Young volunteers train for six days to change themselves, and the world

Published: 2 January 2013 16:37 CET

By Sophie Sutrich

"I am angry! I am angry and sad that I've lived for 19 years without having been able to look beyond the labels we give to people. And to understand that we are all the same," says Anjatiana Rafiarenana, volunteer in the Analamanga branch of the Malagasy Red Cross Society, after the first three days of a Youth as Agents of Behavioural Change (YABC) training of peer educators held in Madagascar from 10 to 15 December. 21 youth volunteers from the Comoros Red Crescent, the Malagasy Red Cross Society and the Seychelles Red Cross Society worked alongside facilitators from the Mauritius Red Cross Society and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) over six days to experience and learn what it means to be agents of change.

In these sessions, the volunteers work on a wide range of interpersonal skills, giving new life to our Fundamental Principles and humanitarian values: skills such as active listening, critical thinking, understanding bias, negotiation and mediation that will help them become more effective leaders and inspire a positive transformation within themselves and in their communities. As peer educators they also contribute to promoting social inclusion and a culture of non-violence and peace, one of the key aspects of the IFRC’s Strategy 2020.

Claudette Herinilalao, youth volunteer from the Anosy region in Madagascar, was probably not thinking of Strategy 2020 when – her voice shaky but filled with pride – she delivered a presentation for the first time in her life in front of a group of people. And she wasn’t just presenting. She was facilitating a YABC exercise called ‘labelled’, where participants experience discrimination through role play, and this leads to a discussion on critical thinking, non-discrimination and bias.

Over the course of six days, participants are familiarized with concepts, tools and methods, enabling them to go back to their communities as peer educators and start a process of change. Six days packed with thematic sessions on the Fundamental Principles, peer education, facilitation, communication and personal development, but above all packed with participants already facilitating YABC activities themselves.

Finally, during the closing ceremony, Fanja Ratsimbazafi, Secretary General of the Malagasy Red Cross Society, and Boko Jean Coffi, regional development delegate of the IFRC, expressed their appreciation of the participants’ performance and stressed that the value of this training will radiate from the training sessions to communities across the region. The reply from the volunteers was clear: "We agree with you and we accept the challenge to turn our learning into concrete action in order to positively influence mindsets and behaviours in our communities."