The International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction

The International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction is an opportunity to acknowledge the progress being made toward reducing disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health. The 2021 edition focuses on “International cooperation for developing countries to reduce their disaster risk and disaster losses.” This is the sixth of the Sendai Seven targets.

RET has been designing and implementing Disaster Risk Reduction DRR projects since 2009. RET started in Colombia during the winter wave; since 2012, and to date, RET has been working in multiple countries in the Americas region, including Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panamá at the national and regional levels, using innovative approaches and ground-breaking interventions. During the last 10 years, RET has implemented more than 20 DRR-focused regional and national projects, including integral actions in other sectors such as education, protection, health and/or WASH, benefiting more than 30,000 direct participants, and 90,000 indirectly.

Three main strategic directions drive RET’s DRR approach:
(1) Participation of children, adolescents and young people in DRR (including children with disabilities);
(2) Advocacy and institutional strengthening in DRR focused on children and youth;
(3) Development of tools and frameworks for DRR focusing on children and young people.

The DRR projects focus specifically on the needs of children, adolescents, and young people, building their resilience through capacity strengthening under a rights-based approach, with particular attention to people with disabilities or indigenous groups. 

Some of RET’s DRR projects include institutional capacity building and strengthening processes, such as with the Ministries of Education or Social Development) contributing to the design and/or implementation of their DRR public policies. Moreover, other projects have focused on a community level through the implementation of risk management models.

Through these proposals, more than 25 tools have been developed for advocacy and guidance, needs assessment, implementation, and capacity building at the regional, national, and community levels, allowing users to identify vulnerabilities, reflect on their capacities, and strengthen them.

Finaly, RET is actively engaged at the global level in the “Global Alliance for Risks Reduction and Resilience of the Education Sector” (GADRRRES). In the LAC, RET is a member of the “Regional Education Sector Group for DRR and Education in Emergencies” and has been the coordinator of the “Coalition for Children and Youth Resilience in Latin America and the Caribbean – CORELAC.” As a leader of CORELAC, the movement “Voices of Children and Youth for Resilience” has been promoted, reaching more than 6,000 young people in collaboration with UNICEF and UNDRR, Save the Children, Plan, and World Vision. This initiative succeeded in incorporating the participation of young people from LAC in different regional platforms for DRR (Chile, Ecuador, and Canada). The initiative led to the recognition of children’ and youth’ participation at the “World Conference on DRR” held in SENDAI in 2015; fundamentally influenced the inclusion of children and young people as “relevant actors” in the document of the SENDAI Framework for Disaster Risks Reduction 2015-2030.

 Read more about the Zero Project Award 2020 for Innovative Practice that RET won in 2020. 


Beyciveck’s Story: bridges to heal, learn and shine for children and young Venezuelan refugees

20th June is the commemoration of World Refugee Day. This year, the theme focused on the power of inclusion and the importance of working together to recover from the pandemic: “Together We Heal, Learn and Shine.” In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, children and young refugees are facing recurrent adversities. Education is a key tool to provide them with a sense of normalcy, a safe space, and an opportunity to thrive. 

Today we share the story of Beyciveck, a Venezuelan adolescent who participated in a distance learning program called “Learning Together,” implemented by RET in 2020, with the generous support of Education Cannot Wait. Beyciveck, 15 years old, arrived in Peru in 2019. She couldn’t resume her education and enroll in school during that year as her family was facing economic hardships. Beginning of 2020, she was eagerly waiting for the new school year to start and even began playing rugby with a group of refugees and host community adolescents. “I like all kinds of sports… I like to play and have fun”, she says.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The government of Peru declared a state of national emergency and restricted the mobility of the population, postponing the academic year to 2021. The Ministry of Education implemented a national alternative strategy to facilitate access to education during COVID-19 through a complementary distance learning program, “I Learn at Home.” The program included e-learning materials and educational sessions on TV and radio, with consultation sessions through chat groups to guide and mentor the students. 
Still, many migrants and refugee families experienced difficulties accessing the proposed platforms online due to economic difficulties, lack of internet and equipment. Many of the families had only one mobile phone and or TV for the entire family to use

The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with multiple adversities, increased the risk of students drop-out. Therefore, RET responded by adapting its project strategy and activities to fill the needs gaps of students and their families during the pandemic and facilitated their access to virtual education opportunities.
Beyciveck was one of the students who enrolled in the  “Learning together” virtual program implemented by RET in partnership with UNICEF, UNESCO, and Plan International. She received fourteen (14) e-learning sessions in mathematics while strengthening her socio-emotional skills with the support and orientation of a specialized tutor. Beyciveck actively and efficiently used the virtual platform and accessed all the resources through her mother’s smartphone and/or her cousin’s computer. 
“The virtual program “Learning Together” has been a great tool for me. I learned new things in Peru that I did not know. It is crucial for any child, adolescent, and even any adult to learn to achieve their goals in life. I want to be an industrial engineer in the future, like my brother”, commented Beyciveck. 

