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16. February 2006

Iraq-Workshop © Women without Borders

Iraq-Workshop 2 © Women without Borders

Iraq-Workshop 4 © WwB

Iraq-Workshop 6 © WwB

Iraq-Workshop 10 © WwB

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Iraq-Workshop 5 © WwB

Iraq - Step by Step into the Future

A Women without Borders Train-the-Trainer Workshop. 23.-29.1.2006

The Women without Borders team together with eight Iraqi trainers spent a unique week Rogner Bad Blumau Hotel in Styria.

The time we spent both in and out of the seminar room, inside with the ambience of the architectural genius of Hundertwasser as well as out in the snow-covered winter landscape, was a unique experience for all participants. Representatives of different ethnic and religious groups from Iraq, women and men, with our two workshop facilitators, Mag.a Eva Maria Gauss, a speech scientist with a research focus on gender and debate trainings and Mag. Armin Staffler, a theater pedagogist for spectACT – Consortium for political and social theatre with the Women without Borders Team gathered together for this momentous event. Thanks to the wonderful cooperation with Women for Women International and the support of their Iraq director Manal Omar, some of the most dedicated and best connected activists of the Iraqi civil society came all the way to Austria.

Everybody was filled with boundless energies, bubbling enthusiasm and openness into this project, with which we entered as „virgin soil“, which aptly describes the methodology of the workshop, as well as the composition of the group.

This unique initiative kicked off with the Women without Borders project „Iraq – Youth between Horror and Hope“, which was supported by the Austrian Federal Ministry for Social Affairs, Generations and Consumer Protection“. The project started in spring 2005 with the conduct of a survey for youth, parents and teachers in Baghdad.

Fear, insecurity, disorientation, general standstill and distrust : these are the words which describe, following our survey, the life of young people in war-torn Iraq. But despite the difficult situation, they are still positive and look forward to the future. Amidst dealing with a lot of pressure from the older generations, who see the future of their country completely in their hands, the Iraqi youth intensely desire to take an active part in the shaping of a new Iraq.

On the basis of the survey results, Women without Borders decided to develop a workshop-program for youth in Iraq. In the framework of an after-school clubs' perspectives, the aims of the program are: to attempt to develop confidence, to enable them to strengthen their identities, and to give them courage and the practical tools to participate actively in the development of a democratic Iraq. One of the focal points of the program is to deal with the pressure that is imposed on them and to find a realistic means to approach it.

According to Amanj A. Muhammed,one of the participants of the workshop, „most of the time the media transport only the bad news, the terror, the bomb attacks and the kidnappings. The positive developments are not mentioned. This training gives us and, in the next instance, our young people the change, to deal with the situation and to advance. The Workshop is an adventure, we learn from each other.“

Manal Omar of Women to Women International also opined, "Iraqis know exactly where they need to go, but are in need of the tools and resources how to get there. Trainings such as this provide unique tools and methods that Iraqis can take back with them to connect with their civil society in order to meet their goals.“

We are indeed very grateful to both Manal Omar and Rana H. Getan, who took part in the workshop in helping us identify and organize the group of Iraqi activists. We were very much privileged to have with us
Khaldoun J. Ali, Mercy Hands, Bagdad, Ban M. Farid, Al-Mustaqbal Organisation for Women, Bagdad, Ahmed H. Gutan, Women for Women International, Bagdad/Amman, Nagham K. Hamodi, Iraqi Women Network, Al-Najaf, Amanj A. Muhammed, Asuda Organisation, SPEDA Organisation for Youth Development, Suleimanya, and Asmaa Y. Pauls, United Women's League, Bagdad.

From the very beginning, even before the participants came to Austria, we tried to make sure that this would be a workshop based on mutual learning and teaching. We, Women without Borders together with our two facilitators, Eva Maria Gauss and Armin Staffler endeavor only to teach 'methods' and provide only 'shells' for exercises and games whose meaning and contents will have to be filled with the help of our Iraqi guests. With this approach, we can be assured that the contents which will be communicated within this workshop-program are relevant to the current situation and the life in Iraq and will be able to promote real change.

At first this approach created a feeling of uncertainty from the participants but this immediately changed into the willingness and the enthusiasm to try it out by the very next day.

