Peer Education Program for Intercultural learning – Insights from CAT Fellow

This Blog was developed by Meri Kadagidze for the Centre for Training and Consultancy (CTC).

Global Citizenship for local challenges

I was in the 6th grade when my first English speaker friend, Alison and I was sending letters to each other every month. Since that time, I have got a lot of chances to travel and study abroad and every time I meet new people from different countries, a whole new world of opportunities and joy is opened for me.In line with the positive personal experience, since globalization and a knowledge-based economy have become key factors shaping our contemporary world, we are required to manage complexity and diversity in our everyday life and it is extremely important for each of us to communicate effectively and productively in multicultural environment.

Nowadays due to a lot of social-economic, political and cultural reasons Georgian youth lack intercultural competences, which negatively affects not only their personal and development, career path but also it is reflected in the increasing chauvinistic attitude among Georgian society, 85% of Georgian population claims the cultural superiority in a recent research from the Pew Research Centre.

That stories pushed me to start a new campaign which could contribute to young people of Georgia to encounter themselves as global citizens, respect other cultures, feel safe and use their potential in their home country and abroad, without boundaries.

PEEP_ Peer Education Program for Intercultural learning

Community Action Training Programme gave my idea a chance and that is how a Peer Education Program for Intercultural learning was launched to promote intercultural learning in the public schools.

The idea was simple, we intended to find local and international volunteers, establish peers and then visit schools in the rural areas. Campaign was launched in Gori, near the borderline, where due the occupation people live in the constant fear and Russia propaganda against national and international narrative becomes more and more intense daily.

5 foreigner and 10 local volunteers took part in the programme. We had reached 5 schools and delivered 6 workshops for more than 100 students. 95% of our participants had met and spoke to the Foreigner first time in their life. For the 3 schools out of 5 it was a first time in the last 3 years, when someone has visited the school and met the children.

Numbers does not seem to be very impressive, but I strongly believe that intercultural competences cannot be developed without creating positive experience of intercultural relationship. So, I recon that the biggest achievement of our tiny project was that we managed to create a very positive experience of intercultural communication for the children who had never chance to do this before and also, motivated them to further explore their opportunities locally and internationally.

It is not a piece of cake

This might seem that the process went very smoothly, but we faced a lot of challenges, school principals were not always meet us with an open arms.  Furthermore, in some cases we found ourselves in a very toxic school culture, were students who showed interest toward our workshop were bullied by peers. In addition, the biggest challenge was the prejudices students had go about European people and youngsters and it became clear that very intense work against the Russian Propaganda in Gori was needed.

Despite of the difficulties, because of the awesome people who was engaged in the programme, we made it and more we had struggled, more we learnt from the process.  That is why I want to share two of the most important learning outcomes here:

Expectation management: The very first and most important lesson for me was that I should have never had unrealistic expectations, in order to avoid disappointment, especially at the beginning of any kind of initiative. After I had 2-3 meetings with the representatives of different organizations, called more than 20 schools and reach more than 50 different volunteers through social media I felt really exhausted and angry, because I found out people were not interested, or even doubted my idea. Then I started to realize that I might not be very clear, or just people have different priorities, so I set a goal to try reaching out to the targeted groups until I would find at least 1 volunteer . I did not expect any more than hundreds of people would be interested, so it become easier to be rejected and I become super happy then some people show interest toward the initiative. Afterwards, this is the first story I told to the volunteers, we all shared our expectations in order to stay on the same page, and it definitely worked for us.

Networking for good: Since I had started CAT Program, I thought that I was the worst in networking and I lack of communication skills, especially when it comes to tell others about my ideas, gather them around one initiative. I have really wanted to change it during fellowship, so I pushed myself and it was proved that I could reach people and build up the network for one good idea. I was happy that my volunteers talked to others and now I am looking forward to their friends, who want to join me. As a conclusion, I can say that the fellowship showed me the way how I can develop my idea and turn this into a massive campaign, which will reach much more students around the Georgia.

Snowball effect

Since I have started the initiative, foreigner students and volunteers are reached to me and ask how to visit Gori and take part in the programme; recently a freelancer photograph from Denmark visited the villages close to borderline and prepared a very interesting article about the Russia-Georgian war. Now I am waiting a group of students from Poland who are eager to work in the rural areas and not only in Tbilisi.

As a conclusion, I can say that the fellowship showed me the way how I can develop my idea and turn this into a campaign, which I am pretty sure will reach much more students around the Georgia.