Changing the World Community by Community

Conclusions and Recommendations

Table of Contents

About the project

Photo of group about 25 Strength through Solidarity participants in front of a river in Gdansk, Poland. Strength through Solidarity is on the top of the photo.

 

As a collective of activists working with disadvantaged youth around the world, we noticed that small organizations working with youth with fewer opportunities find it difficult to build capacity of their organizations.

They face issues to communicate what they do, especially to potential supporters. They are often not able to share knowledge and experience with organizations who work in similar areas which could create synergies and help them to get their curriculum recognized by companies or institutional partners.

Youth workers (especially with disability) from Europe but particularly from Asia, Africa and Latin America have few opportunities to take part in transcontinental mobility initiatives and access good practices from other continents. As much as European youth workers can access SALTO-YOUTH Resource Centres and similar databases for an increasing number of good practices in European Youth Work for youth with fewer opportunities unfortunately they do not have access to good practices from Asian, African or Latin American countries. Most of the publications and training materials provide the insights of the European context. Few publications or training materials are prepared by people from different cultures who can contribute a more complete, global picture of youth work. As a result, European youth workers may have a stereotypical view of their peers who implement youth initiatives outside the European context.

The project “Strength through solidarity” aims to develop a transnational capacity building training programme and presentation of best practices which goes beyond the European context, the “Strength through solidarity” model builds on existing good solutions in empowering youth few fewer opportunities (especially with disability) from Europe as well as Asia, Africa and Latin America by providing the tools (mobility initiatives and online platform) for youth workers to work collaboratively in a non-formal, peer-learning environment and disseminate their best practices, but also by promoting the existing tools.

To achieve the aims of the project the series of activities, both in international and national level, were organised.

This document was created to share the experience from implementation of the project and tips for grassroots organisations interested in joining the Erasmus + programme.

Involved organisations

Image composed of 8 thumbnails of the 8 projects (Foundation for Social – Economic Balance, SolidarityFilmDoc Foundation, Views International, The German Federation for The Blind and Partially sighted , Vats in Action, Thumbs Up Uganda, Jyothirgamaya India and Always Reading Caravan - ARC).

SolidarityFilmDoc Foundation (Sopot, Poland) experienced in documenting, networking and promoting social innovators for youth with fewer opportunities in Africa and Asia by using film documentaries, online tools, teleconferences, trainings and events.

The German Federation for The Blind and Partially sighted (Berlin, Germany) has a long lasting experience in carrying out youth work on national and international level, organizing annual youth trainings in areas like communication, publicity, peer support, advocacy work and organization of local activities. It promotes the rights of persons with disabilities worldwide, since it is a member of The European and World Blind Union.

Bats in Action (Ubajara, Brazil) implements programmes for education and rehabilitation of youth with visual impairment in rural regions of Brazil. Bats in Action is experienced in teaching independent living skills such as Braille, the use of information technology, orientation , mobility and daily living skills.

Foundation for Social – Economic Balance (Gdansk, Poland) is focused on anti-discrimination and intercultural education. IRSE works for and with immigrants and implements national and international projects. Since 2015 it is the part of Regional Group, which created and implemented Model of Integration of Immigrants in Gdańsk. The foundation organises trainings and workshops about tolerance, intercultural education, global education, integration for immigrants and local community both in local and international level. It is a member of Coalition against hate speech.

Views International (Liège, Belgium) deals mainly with European youth projects for and with visually impaired with extensive experience in adapting activities like youth exchanges, European Voluntary Service, trainings and seminars for visually impaired young participants. In the past 7 years, Views International various youth projects for visually impaired young persons in Latin America; China , Africa, Morocco, Palestine and French territories.

Jyothirgamaya India (Trivandrum, India) is a training centre and mobile blind school for blind youth, mostly rural, who are trained in various independent living skills: Mobility, IT, access technology, echo location, yoga and interpersonal trainings residential. Jyothirgamya carries out sensitization programmes in international and national educational and public institutions.

Thumbs Up Uganda (Gulu, Uganda) offers rehabilitation training for youth with special needs and young parents of disabled children to create alternative educational measures which serve youth with special needs in schools and community. The organisation is experienced in nurturing family networks and partnerships for youth with disabilities.

Always Reading Caravan – ARC (Chiang Mai, Thailand carries out literacy projects for children and youth with and without disabilities in the rural areas of Thailand. Since 2010 ARC has been successfully raising funds for its activities through national and international foundations, donations from individuals, SMEs, one-off fundraisers which were covered in Asian media. It is running Move Lanna – an accessible volunteering intitative which connects international volunteers with local projects generating profits for its functioning.

Seven of partner’s organisations are working in local level, four in international and three implement national programmes. For 5 of them “Strength through solidarity” was the first project financed by European Programmes and for 2 of them it was generally the first project financed by an external institution. 5 project partners were financed through local and national programmes; 4 of them from international sources.

The organisations are very diverse taking into consideration the number of workers and vary between 0 and 30 permanent staff hired on payroll and between 0 to 15 external contractors. All partners organizations make use of the help of volunteers in their work, whose number varies between 2 who support SolidarityFilmDoc Foundation in Poland and 100 volunteers involved in the activities of Always Reading Caravan in Thailand.

