By Dr. Katrien Beeckman, Head of the Principles and Values Department, IFRC & Founder of the YABC initiative. This speech was delivered as a RedTalk in July, 2011 at the IFRC Secretariat, Geneva.
There was a small, crippled old lady running a hamburger stand in the centre of Manhattan, N.Y. This hamburger stand was very famous because it just defied all human imagination. You could get any kind of hamburger there. Hamburger with gherkins, onions and ketchup – the traditional, but also hamburgers with walnut ice cream or with dried sunflowers to favour digestion. A rich Wall Street businesswoman wanted to try it out and push the limits. Impatiently, she rushed up to the old lady: “Make me one with all.”
Slowly and diligently the old lady gathered all the toppings, even the sunflowers, and handed over the hamburger to her client, who tended her a one hundred dollar note, she did not have smaller. The old lady gave her a gentle smile, put the note in her moneybox and turned to the next customer. The Wall Street business woman was taken aback, and threw herself in between them, “Excuse me, where is my change?” Slowly and diligently the old lady turned to her and said “change, Madam, comes from within.”
This talk is dedicated to RC/RC youth all over the world, in honour of their voice and commitment reflected in the Youth Declaration, of July 2009, when they gathered to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the RCRC and commemorated the battle of Solferino and our founder Henry Dunant. “In a world full of challenges, we the youth of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement commit ourselves to: 1. Inner change and the development of skills to promote harmony and positive attitudes within communities; and to 2. Live our seven Fundamental Principles as agents of behavioural change in our communities.”
Preparing myself to enter this position in 2008, two questions popped up again and again in RCRC official documents, and they appeared to me as touching the essence, the core of RC/RC.
The first one was: how do we go from cognitive knowledge and understanding of our 7 Fundamental Principles to their actual application? In other words, how do we live these Fundamental Principles, how can they penetrate who, what and how we are, our entire being as RC/RC and as individuals committed to the RC/RC?
The second question was: how can we promote a change of attitudes, mindsets and behavior in the community? This question emerged from 1999 onwards, when the International Federation in its Strategy 2010 committed to influence behavioural change in the community towards non-discrimination, and respect for diversity. This is even more prominent now in our Strategy 2020, where one of our three strategic areas of focus is the promotion of a culture of nonviolence and peace?
Actually, going through commitments and decisions of our NS leaders and States also in the International Conference of RCRC, I got ideas for an initiative the Principles and Values Department could bring to our membership. The first element of an answer was that by living our fundamental principles, or walking our talk, we would be in a position to inspire behavioural change. Other keys I found were: empowering youth to take up a leadership role, the strength of non-formal peer education for youth, and the importance of humanitarian education beyond the cognitive, touching the hearts and the feelings.
So this was how YABC was born. I made a cocktail of all these elements, a cocktail that would be tasty, attractive and innovative.
Let’s go back to the central question. How do we live our Fundamental Principles? Take humanity for example. One of the greatest RCRC shapers, Jean Pictet, defined humanity amongst others as alleviating human suffering, treating beneficiaries or others humanely. He highlighted essential humanitarian values that underpin the principle of humanity, such as mutual understanding, compassion, respect for the human being… So, how are we able to live this? Humanity is about human connection, relating to the other. It is a two way flow of energy, thoughts, feelings. And I thought, what we really need to live humanity, is empathy, and empathy is something - call it a skill, competency or quality - one can develop.
Another example: the RCRC Principle of impartiality. Jean Pictet’s clarification refers to action solely guided by needs, non-discrimination, objective decision-making without letting personal preferences interfere. Key humanitarian values underpinning this principle are: respect for diversity, open-mindedness. If we look critically at how we make decisions, we have to admit that it is often not what the other expresses, but how we interpret this, that guides our decision, or that we do not try to see the whole picture and hastily jump to conclusions, or that certain bias we may have or stereotypes embedded in our society guide our decision rather than an objective analysis. So reflecting on how to embody impartiality, developing or strengthening certain skills like active listening, critical thinking and dropping bias seemed essential.
