I learnt on Monday this week that a woman who influenced so much of my life had passed away aged 90 years.
Marie Bell’s name first came into my consciousness as a young child when my parents spoke of her and when my uncle (who was a colleague of hers) visited us. In the way that young children absorb things I knew that this woman was special and respected.
As a committee member of Wellington Parents Centre back in 1982 I met Marie for the first time. She ran some group skills training sessions for us and my notes indicate that in the first session we covered:
Welcoming techniques; feedback from practical exercises we participated in: a group discussion using the “fish bowl” technique; more feedback; introducing a film, how to use films in an ante-natal class; a general session to finish up the day.
All the time she was training us Marie would be saying “you can do this.” She was so encouraging and so passionately of the opinion that these skills were to be passed on by her and then from us to other parent volunteers. Learning through the experiential techniques she used, we came to realise that she was right. Empowerment happened.
For me the following points were gems from Marie and they were points that I carried in my facilitator’s toolkit and which I believe are still vital and timeless in any group situation:
Establish ground rules at any group meeting using group input to set these up
Time spent in planning every detail of a group pays off – the relationship with the group is critical
Things that look informal work the best in terms of getting feedback from the group
Prepare a climate for participation
Seek solutions – involve all group members
People and relationships were key to Marie. She cared deeply for humans of every age and for their health and well-being across all relationships. Her early childhood work reached my parents as they raised me and reached me at Playcentre with our third child.
Her adult education skills reached me through out all my years in Parents Centre. I was aware of her political voice in the Labour Party, her roles at Victoria University and her magnificent achievement later in life as she completed her PhD documenting the early pioneers of Parents Centre.
A story that she told, that has stayed with me, was, of a course in Assertiveness that she and some other women in Wellington set up in the 1970s. This was new stuff and the organizers only expected a handful of women to enroll. Hundreds, in fact, indicated their interest and in true style Marie and her group accommodated this and the courses ran with tremendous results and ongoing ripple effects.
I have so much to thank Marie for. She taught me a love of facilitation and the skills to use and so many other life long skills – listening, assertiveness, setting up a group, running effective meetings, group dynamics, parenting, healthy relationships and all the while she modelled of all these skills with an openness, a warmth and a wonderful sense of humour and care.
She was about grass roots movements, life long learning, empowerment, inclusion, peacefulness, healthy people, healthy relationships, early childhood education, the importance of the child’s holistic well being and development, women’s rights, the important role that men play in families and so many other positive causes.
Her influence has spread far and wide and her legacy will live on in so many ways.