In two partner organisations only one of their representatives was perpetually involved in the implementation of the “Strength through solidarity” project. In the remaining six partners, the number of involved representatives oscillated between 2 and 4.

International Training Course

Photo of 5 people from training in Poland planting new plants in a park.

 

During 18 days of training course, which took place in Gdańsk (Poland) from 9th to 25th of September 2016, 24 youth workers from 8 partner’s organisations supported by 5 volunteers, were sharing experience, good practices and knowledge about working with youth, especially with disabilities. There were 7 with visual impairment in the group. Four of them are running their own organisations.

The training started from the adaptation of the space according to the needs of visually impaired participants e.g. putting signs in Braille, preparation of the tactile map of the training venue and the meeting with volunteers who provided mobility assistance for visually impaired participants during the training.

First days of the meeting were the time to get to know each other, our organisations and activities, through non formal methods of education e.g. name games, speed date, team building games, plenary discussion and work in small international groups.

The core of the training were the daily workshops prepared always by two youth workers from different partner’s organisations (mixed European and non-European) in areas important from the point of view of building capacity of grassroots organizations, which were defined before the training by all involved organizations.

During the workshops “Curriculum Development in Non-Formal Education” participants systematized different types of curriculum: formal, non-formal, other breakdowns and learned how to prepare professional curriculum according to the needs of their target group, planned outcomes and which inclusive non-formal learning methods to choose from. The final part of this day was an introduction to preparing online trainings focused on similarities and differences in the learning process between online and live courses.

“Peer Support” workshop deepened the understanding of the term peer support, helped to recognize and distinct peers from other stakeholders and explore what support a peer supporter is able to provide. Through role plays, pair work and discussions participants got aware of several forms of peer support, got to know areas in which it can be used and became familiar with a range of peer support settings. Case studies and theoretical background gave the knowledge, in which situations people with disability are in need of peer support. Through several self-reflection techniques they deepened understanding of evolvement of social stereotypes and stigmas, psychological and social consequences of a disability acquired from birth or later in life, finally leading to a debate on what empathy for their peers is for each of them.

The next “Intercultural communication” day allowed participants to go deeper in their own culture and systematized the knowledge about relationships between culture, contexts of communication and language. It also gave insight into the roles and conventions governing behavior within specific intercultural environments. In the game “In my culture” youth workers spoke about their culture, values and beliefs to get to know different points of view and understanding of the same word (value) in different culture. One by one, they chose a definition like family, hierarchy, education, friendship, respect for old people, gender equality, smile, punctuality. Their task was to define how important was that value in his/her own culture (1-not at all, 10-very important) and explained why. This triggered an intense and long lasting discussion, on different perspectives of understanding of the same words.

The next workshop started from the creation of a common concept on volunteering. Except of traditional type of volunteering in that workshop youth workers got to know other alternative trends which range from: internship/Gap Year Volunteering, voluntourism, online volunteering, micro volunteering or adapted volunteering. They also shared different national/international volunteering experiences from the point of view youth workers and how they can best benefit their organizations; how such programmes should be organized responsibly and what ethical issues need to be taken into account.

The workshop about “Advocacy” created the space for youth workers to get to know or refresh their knowledge of different sensitization methods, understand why sensitization is important and have an insight into different sensitization campaigns. Participants discussed about human rights as a powerful advocacy tool to enforce your social participation, and equal treatment within society, civic engagement of disability organizations. They also had the opportunity to investigate some useful rhetoric skills and techniques in defending own your own position, whether in an argument or structured debate.

“Empowerment and sustainability” workshop targeted youth workers both in developed and undeveloped localities to help them in providing directions to communicate their project’s performance expectations and recognize the importance of social impact planning. Participants explored the stages of personal empowerment and understood empowerment principles for organizations and how to apply them. They discussed the possibility of integrating social sustainability in the planning of their organization’s activities, measuring and communicating the social impact of their organizations both internally and externally for marketing purposes: to acquire new contracts and secure existing funders and customers.

During the final workshop on “Fundraising and Public Relations” youth workers were confronted with questions about the importance of PR for grassroots NGOs – Why do they need PR? What mediums can be used to get their message across and fundraise effectively? Participants presented their own organization’s budget structure and communication plan. On the basis of the learnings they were given time to create a fundraising strategy for their own organizations, which they then planned to implemented after coming back from the training.

After the intense daily work we continued the process of integration of diverse participants during the national nights, where a combination of stories, sounds, visuals, tastes, smells introduced the participants with the culture and history of partner countries: Poland, Brazil, Uganda, Germany, Thailand, Belgium and India. That included joint dances, singing, watching pieces of media, playing games and tasting traditional products.

To get to know the local environment participants met the representatives of NGO’s from the local area: 3city, among them particularly the Neighbourhood House in Gdańsk Orunia, a marginalized district which is now regaining its vitality thanks to the activities of its inhabitants. Participants spent the weekend (2 nights) together in the homes of local activists and on Sunday morning came back excited, sharing their experiences in the picnic in the Reagan Park in Gdańsk.

On September 23rd, 2016 in Protokultura postindustrial shipyard space in Gdańsk, as the culmination of the whole training programme, we matched our 24 activists with about 40 social minded individuals to take part in an interactive design thinking workshop during which youth workers, public servants, professionals, students, media people attempted to find innovative solutions to problems faced by changemakers from countries like India, Nepal, Kenya or Poland.