The Story of Beyciveck is one of 1,300 children and adolescents who participated in the “Keeping education accessible to Venezuelan migrants, refugees and host communities during the COVID-19 times in Peru” project, implemented by RET in partnership with the global fund Education Cannot Wait.  Since 2000, RET has been standing with refugees and vulnerable communities in more than 30 countries worldwide. Beyciveck’s testimony stands witness to young refugees’ resilience and the positive role RET plays in their lives. 
RET would like to thank Education Cannot Wait for its continuous support and response to the needs of Venezuelan refugees and asylum seekers in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

Jonathan’s Story: Pride and healing paths for LGTBIQ+ Venezuelan migrants and refugees

June is Pride month, an opportunity to celebrate all forms of love and diversity. It is also a reminder of all the challenges the LGTBIQ+ community faces worldwide, especially for those individuals in the context of human mobility. June has also been the month where two main events around the Venezuelan migration in Latin America and the Caribbean occurred: The High-level Meeting with Civil Society in Solidarity with Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants, co-hosted on 14 June by the Coalition for the Defense of the Rights of Refugees, Migrants, and Displaced People in LAC (Coalition LAC RMD),  the Government of Canada, and the European Commission for Crisis Management; side-event of the International Donors’ Conference in Solidarity with Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants, on 17 June, hosted by the Government of Canada.

Jonathan, a Venezuelan participant from RET’s Psychosocial Support Program in Costa Rica, gave his testimony as a speaker in the High-Level Meeting with Civil Society, as a member of the LGTBIQ+ community and Venezuelan Migrant to share the challenges and development needs his community is facing. 

During his speech, Jonathan talked about his experience and how the stigmatization and discrimination make access to services more difficult or reduces the opportunities to find a job.

It is like coming out of the closet again… you not only present yourself as a foreigner, but you also have to present yourself as gay because people are going to ask… do you have a wife? And then you explain again, perhaps with shame, with insecurities,” Jonathan said.

There is still a lot of discrimination, for being trans, for being a lesbian, for being bisexual … there is also a sensitive issue, and is having HIV.” He explained migrants and refugees with HIV are the most vulnerable; they travel for opportunities to access treatment and arrive at the host countries with the hope of starting a new life. By the testimony of a friend, he said this kind of journey is not easy; there are barriers to access to health services, and being without the support of their families makes it more challenging. There is also the fear of not finding a job or losing it because of the stigma.

Jonathan would like to become a psychologist to help other members of the LGBTQI+ community in their process of integration. He has received psychosocial support through the UNCHR program “Responding to the specific needs of refugees and asylum seekers in Costa Rica,” in which RET, as implementing partner, works to empower individuals to access their rights in society; enabling a participatory platform for social integration and strengthening their emotional and mental health through psychosocial support and attention.

In his words, this experience helps him understand his situation from another perspective, “Fortunately, here in Costa Rica I have met wonderful people and incredible organizations such as RET, who help me obtain and understand all these tools and all these complex thoughts and situations… that makes us understand that we are human beings and we all are different, and we must accept ourselves and others.”

At least, I dream of studying psychology and helping each of the members of the LGBT community who have gone through all these situations because it is a career that I feel enables you to connect with people and with feelings.

At the end of his speech, he made a call to International Cooperation and INGOs to support the education of young Venezuelan Migrants and Refugees from the LGTBIQ+ community, and to make more efforts to reduce barriers to access treatments and health services for migrants and refugees with HIV in the host countries in Latin America.

The stories of participants like Jonathan stand witness to their achievements and RET’s key role in their lives. RET would like to thank UNCHR for its support and response to the needs of refugees and asylum seekers in Costa Rica.

The LAC RMD Coalition issues a call to action in the framework of the International Donors’ Conference in Solidarity with Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants

The LAC RDM Coalition[1] salutes and thanks the Government of Canada and the R4V Platform for convening the International Donors’ Conference, as well as the European Union and the international donor community for their commitment to the more than 5.6[2] million refugees and migrants from Venezuela, 4.6 million of whom are in Latin America and the Caribbean.

According to the 2021 Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan for Venezuela (RMRP)[3] there are 7.2 million people with humanitarian need: 3.4 million Venezuelans settled in host countries, and the rest returnees, in transit and/or in pendular movement, a population that in 2020 particularly suffered the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The challenges for Venezuelan migrants and refugees are manifold: evictions, lack of safe shelter, gender-based violence, inability for children and adolescents to access or remain in education[4], violation of health and reproductive rights, the resurgence of sexual exploitation and trafficking of women and girls[5], the lack of access to regular and adequate food and nutrients, loss of sources of income, including people with disabilities often engaged in informal work, difficulties in accessing treatment for people with chronic illnesses, discrimination and violence, particularly towards the LGBTQI+ population,  the lack of opportunities for young people and lack of responses for people with disabilities. These factors, among other affectations, have had a serious impact on the physical and psychological integrity of the population.


