Yet another training on community participation?!

On 22 and 23 September, staff of Viva Salud Palestinian partners took part in a training of trainers (ToT) activity aimed at strengthening their capacity to engage with the community in the struggle for the right to health. The training was delivered by our colleague Chiara Bodini.
“Most foreigners come to impose their views on us. This training was different, I didn't feel we were being told what we should do, we were all together in solidarity”

How you teach is as important as what you teach

At first, I thought that we did not need to talk again about community and participation because we are familiar with these concepts!”, said one senior participant. “However”, she continued, “I soon realized that behind them there is a whole world and the training challenged me to go in depth in my assumptions and practices”.

We know that people gain more out of a learning experience or environment when they are actively involved in the learning process. Therefore, the ToT was designed to be a cooperative learning experience, based on five key points:

  1. Learning is an active, constructive process.

  2. Learning depends on rich contexts.

  3. Learners are diverse.

  4. Learning is inherently social.

  5. Learning has affective and subjective dimensions.

The ToT has been organised by our partner organizations after learning about our book “Building a movement for health”, a collaboration between Viva Salud and the People's Health Movement (PHM). All the process from the idea to the implementation was carried out in partnership, in order to define objectives, methodology and a schedule that reflected the needs of the participants. In particular, the need to be stronger in community approaches that are able to increase the voice and the strength of communities in addressing their health problems.

Going beyond the surface

Participants had the chance to directly experience participatory methodologies that can be used to help communities define their needs and priorities, understand the causes of causes of their problems, and define strategies for action (both direct action and advocacy).

The tree diagram to analyze the root causes of ill-health helped me a lot to see that there may be different entry points to tackle a problem”, said a young participant.

They also had the opportunity to reflect on their own position and assumptions, through exercises that helped surface hidden issues such as power and privilege.

The role of NGOs

Participants came to reflect critically on the role and potential of NGOs in contributing to social change. Issues such as divisive party politics, donor-driven approaches, alienation of NGO workers from the people undermine the trust and legitimacy that the organizations and their workers may have with the community. Most participants agreed that it is possible to act despite these constraints, but sustained commitment and dedication are needed in order to be credible and effective.

As one participant warned, “We need to understand the environment we are in and its constraints, we have to be aware of the agenda surrounding the NGOs and ask ourselves what can NGOs do to strengthen social movements”. Awareness and self-reflection have been identified as important tools to understand our positioning, what motivates us and what are our limits. Moreover, participatory approaches should not have time limits, and should be sustained beyond project schedules.

Solidarity as a driver for change

Most foreigners come to impose their views on us. This training was different, I didn't feel we were being told what we should do, we were all together in solidarity”.

PHM is about connecting people through bonds of mutual support, because many of the problems we face in different countries and contexts are caused by similar processes of exploitation and unequal distribution of power and resources. PHM is also about mutually strengthening our confidence that we have the power to change, if we act collectively. As one participant noted “We need to believe more in our people and in our own capacities, and we need to bring this belief to the community”. We can not mobilize other people if, deep down in ourselves, we are not convinced that - together - we can make a difference.