By Giovanni Zambello
Elisa is one of the 40 Red Cross Red Crescent youth from some 30 National Societies of Europe, Central Asia and Africa who are attending the YABC Summit taking place in Jesolo, northern Italy, as we speak. “Trying to work on our heart and feelings first, and through that reaching our mind - that’s what we’ve been trying to do in these days here at the YABC Summit” says Elisa Mastrantoni, a youth volunteer with the Italian Red Cross.
Peer education. Fundamental Principles. Inter-cultural dialogue. Youth empowerment. These are the four key words to describe the spirit of an event jointly organized by the Principles and Values Department, the Europe and Africa Zones, the Italian Red Cross and the Centre for the Cooperation in the Mediterranean. It brings together Red Cross and Red Crescent youth around the world to actively contribute to building a culture of non-violence and peace and keep the word given in 2009 in Solferino with the Youth Declaration.
YABC stands for Youth as Agents of Behavioural Change, the Federation programme inaugurated in 2008. As of today, it has initiated 1950 youth from 140 Red Cross Red Crescent Societies, and has trained 250 as peer educators from 60 National Societies.
“What’s amazing about such experience is that we are youth from so diverse cultures, background and experiences” continues Elisa. “All of us have a different story to tell, about how we volunteer, how we bring our action in our National Societies and how we live our Fundamental Principles. Though, I feel that here and now we’re united by a strong common need. The need to make a change in our communities”.
By working through, with and for youth, the YABC experience is aimed at empowering youth to play a stronger role in positively influencing behaviours, changing mindsets in their communities, and thus building stronger National Societies. In order to do that, it doesn’t convey knowledge, nor does it say to youth what to do or not to do. Instead, it aims at developing skills which can help youth change their perspective, and see their lives, their personal relationships and their way of considering voluntary work through a different lens. Empathy, active listening, critical thinking, elimination of bias, non-judgement, non-violent communication and mediation are some of the main skills that the programme tries to teach the trainees - so they are able to be agents of change, the living examples of the Fundamental Principles, as well as ambassadors of our principles of non-violence, peace and social inclusion.
“Two questions have led to the birth of what today is the YABC” comments Katrien Beeckman, Head of the Principles and Values Department. “How do we go from knowledge and understanding of our Seven Fundamental Principles to their actual application? In other words, how do we live these Principles? And again, how do we promote a change of attitudes, mindsets and behaviours in our communities?”
“The answer to the first question leads to the answer to the second: it is by living the Fundamental Principles in our everyday life that we can promote a change in mindsets in our communities. And how can we not only optimise learning but also engagement and action if not through alternative learning methods? If we can emotionally connect to something, if we can feel it, the learning is much more powerful” continues Katrien. “That is why the YABC utilizes non-cognitive education, from the heart to the mind, such as role plays, games, story telling, visualisation, sport exercises, etc. That brings us to another question; change: how do we change behaviour in society? Change cannot be imposed or dictated from outside, but needs to come from within.”
In Sierra Leone, the YABC initiative has been brought to vulnerable youth, drug users, and former sex workers. It creates a strong sense of belonging, and represents a key tool to identifying new Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers.
“Working as the National Youth Officer in the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society I have been able to apply YABC in all aspects of my work and life. It gives you something to say in all circumstances” tells us Abu Bakar, youth officer in the Sierra Leone Red Cross, and one the first pioneers of the programme back in 2008. “The facilitation skills I’ve learnt in my YABC journey and the Principles and their underpinning Values are applied from the instant I wake up in the morning till I go back to bed. I feel life is just a process of facilitating a group of difficult participants. I find that it works, especially when I realize that my working relationship with colleagues is on a high, and my personal life with family and friends has never been better”.
“The Pakistan Red Crescent Society was amongst the first National Societies in the Asia Pacific zone that piloted the YABC programme and integrated it into its activities with 36 YABC Peer Educators and 286 beneficiaries” notes Dawar, Deputy Youth Director in the Pakistan Red Crescent. “In our National Society we consider this as an effective model for youth empowerment where individuals volunteer to change themselves before expecting change in their respective communities.”
Since the birth of YABC in 2008, the P&V Department, together with the youth who participated in its training initiatives, developed a skills-based toolkit which was pilot-tested in Solferino in June 2009 by 20 YABC peer educators. Since then, it has been presented and field-tested during international, regional, national or local gatherings, and has been engaged in practical projects of social mobilisation. The finalized toolkit will be launched at the International Conference this November.
“The Jesolo summit represents the latest successful step of the process we embarked on in 2008, of spreading the seeds of inner change among youth, in order for them to be the first change in their respective communities. Our experience in these three years has taught us that YABC has first of all a positive impact on youth themselves. It deepens their self confidence and trust, it enhances their ability to engage in teamwork and cooperation, and gives them a sense of ethical leadership. But it also has an impact on the Red Cross Red Crescent work, and on the quality of the services we deliver” concludes Katrien Beeckman.