Collaboration to Meet SDG4 and Support the 2030 Decade of Action – UNGA ”75” 2020

RET, represented by its President & CEO Ms. Zeynep Gülgün Gündüz was part of the High-level Virtual Side Event, UNGA” 75″ 2020 “Government and Foundation Partners Demonstrate Effective Cross-sectoral Collaboration to Meet SDG4 and Support the 2030 Decade of Action.”
This event was co-hosted by Education Above All Foundation, the Permanent Mission of The State of Qatar to the United Nations, Qatar Fund For Development, the UN Office for Partnerships, and UNESCO. 

The event discussed ways to enhance collaboration among vital actors, specifically countries, civil society and foundations, policymakers, and institutions engaged in education, humanitarian, and development responses to accelerate country progress on the SDG4 and the related SDG targets. 

The SDG4 Education 2030 Framework for Action seeks to promote international collaborative efforts to achieve SDGs through different methods and institutional arrangements, including cross-sectoral coordination and multi-stakeholder partnerships. The overall 2030 Agenda recognizes that the global goals and targets will not be achieved through single sectoral approaches alone. The SDG4-Education 2030 Framework for Action’s key message is that different domains (e.g., data, sport, water, energy, and food) are interconnected. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of collaboration between sectors to ensure students’ well-being and learning continuity. 

RET addressed its multi-sectoral response in more than 32 countries worldwide and emphasized its achievements in the Americas related to (SDG 13) strengthening resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters by mainstreaming Disaster Risk Reduction & Management within education-focused interventions to improve all learners’ education on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction, and early warning; (SDG’s 5 & 9) using an innovative, inclusive approach, paying particular attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations to leave no one behind; and (SDG 6) providing equitable access to safe drinking water and restore water-related systems in school settings, among other interventions. 

Ms. Gunduz highlighted the Zero Project Award 2020 for innovative practice, won by RET for “Including Children, Adolescents and Youth with Disabilities in Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Practices.”

Ms. Gündüz Part at 1:03:40

Ms. Zeynep Gülgün Gündüz Remarks:

“Thank you very much for the introduction and thank you to “Education Above All Foundation” and the Government of Qatar for inviting us to participate in this important event. 

Let me first start with who we are!
At the heart of RET’s mission is to PROTECT and BUILD the SELF-RELIANCE of young people and women. RET works in areas of conflict, crisis, instability, and fragility around the world. We were created 20 years ago by then High Commissioner of UNHCR, Sadako Ogata, to provide education for vulnerable youth, namely refugees in refugee camps. Today, while we still work in camps, most of our work is with urban, peri-urban, and rural populations of concern, including refugees, host communities, and the internally displaced.   

RET has more than 20 years of experience in Education in Emergencies. We have worked in 32 countries, including ten of those in Latin America Caribbean region, throughout Central and East Africa, West Africa in the Sahel, in the Middle East with the Syrian crisis in Lebanon and Turkey, and in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with over 2 million program participants, in over 1,600 schools and centers, in nearly 400 projects.

RET’s core competencies in the spectrum of education are built on interventions ranging from the strengthening of FORMAL and NON-FORMAL education, basic literacy and numeracy, tertiary education, human rights, refugee rights, children’s rights, women’s rights, responsible citizenship, and peacebuilding, addressing and designing inclusive programs with youth with disabilities and special needs, mainstreaming gender equality and disaster risk reduction and management (DRR&M). 

In the framework of SDG4- INCLUSIVE and EQUITABLE EDUCATION FOR ALL – RET is committed to safeguarding refugees’ right to education and other populations of concern. Typically, our education programs are accredited and in line with the Ministry of Education of the host country or the home country. 

RET advocates for enhancing the national education systems’ capacity to include refugees and other displaced adolescents and youth, including those with disabilities, to prevent acts of discrimination and harassment against them and mitigate xenophobic culture.

While RET works in the education sector (SDG4), RET’s interventions are multi-sectoral, and RET is committed to include livelihoods, socio-economic empowerment, food security and nutrition, health and specifically mental health and psychosocial skill support (MHPSS), water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), addressing: 

SDGs 2 (zero hunger), 3 (good health and well-being), 5 (gender equality), 6 (clean water and sanitation), 8 (decent work and economic growth), 9 (innovative and inclusive solutions), 13 (climate change and reduction of its impact) and 17 (partnerships for the goals)

RET is committed to mainstreaming Disaster Risk Reduction & Management (DDR&M) within its education interventions to improve all learners’ education on climate change, mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction, and early warning.

