27 Feb Inside the Mind of a COA Refugee Facilitator: Patience Larety
With nearly 15 years of experience with the IOM, 13 of them with COA, Patience Larety has delivered sessions all over the world, from some of the world’s largest metropolises to the most basic of camps. She’s taken tiny planes to remote airstrips, rode on helicopters and ferries, and even jumped onto speedboats to get to her sessions. Earning a master’s degree along the way, Patience is an expert at working with refugees. COA spoke with Patience in Accra, Ghana to open a window into her wisdom.
Patience LaretyCOA Coordinator and Facilitator
How did you become a facilitator with the Canadian Orientation Abroad (COA) Program? How long have you been a facilitator with COA?
It is my firm belief that my experiences, education and previous work have all prepared me one way or another for the role of a COA Refugee Facilitator. In 2004, I joined IOM as a Cultural Orientation Supervisor on the Australia Cultural Orientation (AUSCO) Program, overseeing activities in the West and Central African sub-region. A year later, the opportunity came to implement the COA Program in the region and I have been carrying out COA sessions ever since, for around 13 years.
How do you engage the participants during the sessions? How is your facilitation style different from other facilitators?
Prior to commencing a session, I usually like to have some background information about the caseloads I serve. Hence, I often do research on any new caseload I am about to interact with, such as the demographics, educational and language backgrounds. I also enquire from the IOM medical department about information gaps they may have identified while interacting with the participants as these could potentially be addressed during the COA sessions. This fore knowledge helps facilitate the building of a unique bond with my participants.
I incorporate a lot of activities into my sessions, since we learn best through experience. One of my favourite quotes by Confucius is; “Tell me, I forget; show me, I may remember; involve me, and I understand”. Involving the participants enables them to understand, internalize, personalize and eventually apply the new knowledge acquired in their everyday lives. The participants enjoy group activities irrespective of their varying educational backgrounds.
I try to create a safe space where everyone can have fun, participate in all activities, contribute and speak their mind on the issues being discussed. Some of the participants are inherently very shy, as such find it difficult to ask questions or make contributions during sessions. Others also think they know it all. I gauge the mood of the group to guide me to know when to introduce a new topic, when to have breaks, when to wake the group up with an energizer or icebreaker. I try to incorporate energizers that are also culturally specific and acceptable, like their own songs, dance and jokes.
I tell participants to relax and I reiterate it, over and over again during the entire session. I do this because of the trauma and difficulties they have endured. Most of them usually have great fear of people in any form of authority. I assure them that there are no stupid questions or bad answers. All this helps them relax and it also builds rapport and trust. They eventually come out of their shells and participate fully in the session, which is a delight to behold.
What does it entail to be a facilitator and provide pre-arrival orientation to newcomers?
To be an effective facilitator, one ought to be compassionate, very accommodating and non-discriminating. Having a listening ear is another trait in being an excellent facilitator because participants will be sharing their stories and problems with you. It is thus important to try to build trust and a rapport with your participants to enhance openness.
Who are the participants that you serve in COA Ghana? Are you still in touch with your previous participants?
The participants I serve cut across over 15 nationalities. This includes refugees from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Togo, The Democratic Republic of Congo, The Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Syria, Pakistan, Gambia, Burundi, Rwanda, and others. I have prepared refugees going to Canada in about 18 countries within the West and Central African sub-region.
Thanks to the availability of several communication platforms now, I am more able to remain in touch with some of the participants.
Seeing how well my former participants have turned out in Canada gives me so much joy and pride. I almost cried for joy when I saw a picture posted on Facebook of two siblings who were in one of my youth sessions in Cameroon. The picture posted on Facebook was their first day in school in Canada trying out their combination locks on their lockers. I have a similar picture of the same siblings learning how to open the combination locks during the youth session. I feel a sense of pride because I know I contributed my bit to their success stories.
What do you find the most challenging in being a COA facilitator? What do you find the most rewarding?
Conveying information about the weather (particularly winter) to the caseloads I train, who have never lived outside the tropics, can be quite a challenge. The group usually engages in a number of activities to give them an idea of the nature of the winter weather, how to prepare and how to dress for it. Even though they are informed and prepared for the winter, I know it is always a big shock to almost, if not all the participants, since it is their very first experience of such weather.
Travelling to foreign locations to deliver sessions could be daunting at times. This is because I sometimes have to work with very basic or minimal facilities. In one instance, I had to travel in a very small plane that landed on a remote bare ground air strip; I have had to use ferries, helicopters and even speedboats to get to a session location.
Juggling work and family, because of travels to other locations to deliver sessions, can also be a little challenging. Leaving my family is not always easy, but fortunately I have a very supportive family who holds the fort while I am away.
I love my work as a pre-arrival facilitator. Being a facilitator empowers me with the opportunity to motivate my participants. Some are self-motivating, but some refugees give the impression of having actually given up on life because of the hardships they have gone through. While motivating the refugees, I have also been indirectly motivating myself. During the session on education, I encourage participants to go back to school and upgrade themselves, insisting that age or work should not be a barrier. It involves a lot of sacrifice, but the rewards are countless. I acted on my own words and enrolled in an evening Master’s Degree, eventually graduating last year.
I always encourage refugees to know that once there is life, there is hope. They are going to Canada, which when combined with determination and hard work, can enable them to rebuild their lives. I feel satisfied at the end of the session, because I feel I have not just prepared them for their new life in Canada, but I also sense a reawakening in them.