Strength Through Solidarity (2017) project was recently concluded at Uganda and I was fortunate to attend the evaluation training phase of the project. Project STS was born from a desire of grassroots change-makers living across distant places to connect with each other, in order to share their challenges and successes with like-minded people from around the world. These change-makers realized the difficulties in organization and capacity-building of organizations working for youth empowerment. Lack of opportunities to share knowledge and experience with organizations working in similar areas hinder the creation of synergies and hamper their recognition by companies or institutional partners.
As a solution to all of the above problems, project “Strength Through Solidarity” was conceived to develop a transnational capacity building training program and to present the best practices which traverse the European context. The objective was to build on tried and tested workable solutions in empowering youth with fewer opportunities (especially with a disability) by providing the tools (mobility initiatives and online platform) for youth workers to work collaboratively in a non-formal, peer-learning environment and disseminate their best practices. To achieve above-mentioned objectives, a series of activities were organised at national and international level throughout the year. A promising group of partner organizations from all over the world were working together to achieve these objectives, which included-
- Foundation for social economic balance (Poland)
- Solidarity film doc foundation (Poland)
- Views international (Belgium)
- The German federation for the blind and partially sighted (Germany)
- Bars in action (Brazil)
- Thumbs up Uganda (Uganda)
- Jyothirgamaya India (India)
- Always reading Caravan (Thailand)
Change-makers from these organisations met in Poland in September 2016 and shared their experiences, best practices and knowledge about working with youth with disabilities. They organised and attended workshops on topics like peer support, curriculum development in informal education, advocacy, empowerment, and sustainability. In next few months the Strength Through Solidarity web portal www.networkofchange.org was created which disseminates valuable experiences and information on the following topics-
- Disability Awareness
- Intercultural Communication
- Empowering yourself and community
- Developing content for e-learning
- How to raise funds
- Peer support for change makers
Based on these trainings, each partner organisation conducted workshops in their country, mainly dedicated to youth workers, local activists and volunteers from NGOs. 78% of the participants appreciated the knowledge they gained during the workshops and 79% of the participants said they would apply it in their further work. Seven youth workers also took part in four-week job shadowing program and practiced on the job learning.
Training Evaluation at SINA, Uganda
In mid-August 2017, 52 change makers of 14 different nationalities came together in Uganda to evaluate these online training programs. The venue – Social Innovation Academy (SINA, Mpigi hills) was as fascinating and unique as the STS project. It made an impact which a hotel location or a conference hall would not have made. Along with formal training evaluation, engaging discussions over bonfire offered the participants a fascinating opportunity for experience sharing and understanding different perspectives on global issues. The greenery of Africa and the mountain air at the top of Mpigi hill set an ideal ambiance for introspection and retrospection.
On the first day of our training, SINA volunteers took us around to show their projects. After the visit, we had an interesting discussion with founder Etienne Salborn about the vision and ideology of SINA. It was interesting to see how they practice holacracy, a system in which authority and decision-making are distributed throughout a holarchy of self-organizing teams rather than being vested in a management hierarchy.
During the evaluation of the program, intensive discussions happened among the participants of the Strength Through Solidarity project. We split ourselves into small groups and pondered upon the structural and functional aspects of the program –
- Did STS achieve what it planned to achieve?
- Was it structured/organised?
- How it was to be part of the project?
All the groups evaluated STS through innovative ways by formulating some prototypes and interactive performances. Those who were part of STS from its inception shared their experiences and learnings from job shadowing phase. Course creators shared how it was little stressful to create the courses. It was quite challenging to discuss the progress of the project over Skype from different locations at the same time. Barrier of language was another difficulty during content creation. The attempt to translate the content in multiple languages is great but it needs some more improvement. Change makers also shared what they have done to increase community participation. Some of the suggestions were that the promotion of the network of change website needs improvement. The solution to address this was to identify volunteers from the 52 participants who can promote these courses in their own countries and network. Also, a digital certificate can be given to participants after completion of the training program to encourage people to take the trainings.
The challenge of making the courses accessible to physically disabled people was very difficult to crack. The evaluators appreciated the focus on making the content accessible to blinds, whereas it would have been better if the needs of other marginalised people were also addressed. The program motivated all the change makers to do more work in their community once they go back to home country. Apart from evaluation of the training, a huge amount of cultural exchange between change makers happened over this week. During lunch or tea breaks, at the same time, 4 to 5 different languages were being spoken in the hall. Blind participants left mark on the training evaluation with their high level of motivation and energy. Having a considerable amount of blind participants in the training evaluation was a different experience for some participants who never worked with blinds before. The exercise of walking blind folded in the deep Mpanga forest was an overwhelming experience for many. Ultimately, STS succeeded in creating good content which will be helpful for change makers from all over the world in future. Though there is some scope for improvement, at the end everyone agreed that the STS project has been a good source of capacity building.