I want to give an example of a highly innovative project we designed in 2015, together with youth in Panama and the various Panamanian ministerial authorities as a first-ever pilot project.

In terms of natural disasters, Panama is faced with the threat of flooding each year and is vulnerable to climate variability due to the El Nino phenomenon, and earthquakes and volcanoes.

The RET project was the first in Panama ever to integrate DRR&M practices into public schools to increase education sector RESILIENCE and to empower young people with disabilities to be agents of positive change in both DRR and first response.

Our RET approach was threefold: 1) awareness-raising and mobilization, 2) capacity-building, 3) institutional strengthening.

Since 2015, we have continued and expanded this project with nearly 8000 young people with disabilities participating in our program, in tandem with first aid and emergency exercises, and the designation of evacuation plans and paths.

RET also built the capacity of education partners, teachers, parents/caregivers, education center management, and staff on DRR&M through training, development of curricula, development of guidebooks and manuals, and even for the first time, the development of sign language on risk management and first response!

I want to add here that in 2020, RET has won the Zero Project Innovation Award for this project. 

RET has had 17 projects in the field of Disaster Risk Reduction & Management (DRR&M) in multiple countries in LAC region, with 70,000 participants in programs in Costa Rica, Panama and Ecuador, starting in Colombia, working with the Ministry of Education in the 94 departments throughout the country, where RET trained to build capacity and work together with the departmental representatives in designing DRR preparedness for all the schools, in the development of tools and frameworks, benefitting 41,000 in 1,200 schools.

During the last few years, RET has been engaged globally with the Global Alliance for Risk Reduction and Resilience (GADRRRES) and at the regional level with the Regional Education Sector Group for DRR and Education in Emergencies. RET was also previously engaged in CORELAC, the Coalition for Children and Youth Resilience in Latin America and the Caribbean. As Coordinator of CORELAC, RET participated in the UN World Conference on DRR held in Sendai, Japan, in 2015, sharing the voices of Children and Youth for Resilience to DRR and advocating for their inclusion as relevant actors in the Sendai Framework for DRR through 2030.  

Once again, thank you, all, for having RET here today.”
Ms. Zeynep Gülgün Gündüz

Program and Panelists

Welcome Remarks

  • Ambassador Sheikha Alya Ahmed Saif Al-Thani, Permanent Representative of The State of Qatar to the United Nations

Moderator

  • Mr Jordan Naidoo, Director of the UNESCO Kabul Office and Country

Representative to Afghanistan

Keynote Speakers

  • Ms Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations and Chair of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group
  • H.E. Khalifa Jassim Al-Kuwari, Director General, Qatar Fund for

Development

  • Ms Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General for Education, UNESCO

Panel Members

  • The Honorable Janet Kataaha Museveni, Minister of Education & Sports, Uganda
  • HE Dr Hang Chuon Naron, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport,

Cambodia

  • HE Professor George A. O. Magoha, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of

Education, Kenya

  • Ms Annemarie Hou, Executive Director, a.i. UN Office for Partnerships & Senior Communications Advisor, Office of the Secretary-General, UN
  • Ms Zeynep Gündüz, President, CEO & Board Member, RET International
  • Ms Mamta Saikia, CEO, Bharti Foundation
  • Ms Nezha Alaoui, President, Mayshad Foundation
  • Ms Magdalena Brier, Managing Director, ProFuturo Foundation
  • Ms Carola Tembe, Program Manager, H&M Foundation

Closing Remarks

  • Mr Fahad Al-Sulaiti, CEO, Education Above All Foundation

Call for Support to Lebanon

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Dear Friends,

As all of you know, the massive explosion on Tuesday in Beirut, was the third largest in the world after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with more than 5000 people injured, thousands more missing, and 137casualties. More than 300,000 people have been internally displaced (IDP’s) due to the loss of their homes.

Lebanon, an already fragile state, had been suffering since its civil war from 1975-1990, from 5 decades of insecurities, social instability, and most recently from economic and financial collapse.

Think about this – Lebanon has a population of 6.8 million plus an additional 1 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees.  Approximately half the population are in dire need of food assistance, as unemployment was already approaching 40% before Tuesday’s blast.

Today, I urgently ask for your donation to RET, ourindependent, neutral, non-profit, based in Switzerland, Washington DC, Berlin, which I have been heading for the last 17 years.  

Our team is already on the ground working in Lebanon providing and ready to provide urgent assistance and lifesaving basic needs such as psychological first aid, food, water, shelter to those in need.

So many of you have already written to me.  I cannot thank you enough for your generous support during these tragic times. Your donations are much needed NOW to help feed and keep alive hundreds of thousands of people.  Thank you, again, and again!!!

