Blog: Giraffe mobs and other teaching tales

Dr Mhoira Leng
15th December 2012

Hi to my friends; after a VERY LONG silence I am going to post a few entries over the next few weeks as a reflection on an amazing year in the work of Cairdeas.
I was reminded of this quote attributed to Mother Theresa a few days ago; 'At the end of our lives we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received  how much money we have made or how many great things we have done. We will be judged by; I was hungry and you gave me to eat. I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless and you took me in'  and the biblical quote continues, 'I was sick and you cared for me'  I want to share some of the humbling ways we are able to work in partnership to support some of the most vulnerable in our world - those in pain.
Teaching, training and mentorship is one of the key ways we are working to build capacity for palliative care. For those who want to support our Christmas appeal to help build capacity and training please click on our link to read about 2 of our our justgiving site.
I have had the privilege this year of visiting 10 countries (including UK and Uganda) to be involved in training. A much used format is the Palliative Care Toolkit and Training Manual (find 7 different language versions at developed to support introductory learning in palliative care and to model an interactive learner centered style. This is good adult learning terminology but what does it look like in practice?
Serious planning in Mussoorie
Let me tell you some giraffe building tales. Take a few newspapers, some sticky tape, several willing (or not so willing) learners divided into groups with a good dollop of enthusiasm and give them 10 to 15 minutes to make the tallest giraffe possible to win - with one proviso; it must stand for 10 seconds unaided. The aim of this exercise is to demonstrate team working and it is amazing how many learning points emerge;
1. ensure a clear vision; a very long neck and the incredibly long legs may not support that fat body
2. planning; perhaps some thought to how to strengthen the base and legs will be worth the time taken
Jumana leaning giraffe
3. collaborate; fighting over the sticky tape means everyone is slower
4. participate; everyone has a role and something to offer even if they don't shout the loudest
5. innovate; who thought up the newspaper base to stop it slipping
6. celebrate others success; sabotage to the other teams' giraffe in order to try and win never works (or at least will be disallowed)
Hugs for the winners in Aberdeen
Sounds straightforward? Easy to describe but can go a little haywire when the facilitator (me) loses control of 40 wonderful but feisty colleagues in Ghana such that we had to remove the giraffes to prevent sabotage and actual physical harm now known as the 'giraffe mob' incident. Then we had some Swahili fun in Tanga region with gales of laughter and no giraffes left standing. High in the mountains of India in Mussorie colleagues on a leadership course wanted to argue their giraffes were tired and needed to lean on the table for some support. Easier with the UK friends who came to the annual Cairdeas gathering - with the team which included a physicist and orthopaedic surgeon winning hands down - or is that hooves?

Sunset in the Himalayas
Sculpture in Ghana
All part of the privilege of being involved in international training; seeing colleagues grow and learn; mutual sharing of the joys and the challenges of palliative care where physical resources are often so limited yet spiritual and cultural resources so rich; helping train and equip leaders for the future; warm and generous welcome into so many different cultures; inspired by the people we meet and the beauties of the natural world.

As the African proverb says; 'If you want to go fast travel alone; if you want to go far go together.'
Many thanks to all who have traveled this journey with me and with Cairdeas in 2012.