There were two cars speeding in opposite directions on a narrow mountainous, hairpin bend. The woman came driving around the corner, and at the very last second avoided the male driver moving in the middle of the road. She shouted: “pig”! The guy was speechless for a moment and then threw back “cow”! It wasn’t until he had passed the bend that he saw a pig standing in the middle of the road.
Most humans form their opinion of somebody they meet within the first minute. What is it: intuition, gut feeling or labeling? Cognitive education pushes us to break things down , put them into boxes and classify them. How can we not label Tom as a crippled foreigner, but see he is a guy who loves watching football and takes good care of his kids?
So, YABC focuses on skills. We presented the idea to a group of 25 RCRC National Societies in September 2008, and together we agreed we would focus on the following: empathy; active listening; critical thinking, dropping bias and non-judgment; nonviolent communication and mediation.
We wanted YABC to aim at empowerment of youth, so it was decided that the whole initiative would be for, with and through youth. Youth would shape YABC together with P&V. They would be at the core and in the front of YABC: as learners, peer educators and agents of behavioural change in their National Society and local community.
When determining the methodology, the question we asked was: how can we optimize learning, engagement and action? We agreed that if we can feel something, connect to it, the learning is so much more powerful. So we went for a non-cognitive, or from the “heart to the mind”, methodology. Through role plays, games, visualizations, sport exercises, youth will be introduced to a topic like non-discrimination, and first their emotions are touched. For example, they will experience through a game what it is to be blindfolded in a room where all of a sudden a fire breaks out, and to be at loss, side pushed by others who rush to the door that others can see.
In a second stage only, we will turn to cognitive, analyze this with the mind. Youth will gather in a circle with their peers and discuss questions. How does it feel to be blindfolded and pushed aside? Are there people in our society who are “blindfolded” or vulnerable? Then for instance, will take them to a second round of the game and inverse roles, and those having been previously blindfolded and experienced what it is to be so, will now be conscious about this vulnerability and guide the newly blindfolded to the exit. Then again, in another debriefing, youth will reflect and share with their peers, so they build their understanding and insights themselves, individually and with the group. That way the learning comes from within, youth own it. This is actually the real meaning of education, coming from the Latin “e-ducere”, “to bring out, to guide out what is already inside, within”. If you are touched by this game, you’re more likely to want to actively help a wheel chaired person on a staircase.
And this is also related to another crucial question: change. How do we change? How do we change behaviour? Don’t do this! Don’t go there! Stop! This is the way a lot of us parents seek to change the behavior of our kids. Genuine, effective and sustainable change needs to come from within, not imposed, dictated or given into because of fear. The key lies in choice, autonomy, freedom to think and take up responsibility. So YABC does not convey “knowledge”, it creates a habit of questioning things, critically looking at yourself, and searching for the alternatives and a solution with youth peers that youth own and can defend.
The same holds for influencing change in the community. What is necessary is the creation of a space of trust, and again, key to this is listening, openness, etc. We won’t get there by imposing, labeling or judging. Youth will reach out to their community, raising awareness and understanding on non-discrimination, violence prevention, intercultural dialogue, gender, and social inclusion, through artistic platforms such as theatre, music, art, dance and sports.
One thing I still need to mention, a skill we also focus on is operating from inner peace. It seemed to us that in order to promote a culture of nonviolence and peace outside, it is essential to pursue peace and harmony inside, within ourselves. Addressing issues like discrimination or violence is energy-intensive. How do you engage in this without burning out ? Having empathy for others is great but not to the point where you are overwhelmed by emotions unable to act. How can we enhance our resilience to cope with stress, peer pressure or resistance? To this purpose, we have integrated “inner arts”, breathing, relaxation, yoga, movement and Qi Gong into YABC.
