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Strength Through Solidarity's life trainings

Between the 12th of May and the 20th of June, VIEWS Internationalhasco-ordinated the organization of five life training in four different Belgian cities. The training addressed various topics (intercultural communication, empowerment etc.) and was organized in the framework of the "Strength Through Solidarity" project, which we have already told you about in previous issues of the newsletter.
The training was generally very well-received by the participants and gave rise to extremely interesting and fruitful discussions.

The first life training organized in the framework of the Strength Through Solidarity project took place in Liège on Friday, the 12th of May. It focused on disability awareness and intercultural learning and was held entirely in the dark. The 10 participants were mostly sighted (only two were visually impaired) and had never met before... or so they thought! Two of them actually had, but it took them a long time to realize it, as they only heard each other's voice throughout the whole training. The age varied a lot as well: the youngest participant was only 12, the oldest 50. All participants were Belgian, except for one who came from India.

After some ice-breaking games, where participants introduced themselves and tried to guess where the others came from based on their accent, they were devided into groups and had to invent stories using some words in relief (which they found very difficult to decipher). The tea break was also performed in the dark, but luckily there were no major catastrophes (coffee got spilled only once!).

After the break, the organizers addressed the subject of intercultural dialogue: they read some spicy statements dealing with culture and stereotypes, and participants had to say whether they agreed or disagreed. For example, one of the statements was: "women's job is to stay at home and take care of their husband and children". The statements gave rise to a very fruitful and lively debate, which lasted for almost an hour! What made everything even more intercultural was the fact that the organizers had to translate back and forth between English and French, as some participants spoke only one or the other language.

The second training took place in Brussels on Friday, the 26th of May. There were 4 participants, 2 sighted and 2 visually impaired, all in their twenties and from Belgium. Just like the previous one, this training focused on disability awareness and intercultural communication.

The first part of the training concentrated on disability: after a brainstorming to try and define what disability actually means, the participants were asked to reflect on the difference between empathy and simpathy, two completely opposite feelings which lead to completely opposite approaches. Afterwards, the organizers performed some roleplays about disability, and asked participants to get involved and try to change what they had found out of place. This gave rise to a very interesting discussion, especially because the two sighted participants were quite new to disability and were very receptive and curious.

After the tea break, some stereotypes about disability were discussed, and then the focus shifted to intercultural communication: like in the previous training, the organizers read some cultural statements, which sparked off a very interesting debate. Afterwards, one of the organizers explained some theories related to intercultural communication, and the rest of the time was used for questions and feedback.

The third training took place the day after (27th May) in Leuven. This time, all 5 participants were visually impaired, in their twenties and thirties, and mostly engaged in the organization of the ICC (International Camp on Computer and Communication), which will be held in the same city at the end of July 2017. The topic of the training was intercultural communication.

After the usual introduction and presentation of the STS project, participants had a brainstorming on the definition of culture, an umbrella term which entails a lot more. Afterwards, one of the organizers explained the concept of culture as an iceberg, providing a lot of fitting examples and asking participants to find some more. It was then time for a very interesting game, where letters were used instead of cards: participants were given a letter and had to say a word related to culture. That gave rise to a very interesting conversation, where participants discussed what that specific concept meant in their own culture. It is worth noting that both organizers and participants came from different countries (India, Romania, Italy, Greece, Rwanda and Belgium), which made the whole thing even more interesting.

After the tea break, one of the organizers explained the different tipologies of culture, with some examples. And then, the subject of cultural misunderstandings was broached: the organizers gave some examples of situations where people misunderstand each other because of their different culture, and a fruitful debate followed. As it was a very sunny day, the last part of the training unfolded in the terrace!

The fourth training took place in Mons on Sunday, the 4th of June. The 4 participants were equally devided between sighted and visually impaired and were all in their twenties. The training was about empowering oneself and his community.

After the usual introduction, participants had a brainstorming about the definition of empowerment: it is a word that can have many different nuances, and defining it is harder than it seems. Afterwards, participants talked about their personal experiences concerning empowerment, which resulted in very interesting and inspiring stories.

After a coffee break, one of the organizers talked about the evolution of empowerment in different societies. Participants were extremely interested and responsive, as some information was new to them. The training ended with an interesting debate and feedback.

The last training was held in Liège on Tuesday, the 20th of June. This time, the target group was very clearly defined: participants were mostly teachers of French as a foreign language, or, even when they weren't, they still worked in the field of teaching in schools for immigrants. Eight people took part, and they were all sighted. The training focused on disability awareness and volunteering.

After a presentation of the STS platform, the organizers gave a short explanation about EVS (European Voluntary Service) and, in particular, about the adapted EVS which is organized by VIEWS International every year. In this respect, Clara and Theo, who both profited from this amazing opportunity (Theo in Murcia, Clara in Liège) gave an account of their experiences, with special focus on the challenges they had to face because of their visual impairment. Participants were very interested and asked a lot of questions, and were handed out a sheet about EVS.

Afterwards, the organizers focused on the topic of integration despite disability: through three short roleplays, they presented participants with some daily situations where disability is not handled in the best of manners, mostly because of lack of experience of the non-disabled: for example, when a blind person is on the bus with a friend, and someone addresses the latter to make the blind person sit, ignoring his repeated refusals. The roleplays gave rise to a very fruitful debate, as the participants didn't have much experience with blind people themselves and were amazed at how impolite and clumsy you can be without even knowing!

After the coffee break, a team building game was played: participants were devided into two groups and had to build a house using only paper, sellotape and some other basic material. Half of the people in every group were blindfolded, which meant that the sighted ones had to describe and show things properly, in order for them to actively participate. The atmosphere was really cheerful and lively and both groups had a lot of fun. The training ended with a short discussion on how the blindfolded people had felt during the game, and everybody left with a lot of enthusiasm and new knowledge.

All in all, the 5 life trainings were very successful: in the evaluation questionnaires they were asked to fill in, participants gave really positive feedback, as proven by the fact that the answers "very low" and "low" were hardly ever used. That's a clear sign that the trainings were going in the right direction, and that some more should definitely be organized in the future!