Methodology and Contents of the Workshop-Program

“The workshop is based on mutual learning and this is the reason why it works out so perfectly. This is not about us, the facilitators, giving knowledge to the participants. But, on the contrary, it is a real exchange, from which both sides can profit.“ (Armin Staffler, theatre pedagogist)

„I already have attended many workshops, but this is the first training where there is all the time a communication with the trainers. It is like interaction, not only from the trainers to the people, but participative. This is a new experience.“ (Ban M. Farid)

Two different methodological frameworks were used in the workshop-program:

Armin Staffler attributes his work mostly to Augusto Boal, the Brasilian „inventor“ of the „Theatre of the Oppressed“ - a constructive art form which has been spreading successfully all around the world for the past decades and has been adapted everywhere. It is structured in such a way that it can be modified to fit the situation and context of the country or the group performing it. The most known form of the of this kind is called „Forum-theatre“.

In addition, Staffler uses the pedagogical method of Paulo Freire, „Learning through Dialogue“. In this part of the workshop, the most important part is to learn how to express ones feelings as well as the feelings of the community. Feelings which are bottled up cause illness.

The capacities gained through these activities will help young people to become active in a constructive way whether in fields of culture, civil society or even politics.

Eva Maria Gauss uses different methods of verbal communication to allow a better, non-violent understanding between individuals and groups. The understanding of civil society and peace is based on dialogue and commitment. Both can only work through verbal communication. „Rhethoric education“ in this sense doesn’t mean to convince the communication partner but instead to identify similarities through a fair exchange of arguments. The program adopts Marshall Rosenberg's theory of „Nonviolent Communication“, applied practically. In a society dominated by violence as in the case of Iraq, it poses a challenge as well as a promising alternative.

The manual is at the moment under development with the help of all participants. After receiving new perspectives and insights from them, it has been decided that it will contain four constitutive modules:

Module 1.) “Exchange of Experiences and Emotions”
to tell / to share / to trust
Module 2.) “Confidence in myself, confidence in the group“
to exchange/ to describe/ to listen
Module 3.) “Future in our Hands”
to listen/ to take a position/ to focus on the issue
Module 4) “Step by Step”
to practice

Both methods were implemented in each of the modules and fortunately in the course of the workshop, we realized that they complement each other perfectly.

Additionally, we identified thematic areas which are relevant for the current situation in Iraq. Each exercise in the module can be portrayed and discussed in the light of each one of these areas: Security, Gender relations, Generation (gaps), Education system, Health and Violence.

Implementing each of the exercises through one of the thematic areas was of great use because of their practical adaptability and made sure that each of the workshop participants could gain many new insights and prospects on Iraq's future and the role of every single individual in it.

A lot of things happened for each and every participant this week. First and foremost, they not only got to know themselves a lot better, but they also got to know the others in a different level. Emotions and thoughts,which normally stay hidden,were unfolded. There were a lot of discussions, interesting exchanges, and even differences in opinions. But through it all, 'respecting' one another was always the most important and the focus was kept on a common goal which is the creation of a better Iraq with more freedom for everyone.

In the first exercise, „Scaling our Feelings“, on a scale between 0 to 10 (with 10 being the highest), one of the participants chose the „3“ and then added that he/she felt anxious and worried. With this revelation, the whole situation for the group changed. Because she opened up her feelings even if they were different from anyone else's in the group it allowed others to see his/her actions and reactions in this light and to develop more compassion and understanding. We can see a corollary to this with the Iraqi youth.
For them who have to learn anew what it means to trust each other, these moments of unfolding yourself, together with the feeling of being guided by the group (another experience which is put into practice with one exercise), will hopefully support the creation of a group identity based on trust; and additionally, help them to gain more stability and orientation for their future.

„It’s the first time for me to participate in such a training. You discover yourself and the others – and this is so important, to find out what happens within ourselves and the others, and how we can transform this for the current situation of Iraq. It is exactly what Iraqi youth needs: to get to know themselves better, to improve themselves and to actively participate in society.“ (Asmaa Y. Pauls)

We, Women without Borders together with the Iraqi activists, constituted a real 'group' during this week and we shall join forces again to work for the future of Iraq and the Iraqi youth.

Read an article by Mehru Jaffer, published in the Women's Feature Service (India) about this unique project!


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