Training development

“So what happens to the thief of your medicines after you’ve caught him?” She looks surprised, shrugs and answers the question smiling. “We beat him”. I have to laugh and realise that it is the most probable scenario here, but it’s not the answer I would like. Back to the first session about human rights then, does everyone still remember that they should refrain from using violence? In the previous discussion we discovered, through the drawings they made in the sand, which government agencies we would need to build, staff and supply a health center. In the current scenario, the supply of medicines was stolen, so what will you do? Well, catch the thief and beat him. The next group, after a look at me, has decided that the thief has escaped so cannot be beaten. They also figured out which government they would need to address to get a new supply of medicines. The last group lets the police catch the thief (in which case it’s still doubtful whether he will be beaten or not), and through the court he ends up in prison. Nice, but why did you give the execution site such a prominent place in your drawing of the prison…

Education in South Sudan is based on old-fashioned instruction. The teacher stands in front of the class and  talks, the pupils sit and listen. At least, you hope they listen. The effectiveness of this system is doubtful with a good teacher, but considering the general quality of teachers here, the pupils will not learn much. Everyone who had any education, had an education like that. So South Sudanese use this method for any kind of training, including the training of adults. The trainer stands in front of the group and talks, the participants sit or lay in a chair and listen (during some part of the day with their eyes closed). Minimal result. That could be done different, done better, but where do you start? During the trainings I did with my colleagues, I put more action in the program. Let them define the problem and come up with solutions for it. Methods enough to make them do that, and they like to do it that way.

Now I have a new challenge. The development of a training program on good governance and human rights. Not for government officials or city-dwellers with a bit of education, but for villagers far away in the countryside. It means they don’t have any prior knowledge about the subject, so we have to skip the jargon en start from what people already know. Good governance starts in the family and their own village, only after that we can talk about government on a larger scale. During the preparation of the training, the question we ask each other most is: “Will they understand this or are we being much too technical?” But the challenge doesn’t stop with a lack of prior knowledge. The participants are not able to read or write either. To my colleagues I can say: “Brainstorm about this subject and write five possible solutions on a flipchart.” There are lots of methods to activate participants during a training, but surprisingly much of them include reading and writing. I’m so used to those, just like the South Sudanese are used to instruction, but they are of no use this time.

We asked people from the UN and local government to do parts of the training and they were very willing to do that. At first they came up with powerpoint presentations. Well, there’s no power in these villages anyway, but copying the text on a flipchart will not work either. This requires different methods. Developing these different methods and techniques requires creativity, research into good examples and a lot of discussion. It’s really fun to think about it and I love the results. We use drawings and puzzles, we tell stories and let participants discuss and present. We even make them play drama and sing and dance. The result is not only a training day with a lot of action and laughter, but also villagers with a bit more knowledge of the black box that is the government and a little more skills to fight for their own interests. Of course not everything will change immediately, a lot more is needed. Even if only because it still is dangerous to criticise the government here.

Unfortunately, I’m not able to conduct the training myself. The participants don’t speak English, and most of them not even Arabic, but just their own local language. That means the only thing I can do is coach my colleagues, which turns out to be much more tiring than do it myself. The biggest effort turns out to be to make sure that they let the participants work instead of doing all the work as a trainer. Sometimes things will go completely different from the way you expected them to go. It’s quite common to divide participants in groups by counting them, a technique that usually works fine if you don’t want all people who know each other already in one group. But applied to a group of rural women, it does not work. Whether they are not able to count or something else is going wrong is not clear, but it turns into complete chaos and confusion. So we have to try something else… Why do we have to decide who is in which group, why not let them divide themselves? The only thing we have to do is tell them there has to be at least one person from each village in each group. In the end my colleagues are not able not to steer at all, but with more input from the participants it’s much easier. Not only the participants like the experience, my colleagues like this way of training people as well. I admire the participants of the training. What can they do a lot, what do they know a lot and how eager are they to learn new things. I’ve learned a lot again.

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