November 12, 2015

From poet to social justice advocate: Meet graduate Nadjet Bouda, program officer, Equitas, Middle East North Africa Region

Nadjet Bouda at Coady International Institute.

So how did you wind up taking the Re-thinking Partnerships course?
We are in the process of building our partnership with Coady, so one of the ideas was to have someone from Coady come to Montreal and take the course we offer every June in human rights education. And then for Equitas to send a staff member to join one of Coady’s courses, so we get to know much more of each other as partners.
We chose the Re-thinking Partnership course because most of the work we do at the international level is done with partners. We also do an analysis of stakeholders that are linked to the programs that we offer to be in line with our theory of change.

Exchange partners Nadjet Bouda, Equitas (L) and Janet MacDonald, Coady Institute.

The Coady staff member you referred to was Janet MacDonald. She came back from that course ecstatic about what she had learned. I think she held three or four staff meetings to describe the different tools and techniques. What is it about Equitas, what’s the magic about the human rights programs that you offer?
I think the magic is the transformative learning that people go through during their three-week experience in Montreal. It’s because of the participatory approach. People don’t come and hear lectures. The idea is that our facilitators don’t see themselves as ‘experts’. They have knowledge, but they are there to make sure everyone’s experiences are valued, and to create a safe and appropriate learning environment.
I’ve had brief experiences in Egypt and Palestine in the occupied west bank, and I know that working there does have it s challenges. How do you manage that?
We manage it through the great people we work with out there. Right now our programs cover Yemen, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and Jordan.  And the political context in each situation is different from one to another. You have Yemen where our folks are going through a war situation where sometimes the offices are closed, but yet they still manage to do their programs.
I think the trick about it is they have the will, the commitment and the theory through they see how they would bring the change to their community. But they also have flexibility. For example, the way we were planning to do the activities aiming to promote youth participation in Yemen have completely changed. Because of the war, youth decided to be committed and engaged to do relief work because that’s what was needed the most.
I believe you just held a regional youth forum in Amman, Jordan. Tell us about that. How did that go?

Equitas youth participants study human rights in Amman, Jordan.

It went very well. It happened in September. We had over 30 youth coming from different countries in the region, mainly from Tunisia, Morocco and Jordan. We had some youth from Yemen, and youth who were part of the program who were implementing youth action in their communities to address human rights issues. In Morocco, for example, they had been working on early marriage issues, because that’s what they related to the most. It was an attempt to create a dialogue with the Moroccan government. In Tunisia they worked on socio-economic rights.

It has not always been perfect. We have been working with marginalized youth who haven’t had the chance to take their own initiative or who have never been able to participate in workshops. They have never had people telling them that they can do things. So working with them is sometimes challenging. They’re shy. Or don’t feel it is something they can do. So we’ve had to create that safe space for them. One, to equip them. Two, to tell them it’s okay to make mistakes, but let’s learn from our mistakes.  We tell them they are able to analyze their own communities, come up with ideas based on their assets and address issues in their communities.  
I can see so many similarities between what you’re doing at Equitas and what we believe in terms of social justice programming.
Definitely, I think there is a lot we share. We share the approach. We share the values. There is a lot in common between us.
What excites you so much about working with youth? I’ve talked to staff members here who say you are a bundle of energy and enthusiasm when it comes to your work.
I have been an activist myself. I was born and brought up in Algeria and immigrated to Canada six years ago, and I’m Canadian too. I was sixteen when I first joined an NGO in Algeria. When I joined, I didn’t know what an NGO was. I went there because I was writing poems and I wanted people to read my poems. I wanted to spread my message of justice and freedom. It was about having the space to be who I was at that time. And being part of the organization I came up to become an advocate for youth participation – for human rights, for women’s rights.
I would like that experience to be the experience of many others around the world, specifically in the Arab world in the Middle East and Northern Africa. To me that is the only way we fight against radicalism. It’s about giving opportunity to youth in that part of the world to know what diversity is and to learn how to co-exist.
With so much happening in the region now politically and militarily, does that create an added sense of urgency to the work you’re doing?

Definitely. Education, education and education. That’s really the weapon to fight radicalism and to face the challenges we have in the region. The type of program we do with our partner there, valuing their work, and giving us the opportunity to learn from each other and analyze the whole dynamic that exists in youth circles, and see how we can have them actors, part of this change, not just asking them to make change or do the change without them, but really have them part of this dynamic is really the key. I think it’s what Coady is doing and what Equitas is doing. Having our efforts come together would only enrich and strengthen the experiences of each other.

Mosharka Forum on youth participation, Amman, Jordan.

I appreciate you spending some time with us, best of luck when you get back home.
Thank you very much. It was such a pleasure taking this course. I’ve met some very inspiring people, be they my classmates or my facilitators. I’m very proud to be an Equitas staff member and now alumni of Coady.
Further links:

Equitas – Middle East and North Africa Region
Equitas – Human Rights Training Program, Montreal, Canada
Coady International Institute