The meeting was an opportunity to make contacts, exchange experience, get to know a different point of view and look at global challenges from a different perspective. The workshop used the method of design thinking to work together on solutions to the problems raised by social activists.

First evaluation: One month after the training, participants were asked to answer several questions regarding the programme, methodology and influence of the training on their professional development. 12 fully filled questionnaires were received. In the scale 1 to 5, all participants agreed that the training met their expectations (on the level 3 to 5, which is between medium and very high). Similar results were found for the probability of using the knowledge from the workshop in their own work.

When asked how the training course did improve their knowledge in the capacity building areas, the average of all results were on the level 3 to 4 (between medium and high). Methods of work and clarity of communication in each workshop were rated – 3 to 5 (between medium and very high).

As a most interesting and/or most effective methods participants pointed:
  • open space
  • work in small intercultural groups
  • role play
  • “In my culture” game (see description in “Intercultural Communication” workshop)
According to the evaluation, during the training, following methods should be skipped:
  • discussion without moderation
  • lectures and long speeches
  • group work with visual output

Most interesting, in the opinion of youth workers, was sharing of good practices and experience of individuals and their organizations, as well as the workshops about fundraising and PR, volunteering and peer support. In the same time almost all of them agreed that all topics were useful and needed, but should be provided in longer sessions to go deeper in each of them.

For many participants, both for European and non-European, countries this training was the first international learning experience, during which their discovered:
  • new methods of work with youth and new perspectives on the topic of youth social work and disability
  • specialist vocabulary (new terms)
  • effectiveness of non formal learning, especially energizers
  • amazing spirit of international group
Values of work in intercultural group pointed out by youth workers are as follows:
  • solidarity with participants with fewer opportunities (especially in terms of knowledge, language skills)
  • empathy
  • understanding of common challenges faced in daily work
  • different point of view and perspectives
  • open-mindedness
  • multidimensional approach to learning
Highlighted strong sides of the training:
  • the intercultural aspect and the variety of used methods
  • diversity and work in a highly intercultural group
  • shared experiences
  • inclusive format and equal and appreciating interaction between participants
  • good group dynamic

In the opinion of participant it’s crucial to manage the time in a proper way, to leave the space for rest and informal interaction. The issues pointed out in the evaluation questionnaires were: too ambitious aims and too crowded schedule compared to available time, energy and expectation of participants.

The second issue, which should be better discussed before the training is accessibility, especially in the work with grassroots organisations. The activities and the schedule should be more inclusive for everyone, including people with disability, but also those with lack of language skills and with very different professional experiences.

To measure the long-term results the evaluation was repeated in June 2017, 8 months after finish of the training in the same group of youth workers, including volunteers. During that time some of them were involved in other Strength Through Solidarity activities, such as online and live trainings in their localities.

The participants were asked about main motivations for taking part in this Erasmus+ project, competences developed by participating in the project both in professional and personal level. Just like in October this evaluation was delivered by 12 people.

The main motivations for taking part in this Erasmus+ project pointed out by participants:
  • To acquire competences for personal and professional development: 60-70%
  • To acquire knowledge and specific know-how from good practice abroad: less than 60%
  • To gain practical skills relevant for my current job and professional development: less than 60%
  • To increase knowledge of social, linguistic and/or cultural matters: 70-80%
Chart 1: The main motivations for taking part in the international ‘Strength through solidarity’ training in Gdańsk
Chart 1: The main motivations for taking part in the international ‘Strength through solidarity’ training in Gdańsk. Results: To increase my future employment opportunities, 16 people. To increase my job satisification, 25 people. To meet new people, 50 people. To improve service offered by my organization, 16 people. To increase the quality and quantity of touth mobility organized by my organization, 8 people. To build my cooperation with the labor market, 0 people. To reinforce the coopoeration with a partner institution, 8 people. To build up new contacts/expand my professional network, 42 people. To learn or improve a foreign language, 50 people. To share my own knowledge and skills with young people and other young workers 42 people. To increase knowledge of social, linguistic and/or cultural matters, 75 people. To experiment and develop new learning practices and training methods, 50 people. To gain practical skills relevant for my current job and professional development, 58 people. To acquire knowledge and specific know-how from good practice abroad, 58 people. To acquire competences for personal and professional development, 66 people.

Taking part in the project developed participant’s practical skills (e.g. planning and organising, project management), sense of initiative and entrepreneurship, interpersonal and social competences and cultural awareness and expression.

Which of the following competences did you develop most by participating in the project activities? (rated in the scale 1 to 5, where 1 – Strongly disagree; 2 – Rather disagree; 3 – Neither agree nor disagree; 4 – Rather agree; 5 – Strongly agree)

66% admitted, that the project enhanced their organisational/management/leadership skills, as well as their employment opportunities. The same number confirmed, that they learned from good practices abroad.