Please follow the below link to GoGetFunding & Donate Urgently! 
https://goget.fund/3kr2vJZ

Zeynep Gülgün Gündüz
President & CEO of RET

Visit GoGetFunding & Crowdfunding Page

Refugees and migrants from Venezuela during COVID-19 crisis

RET’s COVID-19 Regional Response in Latin America and the Caribbean

RET has been present in the Latin America and the Caribbean region, since 2004, and has directly supported more than 717,000 direct project participants, and indirectly benefitted 3.6 Mio beneficiaries throughout 179 projects implemented predominantly in Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Venezuela, and Peru. Since 2016, RET’s responses were centered on one of the most severe humanitarian crises in LAC, the Venezuelan crisis. It is estimated that approximately 4.3 million refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers fled the violence, poverty, and food and medicine shortages in Venezuela. The instability in the country generated a significant migratory flow. The vast majority of Venezuelan refugees have found asylum predominantly in neighboring countries within the region. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is overstretching healthcare systems and restricting access to basic needs, education, and livelihoods. Countries with pre-existing humanitarian needs, in fragile contexts, and protracted crises are the most affected, including the vulnerable Venezuelan communities scattered around the region. Due to restricted mobility, the poor living & working conditions where many vulnerable Venezuelans depend on insufficient daily wages to cover basic needs such as shelter, food, and health care, Venezuelans are becoming more susceptible to the deteriorating impact of COVID-19. Venezuelan refugees and migrants are also at risk of being stigmatized. This pandemic is aggravating the socio-economic unrest, leading to additional violence, conflicts, and the weakening of already fragile environments.

How is RET Staying & Delivering 
RET has been conducting multiple needs assessment to understand the impact of this crisis on the most vulnerable in every country of operation, including the deteriorating effects on Venezuelan refugees and migrants. RET has been gathering information and timely data to adapt and respond through innovative urgent actions to mitigate the existing and additional protection risks of vulnerable people assisted through ongoing operations. RET’s response in LAC prioritized refugees’ and migrants’ particular needs in the areas of Protection, Shelter, WASH, Food Security, Livelihoods and, Social Integration through targeted and tailor-made interventions to complement the national authorities’ response. 

RET has been coordinating its responses with grassroots organizations, Civil Society Organizations (CSO’s), and with the Regional Inter-Agency Coordination Platform (Response for Venezuelans-R4V) to prioritize essential protection and pre-existing life-saving needs to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable Venezuelans and the host communities, and has been taking part in promoting the inclusion of refugees and migrants in national programs. 

Awareness & Prevention 
While maintaining physical distancing measures, RET is implementing many prevention and response activities in countries of operation where refugees and migrants from Venezuela are hosted. These activities include providing access to reliable information on preventive measures, combatting misinformation and stigmatization, provision of hygiene kits, and soap, strengthening of community preventive health mechanisms through virtual workshops for key people at the community levels on preventive measures, response, and isolation mechanisms; access to safety equipment for health personnel; strengthening referral and follow-up mechanisms for COVID-19 cases in health centers at the local level and the delivery of sexual and reproductive health kits (condoms, flashlight, prevention information) and of PEP kits to health centers.

Protection (Women and Child)
RET is ensuring the protection services provided to the affected people are not interrupted, and assuming its current role in providing access to social safety nets and basic assistance to women and children through the use of technology to protect and assist refugees, internally displaced people, migrants and host communities particularly vulnerable to the pandemic. Key protection activities, such as individual protection assistance, case management, legal counseling, and individual psychosocial support, continue to be delivered via phone and WhatsApp chats, ensuring the well-being and mental health of the most vulnerable. 

RET is actively taking part in the protection of women and girls and in promoting their rights and safety through awareness campaigns and protective networks to provide sexual and reproductive health care and gender-based violence assistance. RET has established virtual support groups and a follow-up mechanism to assist vulnerable women at risk of Gender-based violence and survivors of #GBV. 

Food Security -Shelter – Cash Assistance 
RET has reviewed all evaluation tools to characterize new families affected by COVID 19 and applied means of verification to assist the most vulnerable. To bridge the food security gap, RET has been providing “Food Baskets” and “multi-purpose vouchers” to the most vulnerable people registered within our programs in coordination with local supermarkets. Also, RET has been providing multi-purpose cash transfers for the most vulnerable families whose livelihoods have been affected by COVID-19 and enabling all-cash voucher programs available in each country (conditional and multi-purpose cash) for the purchase of food, shelter and hygiene products (including gloves and soap). RET has been supporting food entrepreneurs and small marked oriented businesses with the purchase of food and its distribution in line with the regulations per country in coordination with relief entities and volunteers. RET has also been identifying shelters and coordinating with international and local partners to support people in shelters. 

