Our principles, ourselves
As thousands of migrant workers fled the conflict in Libya in 2011, volunteers working near the Tunisian–Libyan border faced many difficult tests, recalls Hafedh Ben Miled, a volunteer coordinator with the Tunisian Red Crescent.
Working nearly around the clock, the volunteers did great work, he says. But those with a particular kind of training, he adds, had an advantage.
The training he refers to was not a technical course about first-aid or emergency management. Rather, it was about developing the emotional and psychological qualities and skills needed to maintain impartiality and neutrality in high-stress environments. “For example, when beneficiaries become aggressive due to the fact that they wait for a long time to get services, we are prepared and more patient,” he says. “We stay calm.”
The training Ben Miled refers to is part of an IFRC initiative known as YABC, or Youth as Agents for Behavioural Change, which helps volunteers act as role models in the way they carry out humanitarian work and foster a culture of non-violence and peace through their personal behaviour.
According to a forthcoming study on the YABC initiative, this inner change is having an impact on service delivery. According to more than 300 volunteers who have participated in the programme and took part in the study, these qualities and skills can be learned and further developed through practice, training and exercise.
“To understand how to implement the principles and values of the Movement, it’s necessary to work on them on a personal level,” says Sonia Pezier, a volunteer with the French Red Cross and YABC peer educator. “Then we can export them in order to change the mentality of others.”
Based on the writings of humanitarians such as Henry Dunant and Jean Pictet (who first crafted the seven Fundamental Principles) — as well as philosophers and activists from Socrates to Gandhi — the YABC curriculum is based on experiential and practical learning.
Because the initiative is based on experiential learning not book studies, it can be brought to all communities, says Dawar Adnan Shams, a staff and YABC trainer for the Pakistan Red Crescent Society. “We are facing many different problems, such as terrorism, violence, gender inequality, discrimination, exclusion,” he says. “The strength of YABC is that we can help change the mindsets of both illiterate and literate people,” he says. “We can reach all people.”
The five-day YABC peer educator training also helps volunteers see situations from multiple perspectives — from beneficiary to soldier to fellow relief workers — and to develop skills for taking on challenges such as stigma, homophobia, racism, xenophobia and violence.
“Young people are not the only ones who can benefit from this,” says Katrien Beeckman, founder of YABC and head of the IFRC’s principles and values department. “We all need to develop a personal connection to the Fundamental Principles so that from abstract, remote concepts, the principles become personally meaningful, tangible and concretely applicable in our daily work.”
Each of the principles demands certain skills or qualities that can be developed and improved, she says. Impartiality, for example, requires integrity, active listening, objective analysis, critical thinking and the ability to drop biases. Independence, meanwhile, requires leadership, innovation, collaborative negotiation and stress management.
Improving these skills, can therefore improve adherence to the Fundamental Principles, enhance the image of Red Cross Red Cresce“About 6.5 per cent of the global YABC network is actually above 30 years old,” says Charlotte Tocchio, the IFRC’s Geneva-based YABC officer. “This group of older volunteers also reports strong impact of the initiative in their personal and professional lives. So YABC has less to do with age than with the individual’s belief in his or her own power to act and effect change.”nt and ultimately improve service delivery, access and volunteer motivation, Beeckman says.
Though there is considerable anecdotal evidence of the transformative nature of the YABC training, it’s difficult to measure the initiative’s impact. An online self-assessment survey in 2012 revealed that 97 per cent of respondents felt they changed in a positive way, while 94 per cent identified specific behaviour changes that are still evident and useful months or years later.
But how to measure the impact of the initiative on the ground, in terms of service delivery. “We need an indicator to measure the impact at the community level,” says Shams. “For National Societies it is important to know what change, what impact is happening or if it is just talk in the wind? For example, if the secretary general asked me, ‘Do you see any change in the community?’ and I say ‘Yes,’ he would then say, ‘How can you say that? Based on what?’”
Many in the YABC global network hope that the evidence gathered in the upcoming impact study is a step toward demonstrating the initiative’s operational impact. They also hope the survey will help convince Movement leaders that it may be time to drop the “Y” and simply refer to the initiative as “ABC,” something that older staff, management and leadership could also benefit from.
“About 6.5 per cent of the global YABC network is actually above 30 years old,” says Charlotte Tocchio, the IFRC’s Geneva-based YABC officer. “This group of older volunteers also reports strong impact of the initiative in their personal and professional lives. So YABC has less to do with age than with the individual’s belief in his or her own power to act and effect change.”