Chart 2: Practical skills (e.g. planning and organising, project management, etc.)
Chart 2: Practical skills (e.g. planning and organising, project management, etc.). Results: Rather agree = 75%, Neither agree nor disagree = 50% and Strongly agree = 8.3%.
Chart 3: Sense of initiative and entrepreneurship
Chart 3: Sense of initiative and entrepreneurship. Results: Rather agree = 66.7%, Strongly agree = 16.7%, Neither agree nor disagree = 8.3%, and Rather disagree = 8.3%.
Chart 4: Interpersonal and social competences
Chart 4: Interpersonal and social competences. Results: Rather agree = 50%, Strongly agree = 41.7%, and Neither agree nor disagree = 8.3%.
Chart 5: Emotional skills (e.g. having more self-confidence, etc.)
Chart 5: Emotional skills (e.g. having more self-confidence, etc.). Results: Rather agree = 58.3%, Strongly agree = 16.7%, Neither agree nor disagree = 16.7%, and Strongly disagree = 8.3%.
Chart 6: Cultural awareness and expression
Chart 6: Cultural awareness and expression. Results: Strongly agree = 66.7%, Rather agree = 25%, and Neither agree nor disagree = 8.3%.
Chart 7: Professional development: thanks to international ‘Strength through solidarity’ training in Gdańsk
Chart 7: Professional development: thanks to international ‘Strength through solidarity’ training in Gdańsk. Results: I have enhanced my employment opportunities - 8 people strongly agree, 58 people rather agree, and 33 people neither agree nor disagree. I have built cooperation with players in civil society - 25 people strongly agree, 58 people rather agree, and 17 people neither agree nor disagree. I have reinforced the cooperation with the partner institution/organisation - 50 people rather agree, 33 people neither agree nor disagree, and 17 people rather disagree. I have reinforced or extended my professional network or built up new contacts - 50 people strongly agree, 33 people rather agree, 8 people neither agree nor disagree, and 8 people rather disagree. I have enhanced my organisational/management/leadership skills - 8 people strongly agree, 58 people rather agree, 25 people neither agree or disagree, and 8 people rather disagree. I have increased the quality of the projects I develop - 17 people strongly agree, 33 people rather agree, 42 people neither agree or disagree, and 8 people rather disagree. I have shared my own knowledge and skills with learners and/or other persons - 25 people strongly agree, 50 people rather agree, 17 people neither agree or disagree, and 8 people rather disagree. I have experimented and developed new learning practices/methods - 8 people strongly agree, 50 people rather agree, 25 people neither agree or disagree, and 17 people rather disagree. I have gained practical skills relevant for my current job and professional development - 17 people strongly agree, 33 people rather agree, 42 people neither agree or disagree, and 8 people rather disagree. I have learned from good practices abroad - 17 people strongly agree, 50 people rather agree, and 33 people neither agree or disagree.

83% of participants agreed, that the project reinforced or extended their professional network or built up new contacts and was an opportunity to build cooperation with players in civil society.

The attendance in the “Strength through solidarity” project had a huge positive influence in personal development of youth workers. Thanks to the project 92% of the participants increased own social, linguistic and/or cultural competences, 83% admitted, that in the future they will be more committed to the inclusion of disadvantaged people and to work against discrimination, intolerance, xenophobia. The same number of people agreed, that established contacts with people in other countries are useful for the involvement in social or political issues, while 67% became more aware of how important foreign language skills are for their personal and professional development.

Chart 8: Personal development thanks to the international ‘Strength through solidarity’ training in Gdańsk
Chart 8: Personal development thanks to the international ‘Strength through solidarity’ training in Gdańsk. Results: I have established contacts with people in other countries which are useful for my involvement in social or political issues = 33 strongly agree, 50 rather agree and 17 neither agree nor disagree. I am now committed to work against discrimination, intolerance, xenophobia or racism = = 58 strongly agree, 25 rather agree and 17 neither agree nor disagree. In the future, I will be more committed to the inclusion of disadvantaged people = 58 strongly agree, 25 rather agree and 17 neither agree nor disagree. I have become more aware of how important foreign language skills are for my personal and professional development = 42 strongly agree, 25 rather agree and 33 neither agree nor disagree. I now participate in social and political life = 8 strongly agree, 50 rather agree, 33 neither agree nor disagree and 8 rather disagree. I have increased my social, linguistic andfor cultural competences = 50 strongly agree, 42 rather agree and 8 neither agree nor disagree.
Chart 9: Satisfaction with the international Strength Through Solidarity training in Gdańsk
Chart 9: Satisfaction with the international Strength Through Solidarity training in Gdańsk. Results: rather satisified = 67% , neither satisifed nor dissatisfied = 17%, and very satisified = 16%.

To sum up 83% of participants is satisfied with the training experience and 100% would recommend this experience to a colleague.

Web portal and online courses

Image of man using the computer sitting rather close to the screen to see what's on it. The man seems very interested in what he is viewing.

 

The “Strength through solidarity” project was born from a desire of grassroots changemakers who live in distant places to connect with each other, so they can share the challenges and successes they have with like minded people from around the world, regardless of where they come from.

Meeting on Skype on a monthly basis, we realized, we need to build an online tool which will enable peer learning and exchange and can be accessed by those of us with various visual impairments, and others living in areas with low bandwidth internet connection or unstable electricity.

The “Strength through solidarity” web portal: www.networkofchange.org was created in a carefully assembled multidisciplinary team of: front-end developer (Brazil), back-end developer and project coordinator (Poland), accessibility expert (Australia), content manager (Serbia) and testing specialist (India).

