainer Elizabeth Hyde and to our coaches: Caroline Felstiner, Akbar Ebrahim, Heather Swartz, Jared Norton, Christine Kim, Joanne Schaefer, Liz Waisberg, Joel Skapinker and Nicole Stewart-Kamanga. We were a very fine team!
some testimonials from the participants:
“the role plays, the handbook, the workbook and interaction with instructors was exceptional”
“(I most liked) the role plays and the exuberance of the facilitators”.
(“I most liked) learning how to be a successful mediator.”
..the quality of the information presented and how it relates to my present job.”
“What I love about this course was the way the speaker and the coaches delivered their role; they were very helpful, well demonstrated and explained… an extremely excellent training.”
..”enjoyed every minute of this course.”