From the 9th-12th of January 2011, International Alert hosted the third in a series of training courses for teachers from South Ossetia in Amsterdam.
After the first two successful training seminars and with additional interim support, the participants’ perception and awareness of the importance of civic initiatives and social change has grown tremendously.
The teachers have themselves now begun to express the ideas and recognise the benefits of civic engagement and cooperation, including even the use of NGO terminology to describe their work.
During this third seminar, the teachers assessed the impact of the small grants that they had received in order to implement extra-curricular social activities. The course trainers provided additional tools and helped build participants’ confidence and skills in this respect.
The teachers also shared their experiences with each other and reflected on their professional and social activities – which are closely intertwined – highlighting the need for and benefits of post-war social rehabilitation. Implementing the projects had helped to change their own self-perception about their role in their communities and had given them a new perspective.
For example, teachers who worked with special needs children had seen a dramatic erosion in the level of educational support and schools infrastructure due to the conflict over the years. These teachers have now started to redefine themselves as advocates for special needs children in their society. An important aspect of this advocacy is for teachers to work directly with parents and to articulate the issues that families with special needs children face through local television, newspapers and public debates.
The wider social resonance from this initiative was reflected in positive feedback to the teachers’ initiatives that they received from their communities. Teachers were praised for undertaking action even on a modest scale. It even shocked some people in the community who realised that the endless years of conflict following the collapse of the Soviet Union had stifled the free and natural expression of these kinds of “small acts of humanity” within their own communities.
In another project, pupils and teachers gathered at weekends to clear up rubbish from public areas and to plant seedlings. These environmental clean-up projects were especially effective. When local people in the vicinity saw what teachers and pupils were doing, they joined in and some even began to organise their own “action groups” in their communities. This display of independent social activism even had the local authorities rolling up their sleeves and joining in to support the campaign.
Projects aimed at improving education, facilitating the transition from Soviet style to a more modern, interactive and child-centred approach, proved not only to have a direct educational benefit for children, but also a broader public resonance. This resonance led to an increased awareness that an alternative approach can be a good thing – and if there is no alternative, then one can simply be created.
The participants’ feedback can be summed up in the words of one of the teachers who, at the end of the seminar, spoke for the group when they said: ’You have turned us all into NGO people!’
The next phase of this initiative will focus on supporting teachers to continue to develop their skills and also to work collaboratively to draw in a wider range of community stakeholders (for example parents, other teachers, local authorities) to discuss how to resolve social and related educational problems in South Ossetia.
This initiative is funded by the EU Instrument for Stability and COBERM (funded by the European Union and administered by UNDP, the United Nations Development Programme).