So that’s how YABC came into being and what YABC is. We have come a long way in a short time. It has spread like a positive virus RC/RC youth from all over the world want to catch… from France, to Lebanon to Uganda to Sri Lanka to Papua New Guinea. In less than 3 years, 1950 youth from 140 RC/RC National Societies have been initiated to YABC and 260 from 60 National Societies have been trained as peer educators. These are figures from the “international” level, as YABC peer educators then bring the initiative to their peers in their home national society, through gatherings, youth camps (like the Atlantis youth camp organized by the Center for Cooperation in the Mediterranean), workshops and trainings. In Egypt alone for instance, 650 youth have been initiated by the 2 Egyptian YABC peer educators originally trained. Together, we have developed a YABC toolkit of non-cognitive materials based on existing RCRC materials, which will be launched online at the International Conference of the RCRC this year.
Now, what is YABC’s impact? First on youth themselves, youth have reported YABC has given hem deepened self-confidence and trust, enhanced ability for team work and cooperation, humility and integrity, and strengthened self-resilience. Actually, let me give the floor to them by sharing some of their reported views in evaluations of trainings and activities.
“YABC does not just open our minds. It also develops our ability to challenge assumptions, change our perspective and think in a different way which results for instance in finding alternative solutions to violence.”
“In the past, I had violently forced a friend of mine who is gay to “act like a man”. YABC changed my vision radically and made me realize how much I regret it now.”
An IFRC leader in the field shared the following, “YABC guides youth in a true and very rich self-reflection, enabling them to learn about themselves. It unlocks their talents and strengthens their skills and belief that they can do something useful for their community.”
As to the impact on RC/RC work, it is still early and premature to carve this into stone, but youth and leaders have given the feedback that it positively impacts on the quality of our work, on how we do it. Some examples. In the Egyptian RC, YABC games on empathy, active listening and critical thinking have been integrated in first aid training. Comparing simulations prior and after integration of YABC, simulation actors have reported a striking difference in the way first aid was delivered, from a pure technique to a service with the heart. Staff and volunteer trainees reported that whereas they saw first aid before as the application of techniques, they now really consider first aid at the core of our Fundamental Principles and Values.
In Pakistan Red Crescent, YABC games putting participants in the shoes of refugees or IDPs have been integrated into disaster response training. Red Crescent staff reported it made them better realize what IDPs go through, how they are affected as human being. In Sierra Leone Red Cross, YABC has been brought to vulnerable youth, sex workers, drug addicts, the national youth coordinator shared with us that the sense of belonging YABC creates is a key to identifying new RC volunteers. In Sri Lanka Red Cross, YABC has been integrated into the “volunteer in action” programme seeking to develop a holistic approach where multi-skilled volunteers can not only address the physical needs, but also the emotional needs, of beneficiaries.
In North Africa, with the major support of the regional delegation, a major campaign was set up to raise awareness on the vulnerability of migrants and sensitize the community on cultural diversity. Youth organized football matches with migrants, discussions and distributed attractive visual arts brochures. In Tunisia, also YABC was useful to raise awareness on the prevention of HIV/AIDS on the beach in their ‘Summer without risk” initiative. The French Red Cross, official partner to the Ministry of Education to disseminate humanitarian values in schools, recently introduced YABC exercises. Teachers were very positive and what the 12 year old kids particularly liked was the freedom of expression and a higher sense of equality between the “teacher” and “learners”. Through a game dealing with labeling and stigmatization, they realized how much mockery goes on in school, against class or school mates who are not in line with the norm or mainstream. In tribal, traditional mountainous areas in Pakistan, youth committed themselves after the YABC training to convincing their parents to send their sisters to school.
So youth are on the move, with YABC. In the beginning, I dedicated the talk to all RC/RC youth. It is now time to also applaud all National Society leaders who have allowed and enabled their youth to act upon their enthusiasm, dynamism and vision.
Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues and friends, to conclude, I invite you to close your eyes and to listen with your heart to a YABC poem created in our Mali gathering by Tamer from the Egyptian Red Crescent and Sally from the British Red Cross:
Tree is life, grows with love, values are in roots, leaves are above.
Trunk grows tall, distributes everywhere, nourishment for all, never loses care
Yellow or green, soft or hard, leaves are the same, they are all in the heart,
However they differ, together forever