WASH 
RET has been providing the most vulnerable refugees and migrants with hygiene kits (soap, anti-bacterial gel, gloves, mask, alcohol) as well as providing cleaning kits and safety equipment for workers at health centers and hospitals. In addition to providing traditional water filters in communities with weak infrastructure, and conducting virtual training on handwashing, use of security equipment and on hygiene recommendations in work, home, and school environments. RET has been conducting assessments of water systems, and subsequent definition of a plan of action for the corrective maintenance of hygiene facilities (in communities and schools).

EDUCATION
RET has been redesigning ad re-orienting its efforts in line with local needs and in coordination with host government’s policies at the local level to provide innovative solutions to remote learning through redesigning all its formal and informal education programs to provide access to alternative distance learning programs. With 20 years of experience in education, particularly in “Education in Emergencies (EiE),” RET is providing tailor-made solutions at the local level to bridge the educational gaps, in the broadest sense of vulnerable people.

RET has been revising its entire education toolbox and is currently implementing actions to allow the continuity of the teaching-learning processes, also, strengthening of capacities on distance education models to facilitate the return to classes and maintain quality education.

RET’s latest actions in education focused on supporting the host governments with their COVID19 prevention campaigns, addressing children, parents, and caregivers and promoting non-formal digital education programs and virtual educational platforms established by the host governments; strengthening of alternative virtual education spaces; developing guides for caregivers with activities and educational processes; launching plans for the inclusion of migrant and refugee children in the educational system; supporting the access of students to connectivity, computers, laptops, tablets or smart-phones; in addition to supporting vulnerable students with internet data fees and or access. 

Social integration and Livelihoods. 
The social impact of the COVID 19 outbreak can already be visible in many countries in LAC with a high number of refugees, migrants, and displaced people through the decrease of cohesion, a greater potential for conflict, and deepening inequalities. 

RET’s responses are being oriented to address the indirect effect of COVID-19 on social cohesion and integration in Latin America and the Caribbean; including addressing the risks of violence, discrimination, marginalization, and xenophobia towards the most vulnerable, especially the Venezuelan refugees through virtual tools such as webinars, Social networks, virtual social cohesion activities and interactive sessions at the community level. As part of its livelihood programs, RET is providing online support to increase the employability profiles of vulnerable people. (CV & job applications), along with tackling youth protection and mental health through social media awareness campaigns about health, education, housing, and work, in times of COVID-19.

During these challenging COVID19 times and in only three months, RET provided assistance and support to almost 18,000 refugees, migrants, and vulnerable people from the host community in Latin America and the Caribbean region alone. This is how the RET team is #Staying&Delivering.

RET is adopting an inclusive, multi-sectoral approach to alleviate the suffering and develop the resilience of the most affected, with particular attention to children, youth, and young women. RET will continue to provide its existing humanitarian, peace, development assistance while expanding its existent multi-sectoral response to address the new vulnerabilities in terms of COVID-19. 

While RET hires 100% local staff, in most countries, and can, therefore, stay on the ground, and continue its programs uninterrupted during any crises. RET’s international management team are usually based in regional and headquarters office, and travel for technical capacity-building purposes, which during COVID-19, is happening online and through videoconferencing.

The battle is not yet over; we appeal to all governments, donors, and partners to maintain their support to RET programs around the world and to foster our multi-sectoral response to assist the most vulnerable. With international solidarity, we will mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the most affected, during, and following this emergency.

From the camp to the world Christian’s Success Story

Christian is a young Congolese who grew up in the Bwagiriza #refugee #camp in Ruyigi, #Burundi. From a young age, Christian was drawn to entertainment, he dreamt of becoming a famous actor and performing in huge decorated theatres; he also imagined himself sitting on a director’s chair and behind a camera directing #Hollywood movies.

As a refugee living in a camp, I had very limited options, I believed I cannot dream big, but it turned out I can, I definitely can.” Christian

One step closer to is dream, Christian was selected by RET amongst many refugees in 2017 to obtain a #DAFI scholarship and pursue his tertiary education. Christian joined the “Université Lumière de Bujumbura” where he enrolled in its audiovisual department and began his studies. In addition to his formal training, Christian participated in different acting training modules; and eventually got a role in the famous event “Buja sans Tabou 2020 edition”.

Christian has already set up his YouTube channel “Les fous de Buja”, “The crazy people of Buja” and have been producing short movies with his colleagues, focusing on the #social challenges young people are facing in their communities in a humorist/dark comedy style.

“If it wasn’t for the #RET and the DAFI program, my dream would have still been in the camp, in the closet, in a dark place and would have never seen the light. Now I can voice all my ideas through the videos I produce. We refugees will dream big” Christian

You can subscribe to Christian channel “Les fous de Buja” on YouTube and check out his videos.

What is RET doing to ensure safety and health at work while staying and delivering?