The prototype has been released in March 2017 and is based partly on WordPress but mostly on Moodle, a free and open-source platform which is used for blended learning, distance education, flipped classroom and other e-learning projects in schools, universities, workplaces and other sectors worldwide.

Moodle (acronym for modular object-oriented dynamic learning environment) allows for extending and tailoring learning environments using community sourced plugins to create private websites with online courses for educators and trainers to achieve learning goals.

How to make a web platform accessible for youth workers around the world?

Since 2016 across the world mobile devices dominate total minutes spent online. This is even more visible in countries of the Global South like Uganda (71%), India (80%) and Thailand (90%) where this number is significantly higher.

Responsiveness

That is why we undertook us the goal of creating an e-learning portal which is responsive, displayed correctly on different types of devices: particularly smartphones but also desktop computers, laptops, tablets etc. The platform’s course content can be accessed through browser but also through Moodle Mobile XML-RPC after downloading the app (which is especially important during power outages for users with unstable electricity).

Optimization for low bandwidth internet

Many youth workers, changemakers working with marginalized communities live in areas with low volume line speeds, as low as 56-128 Kbps (Kilobytes per second). We found it a huge challenge to create a portal accessible to them, yet still attractive to users with higher internet speeds.

Accessibility features implemented for users with particularly slow internet:
  • Use of a proxy server that optimizes traffic on the portal. This makes it possible for a user in a particular part of the world to always connect to the data center closest to him, cache data, and analyze traffic on the portal. This speeds up the loading of the page, increases the resistance to temporary increase of traffic and secures against DDoS attacks;
  • Indexing tables in a MySQL database. Indexing is a process of grouping the most frequently used records in the database and using keys to facilitate faster data retrieval;
  • Optimize database queries – by adjusting the stage of database connection and polling its resources so that only the information that is needed in the most efficient and lightest way is retrieved;
  • Portal, in addition to using the main database, also uses temporary cache, which is used to store and read the most used data, and it uses less bandwidth and has better parameters, thus relieving the underlying MySQL database. This accelerates the slowest part of the page loading process – the connection to the MySQL database and the polling and retrieval of its resources.

Persons with visual impairment

Our portal is created by and for changemakers also with disability, particularly visual impairment. From the very beginning it was clear that it has to be accessible to them. And here again we found a challenge how to do so, at the same time, making it visually attractive for our sighted users.

Accessibility features for users with visual impairment:
  • use of frameworks designed to be more accessible (Bootstrap 3 on WordPress site and Moodle 3.2 on course platform);
  • use of ARIA and the “screen reader only” class on specific elements (ex: skip to navigate or content links, using words to describe icons, labeling buttons and form fields);
  • use of proper HTML semantics used on course content for screen navigation (ex: h1, h2, h3, etc. for headings, button tag for buttons, descriptive links);
  • inclusion of image descriptions (ex: alt tags);
  • text transcription and subtitles for videos for deaf or hearing impaired users;
  • accessibility guide on navigating quickly with access keys and adjusting font size using browser functionality
  • functionality for user to change the color of fonts and background for better contrast.

We asked the users about their opinion about the web portal. Till July 19th 2017 we received 27 completed evaluation surveys about their experience with the online courses. The survey was sent by users from Thailand (19%), Poland (19%), Uganda (11%), Germany (11%), Belgium (15%), Brazil (15%), India (4%), Rwanda (4%).

Chart 10: Topic of completed courses (networkofchange.org/courses)
Chart 10: Topic of completed courses. Survey Question: Which course from our web portal did you complete? Results: Advocacy as an effective tool for social change - 2 people. Peer support for changemakers - 15 people, Empowering yourself and your community - 11 people. Intercultural Communication - 12 people. Developing content for e-learning - 4 people. Disability Awareness - 6 people. Volunteering: change yourself- change others - 22 people. How to raise funds for your social project? - 13 people.

The most popular course out of the whole ‘Strength through solidarity’ web portal is about “Volunteering: change yourself – change other” followed by the e-courses: “Peer support for changemakers” and “How to raise funds for your social project?”.

Chart 11: Languages used to complete the courses (networkofchange.org/courses)
Chart 11: Languages used to complete the courses. Survey Question: Which language did you do the course in? Results: English = 47% , Polish = 19%, Thai = 15%, Brazilian Portuguese = 15%, and French = 4%.

Almost half (46%) of portal users completed e-courses in English. The remaining half of users (49% in total) viewed them in either Polish, Thai or Brazilian Portuguese. As French language content was not yet uploaded it was only viewed by 4% of users.

Chart 12: Most appreciated aspects of the courses (networkofchange.org/courses)
Chart 12: Most appreciated aspects of the courses. Survey Question: What did you enjoy most about this course? Results: Opportunity to learn new skills from other changemakers = 29.6%, The written content = 25.9%, Availability in my native language = 15%, The multimedia content (videos, audio, images, etc.) = 11%, Accessibility for my assistive technology (e.g. screen reader) = 7.4% and The activities (quizzes, assignments, etc.) = 7%.

The most enjoyable part of the courses was the opportunity to learn new skills from other changemakers (29,6%) and the written content (25,9%). Availability in my native language (15%) ranked third.

