Building Trust, Mobilising Communities and Sustaining Response through SALT - Volunteer Youth Corps Young Leaders Club

Building Trust, Mobilising Communities and Sustaining Response through SALT - Volunteer Youth Corps Young Leaders Club by Korey Anthony Chisholm – National UN Volunteer

When young people get organized at the community level, have an open and fair representation in the ‘organisations and youth projects’, have access to information, hold genuine dialogue sessions among themselves and with the grown-ups, and use participatory approaches in their advocacy events on a range of issues around Sexual Health, Peace and risky behaviours that make young people vulnerable to HIV and Violence. The visit to VYC Young Leaders Club in Durban Backlands Georgetown Guyana, as part of the SALT visit, facilitated by Community Life Competence Team in Guyana, was truly inspiring. Sustained local responses strengthened by the needed services and supportive space offered to youth from difficult circumstances, made 30 teenagers to be positive change agents. The credit goes to the local responses undoubtedly.

VYC Young Leaders Club began organizing itself to respond to the need for youth to be agent of peaceful change in their communities. This was led by National UN Volunteers attached to Volunteer Youth Corps. The club was started by Quaysi Millington in early summer of 2010 with support from me and Gavin Thomas. After the summer vacation I was tasked to be the Manger to implant SALT as the Way of Working and Thinking, as we embarked to develop a community-based leadership approach with a particular focus on mobilizing young people to be leaders for peace and community action.

Although communities around greater Georgetown like Lodge, Sophia and Ruimveldt were struggling to deal with conflict and violence even within the schools, there wasn’t a single person who had not experienced violence within the VYC project. The foresight of program officers could see the threat school fights and aggression amongst participants posed, especially to the young people, and had therefore began working on the much-needed community-preparedness to build an effective conflict and peace building response.

VYC works in three main communities with 100 teenagers and youth. Youth and teens aged 14 to 18 were mobilized to express their interest in being a young leader most participants were either in the VYC After-school programme for six (6) months or more. These youth were a good representation of various communities and schools, and they were to be trained to take leadership not only in working on an ongoing basis with youth in their respective communities, but also to participate at the community-level initiatives regularly. It is amazing to note how these young people can manage a fair and open representation process in every way and provide many opportunities to un-learn for us ‘grown-ups’.

The young people had regular discussions on a range of issues including those on sex, sexuality, gender, relationship, conflict and peace. We have been using participatory theatre, music and dance performances on themes around Relationship building, Peace and Gender to raise more awareness and understanding of key issues in the community.

It is also interesting how the young people had ideas of raising financial resources at provincial level to meet the costs of events. To see a good financial management capacity in these young people from the communities is indeed interesting to note. This also speaks volumes on sustainability of local responses.


Implementing SALT

There are Six (6) basic steps in going through the process with any community

  1. SALT Visit: When  your are considering  working with  any community and  strengthening  your  mobilisation  skills  you first do a SALT visit,  which entails introducing  the process and having communities identifying their hopes and concerns, strengths they have within the community. Have community present these things to each-other. This is where the leader or facilitator will also evaluate the community using SALT meaning. Dream Building “Where you want to go”: When communities have highlighted their hopes, concerns, strengths you would complete a dream building activity. This is done in first   having persons to reflect on personal dreams and then moving to the community level thinking at “community dreams”, or what they want for their community. The community will them develop a 1 – 2 community dreams in the form of a tree since most of their dreams may be similar and some of them will definitely overlap.
  1. Self Assessment “Where you are now”: Now that communities have identified their strengths and clearly defined their dreams, you will do a self-assessment with the community to see where they are at present. Same as for the steps above, they will first do personal assessment and then they will do it as a community and share their actual levels based on the Self-Assessment developed either in Peace, HIV, Sexual Reproductive Health and so on. To develop a self assessment there will be the need for the guidance of a Community Life Competence Coach or Facilitator. Self Assessment consists of practices and levels, the practices vary based on the issues being assessed. Please refer to Annex II for some examples of framework.
  2. Action Planning and Action: Community now knows that they have strengths, they have developed a vision through dream building and have assess themselves base on the practices in the area of which they wanted to be competent. Now it is time to plan for action using the community self-assessments, they will identify priority areas that they want to improve on. For example at VYC youth and teens assess themselves on practice of inclusion: they realise that  most  members  within the club are aware of  the need to be inclusive of all members in discussion making, however  no action is completed to ensure this  is possible, hence some  of the members who are quiet and shy are left out of the conversations and no one seek their inputs. They then work on ensuring that these members are involved in  the discussion  and  systematically it becomes a part of the culture of the club that everyone is included in discussion making or have their voices heard either through smaller group discussions or suggestion boxes. In the action planning the community will identify activities, resources needed, persons responsible etc. This allows them to build on what strengths they have as a community and get the action completed without looking for external funding or support unless needed, since it can be found within the community.
  3. Self Measuring and Adopting to Changes: Once the action planning and actions have been completed community will have After Action Review (AAR) meeting during the implementation of the actions and see what needs to change to achieve their goals and adopt as soon as possible.
  4. Learning and Sharing: Finally  community  can now learn from each other and share on what  happen during the implementation of activities, through a knowledge fair or any other knowledge related event, where they can  build a knowledge asset for future learning and transferring of skills and knowledge. This facilitates sharing of their knowledge with other communities and gaining experiences from others in different communities who may have worked in that area.

