Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Workshop of Babel

You may not know this, but this year PBI (Peace Brigades International) - not to be confused, Mom, with IBP (Iowa Beef Packers) - is celebrating its 30th Anniversary.

30 years of accompaniment. 30 years of protection. 30 years of making space for peace.

In honor of the occasion, several of PBI's national branches hosted conferences to bring together the European politicians and public with some of the human rights defenders we accompany.

Check out what one Guardian journalist had to say after attending the London conference here.

The conference we held in Berlin was also regarded as a success. After morning panel discussions featuring German politicians and human rights defenders from six different countries, the afternoon was split into workshops.

PBI is an international organization based on adaptation and flexibility, and the workshop I attended testified to this. The room quickly proved to be too small, providing no more space for the overcrowded circle to expand.  But no matter -  the floor's as good a place to sit as any.

And who needs fancy headsets and simultaneous translations to overcome a language barrier?

The moderator will conduct the workshop in German.

The guest from Chad will speak through a French-language interpreter.

The Indonesian guest will speak through a Bahasa-Indonesia interpreter.

The guest from Colombia will speak through a Spanish-language interpreter.

And I will desperately try to keep up in a parallel, whispered interpretation of German to English for our Australian guest.

I firmly believe that such a potential chaos and cacophony of languages was worth it.

Because I'm convinced that when one human rights defender told of his situation and struggles, there was something that resonated with the others, despite it having gone through two lingual translations. There were stories with which they could identify, even though they took place on a continent worlds away.  There was, before their very eyes and (indirectly) in their own ears, the affirmation that they are not alone in this struggle for peace and justice.

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