Chart 13: Challenges about the courses (networkofchange.org/courses)
Chart 13: Challenges about the courses. Survey Question: What was most challenging about this course? Results: The course was difficult to navigate = 26%, The language translation was not understandable = 22%, The course was too time consuming = 14%, The understanding about volunteering is not the same as the one we have in our country = 8%, and Others = 30%.

There were many specific issues with the portal which were challenging for the users: some of them related to technical bugs, others to content. Among them, the hardest were that: it was difficult to navigate, the language translation was not understandable or that the course was too time consuming.

Chart 14: Level of increased knowledge as rated by users (networkofchange.org/courses)
Chart 14: Level of increased knowledge as rated by users. Survey Question: Did the course increase your knowledge/experience in the subject? Results: Yes, it did = 63%, Somewhat = 33%, and No, it didn't = 4%.

96% users felt that their knowledge/experience has increased thanks to the course (out of whom 63% users were confident about it).

Chart 15: Use in future youth work as rated by users (networkofchange.org/courses)
Chart 15: Use in future youth work as rated by users. Survey question: Will you use the learning from the course in your youth work or for personal development? Results: Yes, it will = 71%, Somewhat = 25% and No, it won't = 4%.

74% of portal users confirmed that they will use the learning in their work or personal development.

Chart 16: Rating of accessibility of the web portal (networkofchange.org/courses)
Chart 16: Rating of accessibility of the web portal. Survey question: Rate your experience with each step. Results: Finding a course - user friendly = 16 people, average = 9 people, not user friendly = 2 people. Creating an account - user friendly = 13 people, average = 7 people, not user friendly = 6 people. Registering for a course - user friendly = 16 people, average = 6 people, not user friendly = 2 people. Navigating the course content - ser friendly = 6 people, average = 19 people, not user friendly = 2 people. Completing the course - user friendly = 8 people, average = 16 people, not user friendly = 2 people.

The first steps of accessing the portal (finding a course, creating account etc.) have been assessed by the users as friendly. Ease of navigation and completion of the course was more difficult, noted by the far majority as average.

Chart 17: Users of the web portal (networkofchange.org/courses)
Chart 17: Users of the web portal. Survey Question: Do you identify yourself as a person with disabilities? Results: No = 63% and Yes = 37%.

More than one-third of portal users identify themselves as having a disability, which was
crucial for testing it properly while using their assistive technology.

Chart 18: Type(s) of assistive technology used by users (networkofchange.org/courses)
Chart 18: Type(s) of assistive technology used by users. Survey question: If yes, which type(s) of assistive technology did you use to access the portal? Results: Screen reader = 83%, Video captions = 18%, Screen magnifier = 9%, and Adapted mouse = 9%.

The majority, about 85% of all users who identify themselves as having a disability, do use a screen reader (out of all the assistive devices available). Several do however use video captions, screen magnifiers and adapted mouses as well.

Chart 19: Accessibility of the web portal for people with disability (networkofchange.org/courses)
Chart 19: Accessibility of the web portal for people with disability. Survey Question: How accessible was the portal to your assistive technology? Results: average = 71% and very accessible = 29%.

Users with disability rated the portal as averagely to very accessible to them.

Chart 20: Recommendation (networkofchange.org/courses)
Chart 20: Recommendation. Survey Question: Would you recommend this course to others? Results: Yes = 92.6% and No = 7.4%.

As much as 92,60% of users who complete the survey stated they will recommend the course to others. This shows us that despite serious translation and navigation issues reported by users, which are currently being improved, youth workers are looking for the opportunity to increase their skills from other changemakers like them across the globe.

Job shadowing

Tomek and Yoshi with the group from Always Reading Caravan in Thailand outside of their library holding the Strength Through Solidarity banner.

 

Seven youth workers, one from each partner organisation (except Thumbs Up Uganda, whose visa application form was refused by Polish Embassy in Nairobi) took part in a four weeks job shadowing in another partner organisation. Job shadowing is a popular on-the-job learning, career development, and leadership development program. It involves working with another employee who might have a different job in hand, might have something to teach, or can help the person shadowing him or her to learn new aspects related to the job, organization, certain behaviors or competencies. The European organisations visited Asian, South American and Africans partners and the opposite way round as well. Job shadowing gave youth workers a unique opportunity to foster intercultural exchange, acquire social intercultural, organizational skills and reinforce inclusive equal participation of youth workers in all project stages.

Anja Pfaffenzeller from Bats in Action (Ubajara, Brazil) about her job shadowing in SolidarityFilmDoc Foundation (Sopot, Poland):

“During my visit to Bob Marek in Lublin, I learned a lot about the work with tactile graphics. The new information and the material will help me to introduce tactile drawing and concept development into the work with blind children in our organization and other Brazilian institutions. The visit to Laski school helped me to compare the inclusive education policy in Brazil and the special schools in Poland. This is an interesting analysis of different systems with their positive and negative points”.

