Training teachers from South Ossetia

The repeated recurrences of the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict since 1992 following the break-up of the Soviet Union, along with the increasing isolation of South Ossetia from the outside world have resulted in widespread trauma and the destruction of South Ossetian social fabric. In particular, since the latest flare-up of violent hostilities in August 2008, working on such a prolonged and deep conflict requires an extremely careful and balanced approach based on the principle of “do no harm”.

Between 5th to 8th June 2010, International Alert conducted the first in a series of trainings for teachers from South Ossetia, using a methodology first tried and tested with teachers from Beslan, North Ossetia, after the school siege tragedy of September 2004. Back then, the teachers used newly acquired skills in dealing with individual and social trauma, first to overcome their own trauma and later to support affected children and their communities. In doing so, the teachers demonstrated and popularised the idea amongst their peers and local communities that by actively helping others, one can help oneself.

The essence of the training this June was to help those teachers who are already active in their communities to work more effectively with their students and parents, and also with the legislative and executive branches to bring about positive change in the education system. To this end, the trainers shared a wide range of tools and techniques for dealing with trauma, successful communication and analysis of social problems.

Many factors arising from the context were taken into account prior to and during the training. For example, the team of trainers was selected for their many years of experience and long-term partnership with Alert working in different regions of the Caucasus. Their in-depth knowledge of South-Ossetian social and political life and their understanding of the fears and stereotypes held in such traditional societies emerging from war allowed the trainers to establish a safe space and engage the trainees’ attention and active participation.

Alert’s long-term vision for this project is to provide the opportunity for the most active and respected social class – teachers and social workers – to develop and strengthen their civic activity. The value of the training can be summed up in the words of one teacher on the final day: ‘I came to Brussels with a cynical mindset, thinking that I knew everything and wondering what could anyone possibly expect to teach me now. But now that I’m leaving, I realise how stupidly naïve I was’.