Conflict is one of the daily struggles that casts a shadow over much of Chicago’s south side. The gun violence, incarceration rates and drug problems are a constant presence in too many of our communities. So it was a fantastic opportunity for us to be invited to attend some of the programs led by a Jordan based organization called Generations for Peace (GFP). We were welcomed by Lindsay Opiyo, the Development and Partnerships Director for Generations for Peace. She shared details about the intensive week;long curriculum which GFP was leading at the Gary Comer Youth Center (GCYC) on Chicago’s south side. Lindsay recently re-located to Washington, D.C. to provide an ongoing presence for GFP in the United States, allowing them to start implementing more intensive programs in this country.
The agenda for the day included topics such as:
- Local Community Assessments
- Creating Youth Theory of Change
- Target Group Beneficiaries
- Communications with stakeholders
- Risks, Assumptions and Mitigation
- Facilitation methodologies and techniques
We were able to observe some very interesting conversations and interactions between the GFP trainers and the staff from the GCYC. Many of the discussion focused on building trust and how to identify visual clues and the expressions of change. The staff focused on thinking about what you are trying to change in the process of your program. This trust element is critical and is premised on creating a feeling of inclusion.
As the discussions progressed, the group tackled other areas of the peace-building process including visioning skills and planning skills. As the group worked through the conversation about learning outcomes, they explores the theories of change that were relevant to their activities.
A lot of time was spent identifying the target groups, beneficiaries and key stakeholders in every level of an organization and specifically noting how all of the business operations impact the success and growth of the organization. People often overlook these issues and focus on the ideology of an organization but the trainers demonstrated how every one of these impact the perception of the organization:
- Organizational support
- Human Resources
- Marketing and communications
- Risk Management
- Access to Facilities and Equipment
- Financial Support
- Credibility, influence and contacts
Having recently created a U.S. presence, Generations for Peace has a long history of working to resolve conflict in many areas around the world including some of the most conflict challenged countries in the Middle East and Africa. GFP is headquartered out of Jordan with a 65 person staff that currently serves approximately 25 countries per year. GFP prioritizes its selection of countries and trains volunteers in 51 countries. Despite working in many adverse conditions, GFP has safety as its number one concern and takes great steps to protect both the participants and leaders of its programs.
One of the leaders of GFP is Program Director, Lama Hattab. We had the opportunity to sit down together as she took a break from the intensive week of training activities. Lama joined GFP in 2008 after she encountered the organization while working at the Jordan Olympic Committee. Being impressed with the organization, Lama joined as a volunteer to support their International Camp. At that camp, she was involved with training 70 youth from 17 countries around Africa and the Middle East. The primary draw for her happened by chance when she saw a video of a small child on the beach passing a baton to a soldier.
Hattab focuses a lot of her efforts to help train people to use sport as a tool for peace and a vehicle for peace-building. She loves her work with GFP because it is different every day and she appreciates the diversity of the volunteers and staff of the organization. Hattab expressed her pride in how well GFP supports its volunteers. She frequently goes into the field to observe how the programs work in real life and make an impact on the communities in need. She notes that it is typical to see a group of youth that are full of passion and have intensive hope for the future, and she works with them to develop active tolerance and get their commitment for responsible citizenship. She is frequently impressed by how the youth contribute to their own community and she helps them design some of their own initiatives.
Hattab acknowledges that mentoring is one of the pillars of GFP’s programs but also accepts that trainings like the one I observed in Chicago are only the first step in creating the capacity to resolve these conflicts. She stresses how important it is for the youth to design their own programs that fit their community. She believes that one of the strengths of the GFP model is that it accepts that the youth live in their community and probably understand the conflict and the issues underlying the conflict to a depth that is difficult to absorb from the outside.
As talked about the various issues she sees in her work, Hattab acknowledged that there is truly no “magic stick”, but instead, the training programs combine the trainer’s experience with a horizontal learning process.
Hattab talked about the importance of having the training on a yearly basis and advancing the curriculum each year. The quality of program implementation is an important component as it looks at the challenges the youth have observed in the prior year. Hattab stressed the importance of increasing the use of technology to provide greater mentoring support and also relying on the youth in the community to lead the way.