- 22 local leaders were guided through the process of creating Personal Development Plans (PDPs) and Local Activity Plans (LAPs).
- Trainers helped these leaders initiate local activities involving about 500 individuals.
- The Club of Local Leaders, a network to support local leaders based on a system of self-help, local advisors and international experts, was created.
- Follow-up assistance was provided via internet mentoring as well as during a final meeting in Nowy Sacz to share experiences and accomplishments.
In March our Belarusian partner, Gomel Democratic Forum (GDF) recruited candidates via their website and by sending invitations to partner organizations. 22 participants were chosen from the 80 applications that were received based on age (under 35), place of residency and work (with an aim to cover the entire country, with equal representation from villages and cities) and documented community based activities.
The 9-day July training held in Nowy Sacz, Poland, involved 4 Polish trainers and an expert from Belarus. Itcovered the followingtopics:
- Program presentation, integration of participants, techniques of interactive discussion, methods of group decision-making, setting group rules;
- “My role in my surroundings”, “My role in the local community”, analysis of my needs;
- Identification of community needs and how to create goals that encourage others to become involved, discussion of difficulties facing NGOs in Belarus, Personal Development Plan (PDP);
- Visits to NGOs addressing various community needs in Krakow and Nowy Sacz;
- Visit in Warsaw to the Foundation for Education for Democracy which fosters and supports cooperation between Polish and Belarusian NGOs.
- Extrapolating and applying lessons and practices used in Polish NGOs to the situation of communities in Belarus, creating a Local Activity Plan (LAP);
- How to create a team that can effectively achieve common goals, how to attract co-workers and volunteers, Public Relations, how to deal with differences in opinion, interests and needs, basic negotiation skills;
- Strategic planning, reporting, choosing a personal mentor, evaluation of the workshop.
We have learned through our projects in other post-communist countries that young people are very willing to become involved in activities that build a civil society. This has been the case in this project as well. Continuous contact between the participants and their chosen mentors played an important role in the success of the project. In addition to completing and implementing their own PDP, 19 members of the Club realized their Local Activity Plans (LAP) which included the following:
- An “Evening of Traditional Dance” , organized at a nearby lake, included workshops of theatre, music and dance with the goal of preserving Belarus’ cultural heritage.
- A rock concert in Sluck, featuring 5 local groups as well as those from Soligorsko and Minsk, enlivened the local community and showed that even one person is capable of making something interesting happen in their area.
- “Big Tea Party on the Square” was organized in Smolewicze, a small town near Minsk. It served as a clever way of protesting against the total disregard by the local authorities for the needs of young people who turn to alcohol out of sheer boredom. It started with 15 people drinking tea in ceramic mugs in the public square. Unauthorized gatherings are strictly forbidden, but even the police could not find any law being broken by the group’s initiative. A subsequent gathering saw a crowd of 50.
- The campaign “Give them a chance” focused on raising awareness of the plight of homeless animals. Thanks to the work of 30 volunteers, there was musical entertainment, a photo exhibit, competitions for kids, the chance to adopt homeless animals, training for pet owners and fundraising for sterilization. It was a huge success.
- Lack of organized parking was a big problem in one neighborhood. To solve this, neighbors were informed and mobilized to sign a petition to the local authorities requesting a proper parking lot. Even though the request is still pending and bureaucracy is strong as ever, the attempt motivated citizens and showed that they have a right to make demands on the government.
- A historic monastery, which had fallen into ruins in Bereza Kartuska, had the potential to become a tourist attraction. To raise awareness of its potential and history, in cooperation with nearby schools, a medieval tournament along with competition and games for children were organized on a Sunday so that families could participate. Unfortunately, not only were the authorities unhelpful, but the event had to be postponed until November when the weather was at its worst.
- A law student in Homel organized a 2-day event called “Step Up” for the children at an orphanage. Its goals were to involve kids in educational games and activities and to teach them about children’s rights while also raising money for the orphanage.
- Another law student and member of a Law Clinic at the University of Nowopolock decided to make an existing network of such law clinics at various universities more active and interactive. Presently there is very little practical exchange amongst students or of experience. She also organized the first in a series of trainings about good practices in law.
- An architect with an interest in art and helping others decided to invigorate the village where she lives. With nothing to do, most people simply stay home which only reinforces a lack of community. She got her neighbors to help renovate an old village club where she then organized art classes for all ages. The resulting exhibit was a big success and is the first step in her plan to rebuild a real community.
- Everyone knows there are numerous human rights abuses in Belarus. Thanks to one participant there is now a newsletter with documentation of where and what these abuses are. He also organized meetings for parents of young children to discuss children’s rights.
- A new women’s organization, whose goal is to raise the level of education of women in the Witebsk region, is in the process of being registered.
- A member of the trade union in Homel works to defend worker’s rights. In order to better attract more members, he and other activists decided to raise their own leadership qualifications by organizing a series of meetings with psychologists to improve leadership traits. They also used materials he received during the trainings in Nowy Sacz.
- There is often a very complacent attitude towards inequality in Belarus. A new organization for women is being registered to fight against violence in the family and the inequality between women and men. As in the earlier case, the registration process is long and difficult.
- Without proper bike paths, inhabitants of Rechitsa are not able to practice this sport safely. Additionally few know the traffic rules and are themselves a danger to drivers. Thanks to a biking fan and workshop participant, there were two Sunday rides for young and old to raise awareness of the problem and bike safety.
- A lawyer in Kobryn decided to use his skills to revive agro-tourism in the region of Brzesc. He is creating an organization to promote agro-tourism and provide advice for farmers interested in this. Many attended a seminar in Beloozersk and a handbook of good practices was published. The Polish experience in this area was useful and there is cooperation between his organization and a similar one in Augustow, Poland.
- A tri-country meeting of representatives of hostels in the River Bug Euroregion was planed. Unfortunately Poles did not receive visas, but the Belarusians and Ukrainians were able to begin cooperation. It is the first in a series of meetings to revive tourism in the region.
- A new ecological organization is being created.
- In actuality there exist several student organizations that can be legally joined during one’s studies. Unfortunately most students are aware only of the official state one. One participant along with some volunteers organized happenings at various universities to raise awareness of the various possibilities. The key to their success was that students organized these events at other universities than their own, so there were no repercussions taken against them. Otherwise they could have been thrown out of school.
At the end of November there was a 5-day seminar in Nowy Sacz to summarize the project and share the results. Participants shared their successes and made strategic plans for future activities and cooperation. The project was evaluated and certificates of participation awarded.
Civil society is primarily built upon local activity which should benefit the local community. Our project facilitated the free exchange of ideas and the creation of ties among individuals. Thanks to this 18 model undertakings were able to involve 500 individuals in Belarus. Those involved as well as their families and friends began the long process of building grassroots civil society which should result in the development of social entrepreneurship, citizen awareness and a feeling of freedom.
We would like to thank the Polish Aid Program of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the support of this project which helps Belarus in the spirit of European Union and at the same time in the best possible way promotes Poland to the people of that country.