On the day I departed Sydney things seemed a little weird. The day was hot but my bags were full of winter clothing. I was heading to the winter climes of Georgia in the Middle East. I dressed for summer but prepared for winter. I was looking forward to the flight as it was the first time flying with Qatar Airways and they had recently been awarded the world’s best airline. I have a few favourites out of all the airlines I have flown with, so I was keen to compare Qatar with the others. The flight from Sydney to Doha is a little under 15 hours. It was the first time in quite a while I had been on such a long flight. A couple of movies and a sleep passed the time before arriving in Doha. A couple of hours layover in transfer then I was off to Tbilisi, Georgia.
A member of the Georgian Deaf Association met me at the airport and took me directly to the hotel where all other WFDYS and WFD delegates were staying. It was really good to see all the new members of the board again. We used some of this greeting time to warm to each other knowing that we have 4 years together in a working relationship to come. Over dinner we continued the getting to know each other time, discovering more about each other’s backgrounds, skills and interests.
The following day we spent with the WFD board in a training session where we got to know each other and learnt how to best represent our respective organisations in a fair and consistent way. We carried on some discussions that had begun in France last July, drilling down further to set expectations for each board member. It was a positive session interjected with some games and activities. One quiz game was called Kahoot in which players used their smart phones to quickly answer questions to gain points. The game was well received throughout our training day.
On the second day the WFDYS board came together to review the elements of our plan which had been achieved in the last period and to take a closer look at our action plan for the next 4 years. Our plan consists of four main pillars of activity. They are: Collect, Empower, Build and Grow. We spent time closely examining each element in order to devise how to measure achievements, and how to supplement those tasks in order to achieve outcomes. We used a strategy called SMART. I was quite impressed with how well the team got along. The dynamic was clearly evident even in this our first working meeting. For many, we had only just met each other but that was not obvious. Throughout the day Mark and I offered a number of contextual insights to the new members which helped bring them up to speed. There was also a natural source of enthusiasm and ideas which kept the discussions lively.
Our meeting was held in a building run by Deaf association of Georgia and on the third day we were joined by a small number of youth. We focused on fun activities, communication, leadership, team work skills and how they can become a YOM. Georgia did have a YOM some time ago but the group collapsed and so we hope that our presence gave them some inspiration to have an active association again one day.
By the fourth day we had spent a few social evenings together as well as business during the day. The evenings allowed us to let our hair down, switch off, play some crazy games and have fun. Especially fun was a Danish card game called Hygge, a game without rules and based on a way of being, thoughts and asking questions. It really brought the group together even more.
Although the evenings were mostly fun we did have a task of preparing a short seminar where we were teamed with a member of the WFD board. The seminar was planned for the end of the week and given to a few members of the Deaf community and some government officials. I was paired with the vice president of the WFD, Kasper Bergmann. He has a wealth of experience with developing the CRPD. He really knows his stuff! So it was really stepping out of my comfort zone but a great experience. So too, I observed many great pairings of the other board members. Each pair spoke really well and provided examples on how their work or ideas fitted with the goals of the WFD and WFDYS on topics like human rights and education. The community really learnt a lot. One man, who attended the seminars, is chief advisor to the government on disability. He told us that we were each invited to meet the president of Georgia. Quite a memorable occasion. The advisor prepared us a few hours before the meeting on etiquette and protocol. A great experience.
The next day we wrapped up our meetings with the WFD and WFDYS and I can’t fully explain how gratifying the week was. The energy was so high, the work so productive and everything so positive. I am really looking forward to our next meeting in May 2020.
Aside from the work, Georgia is an interesting place to say the least. The culture and food is influenced by Eastern European as well as Asian countries but they have their own style of dumplings which are quite delicious. The weather was cold but I was not bothered by that. Products and services seem cheaper than in Australia. Customs such as dancing are influenced by Russia, naturally as Georgia was part of the former Soviet Union. I managed a few short trips to the north of the country for some sight-seeing before heading home.