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Two-way street

by Satu Santala
Barrigye Samson is making Red Cross history. Twenty-five-year-old Samson is the first African delegate to be sent to a European National Society to work as a long-term development delegate. This time, the concept of development cooperation is working in reverse with the south teaching the north — and with excellent results.

Samson left his home in Uganda in October 1994 to develop a community-based project among youth in the Finnish Red Cross (FRC). The project’s main purpose is to develop local youth activities that answer the needs of the community, a concept that is new to FRC youth but one that is tried and tested in many places in Africa.

 

 

 

From needs to action

A pilot phase of the project, known as “From needs to action”, was launched in the first half of 1995 in two districts in Finland. The aim is to help youth clubs renew their activities by introducing the ideas of community-based activities and a participatory methodology.

“During the spring we organised three weekend courses explaining the concepts of the community-based approach and participation,” Samson says. “Between training sessions, the participants carried out assignments with our support to practise what they’d learned. For instance, youth leaders mobilised their clubs to interview some 50 people to find out how they view their lives and to see how FRC youth might be able to help them.”

Samson has been working closely with employed FRC staff in the two districts, but the project itself is limited to volunteer youth members. To-gether with Samson, a district working group of three volunteers has been planning and implementing the pilot phase of the project. A second group, composed of former Finnish youth delegates, is helping Samson in the planning and follow-up of the whole project.

“I share my ideas and experiences with my Finnish counterparts,” Samson continues, “but it’s the young volunteers who do most of the work. In this way, they will gain enough experience to be able to carry out the project on their own.

“So far, the pilot project is going very well. Members are active and enthusiastic and our cooperation is constantly improving. I feel that all youth members involved in this project are very eager to renew the activities of FRC youth clubs.”

The bigger picture

Obviously, the FRC motives for inviting an African development delegate go far beyond the tangible results of the youth project. The educational value of this type of cooperation is extremely important to the FRC which has been active in development cooperation with sister National Societies since the 1960s.

“Through this project, we want to stress the fact that we in the so-called developed world have a lot to learn from those in the so-called developing world,” Jouni Hemberg, FRC Youth Director, explains. “This is a very good way of promoting international understanding, tolerance and a sense of global responsibility among our young people. In this way, the project is in line with our youth policy in which prevention of ethnocentrism is an important issue.”

In addition, the project and the philosophy behind it are relevant for the entire Movement. “Activities that grow out of the real needs of the community ultimately serve our organisation and motivate our young people. In general, the Red Cross is always up against the challenge of attracting and keeping young people interested and active. That means it has to change to meet new realities,” Hemberg stresses.

“Until now, the community based approach has been relatively unknown in the FRC. On the other hand, we knew that in developing countries these ideas and methodologies have been widely used. Samson’s expertise is therefore invaluable to us.”

 

Turning the concept upside-down

The Finnish Red Cross has been active in development cooperation with its sister National Societies in developing countries since the 1960s. In the late 1980s, the concept of sending youth delegates from Finland to work in developing countries was introduced in FRC and modelled on similar programmes being carried out in the Swedish Red Cross. Notably, Finnish youth have worked in Ethiopia and Romania.

The idea of “From needs to action” grew directly out of experiences of youth delegate programmes. FRC youth felt strongly that it was time to invite a development delegate from the south to Finland. There had been much talk about development being a two-way street, but nothing concrete had come of it. They decided to do something about it.

The Ugandan youth delegate’s project in Finland is part of a wider cooperation among the youth in both National Societies. Among other things, this cooperation will include regular local level contacts and youth delegate exchanges. According to Helena Korhonen, the extended cooperation will hopefully begin as soon as negotiations with the Ugandan Red Cross are completed.

Costs of the project, including travel, allowances, accommodation and operational expenses, were covered by Folke Bernadotte Foundation. This foundation is funding the international youth activities of some Finnish NGOs.

 

 

Early results

The pilot phase of the project has already proven that its approach is sound and effective. A mid-term evaluation gave the project good marks both in supporting local youth activities and in promoting international understanding. According to the evaluation, the project has grown into an activity run by youth on their own terms and its structure leaves plenty of room for creativity.

“There is a new wind blowing among the youth,” Hemberg says. “Samson’s personal input has been strong and we are very pleased with his work.”

Naturally, the project has not been without its share of setbacks, many of them familiar to anyone who has been involved with development cooperation. Planning was not sufficient or clear enough and getting the project started took time. Interestingly enough, these are often the same difficulties experienced when development delegates from the north head south. Apparently, the location of the host country doesn’t have much of a bearing on the matter.

“The beginning was a little difficult,” Samson says. “The substance of my work was not clearly defined and nobody really seemed to know what should be done in the districts. The people who actually worked with me had not been involved enough in the planning from the beginning.”

In spite of the slow start, the FRC is very proud of the work Barrigye Samson is doing. “This project provides us with the opportunity of learning a different way of thinking and a different culture which promotes international cooperation and understanding,” Helena Korhonen, Director of FRC International Department, says. “The Red Cross being a worldwide Movement gives us enormous strength and unlimited opportunities. We can learn from each other and, obviously, it is not at all true that we in the north are supposed to be the teachers. At the Finnish Red Cross, we can happily attest to the contrary.”

Satu Santala
Satu Santala works for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Helsinki and is a Finnish Red Cross volunteer.


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