That was the time and the space to see how the theory shared during the international training course in Gdańsk works in practice. “One of the major benefits of this job shadowing was that I got to understand how Always Reading Caravan manages fundraising aspects. Actually, ARC relies on private donations, but it uses different strategies to approach and maintain donors. Of course, there are private clubs like Rotary Club, but ARC has developed different partnerships, mainly with private schools in Bangkok, in order to foster reading and solidarity. For example, it’s been partnering with the International Australian School from Bangkok for already two years, and kids from this school are engaged in a “Readathon” activity – their families will donate a certain amount of money to the ARC library project depending on how much they read. In turn, ARC runs some awareness-raising sessions about visual impairment in their school, so that kids can discover how blind kids read and write in Braille, and understand concepts such as mobility, white cane, etc.” says Anca David from Views International (Liege, Belgium) about her experience of work with Always Reading Caravan (Phrao, Chiang Mai, Thailand).

During job shadowing youth workers got to know different type of activities, which can be provided for local communities, intercultural aspects of work with youth, but also project management in another culture.

“Closely working with the Views team members, gave me a deeper insight in to the basic day to day functioning of the organization, and taught me how to run my organization in a more proficient way, given the Indian limitations with regards to proper accessibility. I was then taken by my host to visit two distinguished organizations the European Disability Forum (EDF), and the European Network for independent living (ENIL) where I learnt about their work in detail, and how they strive to promote the rights of persons with disabilities, and enhance their independent living. Here I realized that visually impaired persons are not treated as third class citizens, as in many developing countries but as equals. This warmed my heart and also filled me with determination to observe everything closely and try to at least implement something in India” concluded her stay in View International (Liege, Belgium) Tiffany Brar, founder of Jyothirgamaya India.

We shared our experience and good practices from Uganda, Poland, Brazil, Germany, Thailand, Belgium and India, information about grassroots projects, which are changing the communities, but also things which surprised us during our common work in the Strength through solidarity blog.

Live training

Group of 6 women of various ages participating in a live training in Brazil. They are sitting at a table reading, writing and discussing topics.

Based on created online trainings each partner organisation conducted workshops in their country, which were mainly dedicated to youth workers, local activists and volunteers from local non-governmental organisations.

Each training took four hours and pertained to chosen online training topic, as well as the general idea and aims of the “Strength through solidarity” project, with particular emphasis on web portal and possibility of it’s using in the work with youth. Thanks to diverse areas of partner’s organisation work in the workshops attended different groups of people, including students, immigrants and visually impaired. The trainings improved project partner organizations competences in conducting life and online training sessions, especially in their chosen area of capacity building also considering the publicly available training materials on the subject.

In 15 live trainings conducted in Poland (5), Belgium(5), Brazil (2) Thailand (1), India (2) more than 100 people participated and 97 of whom filled in the evaluation survey.

The evaluation shows, that 78% of participants appreciate the knowledge raised during the workshops and 79% declare, that they will use it in their further work.

Chart 21: How would you rate the probability of using the knowledge from the workshop in your work?
Chart 21: How would you rate the probability of using the knowledge from the workshop in your work? Results: High = 52%, Very high = 27%, Medium = 19%, and Very low = 3%.
Chart 22: How did the training course meet your expectations?
Chart 22: How did the training course meet your expectations? Results: High = 56%, Very high = 24%, Medium = 18%, Low = 2%, and Very low = 1%.
Chart 23: How did the training course improve your knowledge from discussed topics?
Chart 23: How did the training course improve your knowledge from discussed topics? Results: High = 55%, Very high = 23%, Medium = 22% and Low = 1%.
Chart 24: How do you rate used methods of work and clarity of communication in each workshop?
Chart 24: How do you rate used methods of work and clarity of communication in each workshop? Results: High = 52%, Very high = 29%, Medium = 18%, and Very low = 2%.

Depending on the topic of the workshops participants highlighted different advantages. More than 50% of youth workers attending the training about fundraising in India felt fundraising was the most interesting information and they could get understanding of how to start a small NGO from scratch. Some of them found the secrets of fundraising shared by changemaker Yoshimi as particularly useful. The most interesting elements and information pointed out after the training about volunteering were communication through diverse cultures, profile of desired volunteer and recruitment of volunteers, while during the workshops about intercultural communication most appreciated was the fact that the participants came from different countries, which enabled them to get to know how other cultures, react or behave in a specific situation, concrete examples, real-life stories and exchange of experiences.

Participants rated the real life examples presented with the help of videos as very inspiring and friendly. According to them clear communication encouraged them to learn more.

The most important aspects of workshops was cooperation with people from different countries, but also with people with disability. For majority of them it was the first time, when they could confront their stereotypes about persons with disability with the reality and get to know local activists with a different background, working on international level. It was also pointed in the evaluation survey, that the information about “Strength through solidarity” project and web portal were useful and interesting.

Good Practices and Conclusions

Photo of Anja smiling while trying on some eyewear for blind people. A smartphone mounted inside of a virtual-reality looking eyewear. Anja has project for the blind in Brazil, and she was visiting Poland for the exchange.

During the duration of the project, the following good peer learning practices have been identified and has the potential to spread for the benefit of youth workers working with marginalized communities around the world:

Good practices – Online training

Photo of Yoshi smiling outside in Thailand with a text next to her face that says, My fundraiding secret.

As of July 15th the 8 online courses created have been completed by approximate 95 youth workers. One course deserves particular attention: “How to raise funds for your social project?” prepared in a multinational team of Yoshimi Horiuchi (Thailand, changemaker), Tijana Kaitovic (Serbia, curriculum developer) and Tomek Kozakiewicz (Poland, filmmaker).

