by John Oyler

It started in conversations I had with representatives from Japan, Kenya, Egypt and India at the ICA Int’l General Assembly in Lonavela, India[singlepic id=19 w=320 h=240 float=right] in 1994 about how to help national ICA’s build the capacity to teach ToP courses and develop national training systems.  In l995, thanks to an enormous leap of faith on the part of my colleagues in ICA West we hosted in Phoenix the first of six 6-week events with those aims.  These International TOP Training of Trainers events were held every other year, averaging 18 participants from 12 countries each.[singlepic id=14 w=320 h=240 float=right]

Participants experienced and learned how to teach the foundational ToP Facilitation (TFM) course, experienced additional advanced courses, went home with an armful of manuals and materials to translate and adapt to their language and country context, and an initial action plan to [singlepic id=15 w=320 h=240 float=right] develop a local delivery system.  They visited places and organizations around Az and the west, actively using ToP, and teamed up to teach courses set up by our colleagues and partner organizations.

Every event was a massive collective effort, in which all of Partners in Participation’s (then ICA’s) Phoenix-based associates were deeply involved, as well as many other staff and colleagues.  To cite just one example, imagine the logistics of pulling off six simultaneous GFM courses in six different cities, each training team with a mentor and their own packet of materials and each participant/trainer in their own state of mental anxiety.  [singlepic id=16 w=320 h=240 float=right] Visas could be a nightmare: two full-time volunteer cooks were required; each participant was hosted in homes in the neighborhood; health issues needed to be dealt with, etc.  By the end of six weeks, everyone was as exhausted as they were exhilarated.

Participants paid their own way to and from Phoenix, staff participation was almost all volunteer and there was a lot of in-kind support.  Nevertheless, direct costs of transportation, food, materials etc. amounted to about $30,000.per event. I will always be amazed that nearly all of this was covered through donations of colleagues across the west–another aspect of the collective effort.

At the September Community of Practice session, my memory was jogged by an unexpected comment about the power of the closing [singlepic id=17 w=320 h=240 float=right]cultural celebrations with performances and food from each nation represented.  They were like a cementing of the, sometimes lifelong, connections and friendships formed over the six weeks.  Included here are group photos of the six cohorts.  If you hosted a participant, were visited by a team, set up a practice course or participated in one or played a volunteer role in one or another year, see if you can spot someone you remember and know that your contributions were deeply appreciated.

The ICA’s around the world that were started or bolstered as a result of these events are almost all still going strong [singlepic id=18 w=320 h=240 float=right]today. They have graduated ToP facilitators in countries on almost every continent and are continuing to equip and advocate for the active participation of communities and individuals in the decisions that impact them. Many have shared with us since then that it was that spirit of collective effort in the Phoenix IToP events that has often inspired and sustained them in their own work.

A short video about the 2005 IToP group created by Tom Elliott.