By Nis Sperling,Youth Delegate, IFRC Europe Zone
Can two boxes, 200 drinking straws and blindfolds made from old curtains empower the youth of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to promote a future of non-violence and peace? If you ask all the participants to the latest Youth as Agents of Behavioural Change-training in the Balkans – the answer is yes!
The Youth as Agents of Behavioural Change-training (YABC) is designed to put into action the goals of the Strategy 2020, promoting a culture of non-violence and peace among participants. In this spirit, 35 volunteers from the Croatian Red Cross, Red Cross of Montenegro, Red Cross of Serbia and the Red Cross Society of Bosnia and Herzegovina came together in the Montenegrin costal town of Sutomore this summer to get familiar with the YABC-toolbox skills and methods, which would ultimately contribute to improving the relief-efforts of their respective National Societies.
Think outside the box
In the first day of training participants had to choose between a shiny box and a rough and patched up box without knowing their contents. The exercise impacted each of them in different ways.
One participant, for instance, learnt that the peer pressure influenced his choice more than he would had ever thought. Another noted that too often we let other people dictate our behaviour. The conclusion was that our choice depends entirely on the personal perspective.
Peer-education is the foundation of the YABC, and the final goal of the training is to enable everyone involved to spread the word among co-volunteers and in their close communities. Sava from Red Cross of Serbia said that “both sides must be motivated to achieve the desired end: an educator must be willing to give and peers must be willing to accept new ways of thinking, and to learn.”
Renato from Croatian Red Cross thought that an effective peer-educator “must be the change you want to see, and inspire others by example.”
A peer educator should also know how to listen. “Pay attention to the entire person and engage and enquire when there are details you do not understand,” said Damir from Red Cross of Serbia.
Several exercises required participants to be blindfolded and become as such completely dependent on the help of others. Help was never guaranteed but rather it was up to the individual participants to decide how they would react in an emergency knowing that the safety of the rest of the people in the room depended on them.
This practice was meant to show that help comes from people who understand your situation and make an effort to preserve your dignity, and it also revealed how it felt to lose an ability you normally have.
The simulated earthquake proved to be a powerful exercise for many of the participants as they flew to safety, only to realize upon return to their “homes” that much was lost during the so called disaster. Some lost only a pair of shoes while other lost family and friends. Despite the fact that the loses were only words on paper this was an overwhelming experience especially for those involved in the relief operations during the recent Balkan floods. Some had to leave the room to calm powerful emotions.
“This was a very strong experience for me” Renato said. “I was a volunteer during the heavy floods in my country and it really put my work in a new perspective. It made me realise that to be able to help we must not be overwhelmed by emotions.”
”Everything I have learned about group facilitation, mediation and mitigation is immensely useful in my work as a Red Cross volunteer in our anti-trafficking program” said Renata from Red Cross of Serbia, who also thought that testing the tools together made her understand how these can change and move dynamics in a group.
Anel from the Red Cross Society of Bosnia & Herzegovina had made new good Red Cross friends but the most important thing he took from the training was the conviction his country and region should never again engage in conflict.
“I feel that the lessons learnt at the YABC will enable us to prevent conflict and strife in the future.” he concluded.