Connecting local responses around the world
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.
There are Six (6) basic steps in going through the process with any community
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
v 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.
v 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.
v 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.
v 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.
v 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.
v 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!
v 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.
v 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.
v 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.
v 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.
v 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.
v 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.