Using SALT as a Tool for Community Mobilization and Group Sustainability

Amongst the aims of UNDP - Enhanced Security, Public Trust and Inclusion (ESPTI) project is to empower youth to serve as peaceful change and constructive reduction of conflicts. Also as the name says build trust and ensure inclusion within communities. The use of SALT method with the Young Leaders Club helped to mobilize teens in being transformative leaders and have them leading in promoting peaceful change through, listening and learning from each other, sharing and supporting persons equally on same grounds, assist and take action in order to have results so they can transfer knowledge to peers and family members.

Way of Thinking

My experiences tell me that communities have the capacity to respond to the challenges that are affecting them. This very simple statement challenges the deeply held beliefs of many of us who have worked in large organisations. Although we may not put it quite so bluntly, we act on the premise that THEY have a problem and that WE have a solution. We are the experts.  If we are to support Local Response, we have to work hard to change this 'expert' mindset. I can assure you from my own experience that this is not easy.

Way of Working

Once we leave behind our expert mindset, we begin to work differently. Instead of looking for weaknesses that I can correct, I begin to look for strengths that I can support. Instead of looking for opportunities to do things to communities or for them, I start to look at how I can learn from them.

I summarise my Way of Working with the word SALT. I Stimulate action through Appreciative questions, I Support each other in the Appreciation of individual and community strengths, exchange their perspectives about what they have learned from each visit, and prepare to Transfer lessons learned to their own context.

At VYC youth and teens have adopted SALT method as the way of thinking and working, hence we utilised the method and the tools in developing the Young Leaders Club programmatic strategy & approach. You may find easy to understand the mobilizing aspect, but how can SALT be assisting or aid in the club/organisations sustainability? Youth and teens have personally been using SALT to enhance their lives not just at VYC but in their homes and schools too; they now always build on their strengths, even when there is no external funding, beside organisations fundraising they can ask themselves: what do we have in our homes and family circle that can contribute to events or activities? Youth and Teens from the club once planned a picnic as a outing for relationship building; we normally request funds from VYC Project Coordinator to offset expenses for food and transportation. Since they learnt about SALT, they proposed to bring their own items and did not request for transportation from the VYC Coordinator. When I told the project Coordinator she was surprised and was somewhat concerned about them turning-up with  items, however on the event day we had more food  than we planned and it was the best activity executed without funding support, and at the end the Coordinator rewarded the group with transportation funds for that day for the great efforts! Other sustainability mechanisms entails on the life of the group, keeping the momentum alive for a long term period. We have taken the approach where youth and teens would implement their dreams and address their hopes and concerns, which also was used to develop the second phase of VYC EPTSI proposal to UNDP.

Even though  VYC has  no funding  youth and teen continue to come to VYC and engage in activity even on weekends because  they have taken ownership of  the change they wanted to see in their communities  and would  make suggestions daily on what  can be done  with the club.


Facing Challenges with SALT Working with Youth and Teens

Getting youth to understand method – During the implementation of SALT, I found that youth and teens form difficult backgrounds and disadvantaged areas take a longer period to understand and use the method especially if it is not fulfilled.  Being creative and going slow has helped the process.  Moreover showing examples of how they can use salt in their life and not just on completing task at VYC but in their schools and homes worked well.