Duration of course: 1 hour. This is by far the shortest course on the platform published in the form of micro online courses which is a growing trend globally in online education, with users using predominantly mobile devices to view content and having less and less time to do so.

The course consists of 5 mini educational videos supplemented by an extra video about a social initiative run by Yoshimi Horiuchi, a changemaker who happens to be visually impaired and runs a team of 15 staff involved in the Always Reading Caravan (ARC) Thailand project, which promotes the joy of reading in Northern Thailand)

Apart from the platform, the videos have been published on ARC’s Youtube channel and contain hands-on practical experiences about different aspects of fundraising for social start ups (run not only by people with disability).

250 views and 35 social media engagements (mostly on facebook) were generated by the videos as of July 15th

The course has enabled users to engage in its topics on social media by sharing their own experiences with Yoshi and 88 other members of Strength through Solidarity FB group.

Good practices – Live training

24 youth workers were part of an intensive, 17-day long ‘Training of trainers’ course in September 2016 in Poland. Apart from developing their own capacity, here is how one of them has taken their youth work to a different level, already within the duration of the project:

Photo of Théophile in Gdansk sitting at the European Parliament headquarts to share his experience after the Belgian premiere of the film Kanthari: change from within.

Théophile Nsengimana, Belgium (born in Rwanda) – The course in Gdansk inspired Theo to discover his confidence to speak in front of others, especially in public. Several months after the training he went to Northern Italy, where for 3 months he was working on Awareness raising about unemployment of visually impaired for an institute for the blind in Triest. Upon return he co-organized Strength Through Solidarity live trainings in various areas and was invited as a distinguished panelist to the European Parliament headquarters to share his experiences after the Belgian premiere of “KANTHARI: change from within” documentary. He is now planning to pursue disability studies back in Belgium and develop a career in helping people with visual impairment like him.

Good practice – Job shadowing

Our crucial mobility activity, job shadowing, enabled 7 youth workers from across the globe to deepen their understanding and for 30 days experience youth work on a another continent by observing an organization of their interest and partly participating in their activities.

Photo of Tiffany, a blind social innovator from India, is jumping out of a skydiving plane. This photo was taken during her job shadowing in Belgium.

Tiffany Brar, India – A social innovator who founded the first Indian mobile blind school run by and for the blind, was able to take her independence to a whole other level with her month long job shadowing in Belgium. Apart from using the possibility to break her fears by sky diving from 4500m above sea level, she made unique contacts with disability rights organizations like National Association of the Blind who work rather on national level and those with a more international focus: Network for Independent Living, European Disability Forum among others. Her European visit brought new partnerships, including invitations for participation in new projects, for example in Germany.

During the duration of the project, a number of challenges influenced the performance of the project. We would like to share them, as they constitute for just as much of a useful learning as the so called “good practices”.

Challenge # 1 – How to get a teleconferencing software accessible for youth workers and activists with:

  • severely low access to internet
  • residing in all seven partner countries
  • visual impairment

In the project proposal, we overestimated our capabilities and did not take into consideration the complexity of technical issues associated with getting a teleconference tool which users in high speed internet areas could access online through Voice Over IP – VOIP technology (including blind people connecting using their screen readers) and at the same time accessible for mobile users with internet connections of 64 Kbps or below – through a toll-free line. Such a solution would require connection through local mobile operators in Belgium, Poland, Uganda, Brazil, India, etc. After checking dozens of mixed VOIP/toll-free line teleconferencing systems, none of them fulfilled our expectations and were affordable for our 1.000 euro budget. Until we find a solution, we will use free Skype conferencing software including paid Skype-to-mobile connections when some of our partners do not have sufficient internet.

Challenge # 2 – Accessing and completing online courses on the ‘Strength through solidarity ‘ platform

Another issue was developing an e-learning platform which would be accessible for users:

  • with disability, particularly visual impairment
  • with internet speed of 64 Kbps or below
  • in their own national languages

Out of educational platform solutions proposed by the Web Development Team, none of them met the four requirements sufficiently. An online platform with a simple intuitive interface and a visually impaired accessible design could have an adverse effect on the availability of languages. On the other hand, an e-platform which could be easily accessed in many regional languages would take more time to create and slower to navigate and load. A compromise has been achieved with the integration of the Moodle e-learning platform with WordPress and its adaptation to the needs of the project. However it is felt that this solution may have to be revised in the future for the benefit of the users.

Conclusions:

With 7 weeks before the end of the project, although most of the results from the proposal have been achieved, there is still room for more research and improvement.

The activists who came back after the international training of youth workers in September 2016, and performed live trainings in their home countries, with the help of job shadowing participants, reached almost twice as many beneficiaries as was planned in the proposal with exceptionally good feedback.

Evaluating online courses on the other hand is more challenging for us. According to the survey and ‘live training’ facilitators: many of users find the e-courses difficult to navigate, pointing out two main reasons: 1. technical and language difficulties in Moodle uploads faced by the Web Development Team and 2. limited experience with online education of their beneficiaries.

More qualitative research will be published at www.networkofchange.org after the analysis of the evaluation training course in Kampala, Uganda – where 40 youth workers who participated in “Strength through Solidarity” activities around the world, will meet to assess its performance on 7-14th August 2017.