On the World Day for Safety and Health at Work. RET is focused on addressing the outbreak of infectious diseases at work in particular the COVID-19 pandemic. RET’s management assessed the risks by following the developments of the COVID-19 outbreak globally and as of the first week of March, proactively started to take measures to protect its employees by cancelling international travels of RET staff with face-to-face meetings being replaced with teleconference or online meetings. As a next step a risk map and action plan has been elaborated with the regional and local RET staff to take country specific measures by considering the governmental arrangements to protect its employees and also finding optimal solutions to deliver the services to the most vulnerable by staying and delivering.

As a result of a series of collaborative planning, RET has launched multiple awareness campaigns amongst staff and project participants, providing factual information about the COVID-19 pandemic translated into more than 7 languages, including English, Spanish, French, Turkish, Arabic, Kirundi and Swahili and is rigorously combating misinformation and fake news concerning the pandemic at the country levels. RET is strictly following the related regulations and arrangements of the governments and raises the awareness of their employees and participants that if the disease starts spreading in their communities anyone even with mild symptoms such as cough or fever needs to stay at home, to inform RET’s responsible staff and request sick leave and administrative arrangements, to take everyday precautions to keep space between others, to keep away from others in public and to limit close contact and wash hands often, to avoid crowds as much as possible, to avoid public transportation, cruise travel and air travel, to contact their healthcare provider to ask about next steps, to have enough household items and groceries on hand so that they will be prepared to stay at home for a period of time.  

In countries, where no or limited local governmental restrictions apply and employees and project participants are regularly attending the field sites/offices/centers, RET is raising awareness and taking required measures on the adoption of safe practices at work, by briefing the employees on promoting respiratory hygiene at the workplace and making sure the workplaces are clean and hygienic, surfaces are disinfected regularly, and that employees and project participants have access to places where they can wash their hands with soap and water (offices and field) and/or have access to basic hygienic materials and personal protective equipment such as hand sanitizers/dispensers, face masks, paper tissues, closed bins. In addition, risk assessments and required arrangements are carried out for meetings and events, offices and/or seats have been arranged so that the required distances are kept between the participants and employees. 

RET is taking utmost measures to keep employees at higher risk of getting sick from COVID-19 safe to reduce their risk of getting infected, such as the elderly staff, staff with chronic diseases and immunocompromising conditions and pregnant women. 

RET is addressing in its contingency plan the precautionary measures and the guidelines to follow in case of any outbreak in the workplace in addition to addressing the mental health and social consequences of a case of COVID-19 in the workplace and is offering counselling and support on a daily basis for more than 1000 employees on the frontline around the world. 

To the RET humanitarian heroes on the frontline in Afghanistan, Belize, Burundi, Chad, Colombia, Costa Rica, DRC, Ecuador, Kenya, Lebanon, Mali, Mauritania, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Turkey, Venezuela, we salute you. 

Loss of our beloved Founder Mrs. Sadako Ogata

It is with a heavy heart that we announce the sad news of the loss of our much beloved Founder Mrs. Sadako Ogata, who passed away peacefully on 22/10/2019.

Mrs. Ogata lived a life devoted to helping all generously, ensuring protection, empowerment, and solidarity with refugees, with vulnerable people in need, but most critically with vulnerable young people. She was inspired by the young generation; she worked wholeheartedly to restore and rebuild the lives of young people whose hopes and aspirations had been destroyed in their home countries due to discrimination or violence. She believed in youth as actors of positive change and in education as the best tool to mitigate the impact of conflict on youth, and lay a solid foundation for peace and development. She refused to see young people become despaired and their hopes shattered. 
And so, she pledged when she founded RET in 2000: 
“Education should be a promise, not a dream.”

For all who met Sadako Ogata, be it for an hour, a day, or a lifetime, she taught us how to live well through her example.
On behalf of all of us at RET, I extend our genuine sympathies to her family during this period of distress. Sadako Ogata’s presence will always be missed among us. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Mrs. Ogata have lost an inspiring mentor. We promise her legacy will continue through the support RET offers to vulnerable young people around the world. 

Mrs. Ogata leaves behind an organization that only she could have inspired, and her spirit will forever be the foundation of RET.

Board Members – President & CEO – RET Staff Worldwide

RET’s response to the Venezuelan crisis in Peru

While en route to Peru in order to flee one of the worst humanitarian crisis in Latin America & the Caribbean, Maria, a 7-year-old girl, exclaimed “how can I go to my school now!”

While schools in Peru are generally well-resourced, the influx of refugees and migrant from Venezuela is overstretching the capacity of the Peruvian education system to accommodate learners and provide them with quality education services; with children & youth, facing continued xenophobia and discrimination, particularly girls, whomare at greater risk of gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and human trafficking. According to the Metropolitan Lima Regional Education Office, approximately 30 percent (estimated 20,050) were served by educational services in the last school year,mostly in Lima and are expecting an increase in enrollment of Venezuelan learners when the new school year starts.