Uniting youth to take action on their own – the fact that the youth at VYC are from different communities and schools was initially a challenge especially in them not being confident and had their ways of doing things as individuals. In some cases youths refused to work with others and had no relationship with other members if they have had disagreements in the past. Having the youth observing that everyone had a dream and that it was similar caused them to work closer and see each-other as leaders, they valued relationships and experiences.

Making the process fun and interesting for teens – In everything we do with youth and teens fun is the over lining objective for their motivation of wanting to be there. After saying what SALT meant  I also asked the  youth/teens  to  say what  they taught it meant  and  we  had laughs about SALT, I would share jokes and even  encourage  their  jokes to get into their way of  chilling out, because there is when they will listen to me. However my objective is to change this attitude and it happens on its own, because of their understanding of SALT and the influence it would have in their free time: they share these experiences with me too. I even have the youths planning events so that we can implement SALT in various alternative settings.

Dealing with  different level within teenagers in terms of education, family values, attitudes and  socialization – Diversity  is what  you will face in  communities  in Guyana but the educational and value levels of  youth and teens are always different, to ensure that  the  slow learners don’t get left behind, the use of  storytelling, drawing and small group work helped in  getting the shy and non-confident person shine. In other cases using the fast learners to facilitate meeting and conduct sessions building on their strengths was also a plus.

Age poses  treats and meeting the needs of a 14 year old against  18 year old was a challenge, but among VYC young leaders membership, sports, dance and music is  the common  ground for all to feel like they belong to the group. If I know that one of them is good at, and most of all likes, singing, I would have them lead on making sounds or singing about issues we are discussing. Which help others to realise, how talented their peers are and the strengths available in the group that they can learn from.


Lessons Learnt

Taking youth in different circumstances or from single parent homes – the process will take more time. However there will be more experiences to share. Community Life Competence Process is new for them; there is more room for me to explore and working with these Youths while I get to know them more and learn from them. Basically I have more experiences to share on how to execute the process with youth at their age and with their family background. Going through building dreams with teens as highlighted, helps them to express their real interests and needs (we noticed great concerns for environmental issues within their school, need for a safe space accessible, one young man even shared his wish of having a daycare within the community: he always had to look after his sister when his mother is out, and he has no time for self expression!

Once youth understand and adapt to the process to their way of thinking and working, you notice positive changes in their lives – Youth will share with others, listen and take action together with open-minds, willing hearts and caring bodies. After assessing themselves as to where they are personally, persons begin to share their stories on some of the things they were engaged in and how the program has helped them. But initially they were not confident and had no trust in expressing these things, especially the boys.

Once facilitators share a bit of themselves youth and teens will gain trust to do the same. As mentioned above the boys would have questions on topics but would ask in private, also they would want to express themselves, but are often afraid to be laughed at, hence they would keep quiet. Since the aim of EPTSI Project is on building trust within communities, I shared my experiences as a teenager over a period with the teens and youth and it has helped them to be  more comfortable with me until they  started to  share their stories with not only me but with the entire group since they  consider the  group a family.

SALT has help teens and youth to see their strengths and share their knowledge – youth at VYC can now openly share on behaviours they have changed from fighting and being a bully at school, overcoming masturbation, disrespecting girls and older person on road and so on.

Organisations must have a structure to deal with empowered and highly motivated youth – who will be members of the organisation. What has happened is that now the youth are eager to get things done within their communities, but the leadership of the organisation is not yet ready to engage youth fully. Once you are mobilising youth with SALT ensure that flow-up support is in place to sustained and create behaviour change and community ownership. At VYC this was a great issue and we have learned our lesson.

When working in any given community, SALT users always needs to be prepared and be open-minded and leave room for disappointments and surprises. Some groups or communities may be fast and other slow; some may ask questions and reject process.

Engaging parents in similar activities will assist in effective change with youth. Since families are now also exposed to the process, youth and teen can share experiences. And changes in their lives are sustained.

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Comment by Korey Anthony Chisholm on April 29, 2011 at 10:50pm
You are well come i am here if you  have questions
Comment by Abass Kanu on April 29, 2011 at 3:37pm
Hi Anthony, thanks for this wonderful presentation and i have learnt a lot especially using  the SALT method.


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