In a coordinated response to the Venezuela regional crisis, Education Cannot Wait announced a US$7million allocation to support first emergency response grants in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. 
RET as ECW grantee for Peru will work to increase the opportunities of out-of-school Venezuelan migrant, refugee and host community children and adolescents to access the Peruvian education system in 2020 in 2 Southern districts of Metropolitan Lima and will be responsible for funds management and overall coordination of project activities of the three sub-grantees (UNESCO, UNICEF, Plan International). Additionally, RET will be working closely with the Ministry of Education officials, local authorities and civil society organizations, including Venezuelan organizations.

Specifically, this project will reinforce the capacities of the Peruvian education authorities to address the timely and durable inclusion of out-of-school migrant, refugee and host community children and adolescents by the improvement of services that guarantee the access, retention and completion of education.


In addition, RET will be providing to out of school children and adolescents access to non-formal education programs to develop their competencies and skills, increase their self-esteem and help them access the formal education system. This program will be designed using approaches to advance inclusion, diversity, gender equality, and equal opportunities. We plan the non-formal education program to be also implemented in other areas of Lima as well and/or other major cities in Peru presenting a high rate of migrant and refugee children and adolescents. Finally, RET will be working to strengthening local communities’ capacities to protectout-of-school migrant, refugee and host community children and adolescents, to increasing integration and mitigatingxenophobia and discrimination.

In addition to Peru, under UNICEF leadership, RET has been chosen, amongst other international and national partners, to implement the ECW response to the Venezuelan crisis in Ecuador. Details on this partnership are under discussion at country level.

RET is working tirelessly in the Americas more specifically in Belize, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Venezuela, and around the world to alleviate suffering and catalyze sustainable development in crises, conflicts and fragile contexts. With a presence in 31 countries, RET has helped more than 1.6 million direct beneficiaries and touched the life of more than 8 million indirect beneficiaries. 

Approximately 4 million refugees, migrants and asylum seekers fled the violence, poverty and food and medicine shortages in Venezuela since 2015. The situation in the country generated a very important migratory flows. According to UNHCR, the vast majority of Venezuelan refugees have found asylum predominantly in neighboring Colombia (1.3m) Peru (800,000) and Ecuador (263,000). Peru an already vulnerable state is the main host country for Venezuelan people in need of international protection with 280,000 people, of whom have applied for refugee status, and the second destination for Venezuelan refugees and migrants worldwide.

Bridging the cultural gaps through Music and Dance. An Initiative led by the Youth to the young people of Turkey

“Whenever we share our music, we share our emotions, our fears, and the challenges that bring us together”  RET Youth Orchestra and Choir member.

Trained in leadership and communications, RET empowered eleven young participants coming from Belize, Ecuador/Colombia, Venezuela, Burundi, Chad, Kenya/Somalia, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey founding the RET Youth Ambassadors Group.

The first meeting of the RET Youth Ambassadors Group was held late October 2017 in Mardin, Turkey. The young participants were able to identify the main challenges they face in their communities and suggested prospective solutions having in mind a foremost goal of advancing and maintaining peace, stability and quality education in crisis-affected countries in order to realise the potential of all young people.

  

What started as a social action project led by the youth and aimed at promoting cultural cohesiveness has now become a substantial reality of the impact of positive social change with the Inauguration of two diverse, intercultural music and dance ensembles in Turkey; The RET YOUTH ORCHESTRA AND CHOIR and the RET YOUTH DANCE COMPANY.

The latter introduces Syrian and Turkish amateur musicians and dancers coming originally from within RET language training and youth centres in southern Turkey. Under the umbrella of the RET YOUTH Ambassador Group an initiative was born aimed at explore music beyond the limits of cultural boundaries; A project led by the youth to the young people from the host and refugee communities in Turkey, using the art, music and dance as a tool to disseminate a culture of peace harmony and promoting social cohesion.


RET, committed to making this youth initiative substantial beyond the limits of real borders signed a five years’ partnership with the high-status “Haute école de musique Genève – Neuchâtel” (Geneva HEM) (2018-2022).
Through an intense and profound artistic exchange, fifteen International musicians, vocalists and dancers from the “Haute école de musique de Genève” HEM led by Professor Francis Biggi visited Turkey to coach, practice, inspire and perform alongside RET’s young 35 musicians and dancers. Together they celebrated the uniting power of music in an Inaugural performance last October in Mardin.
Music and dance proved to be one of the ideal tools to bridging the cultural gaps and promoting social cohesion amongst young people from the host and Syrian refugee communities in Turkey, coming from so many diverse backgrounds and cultures.The impact of any artistic expression through the arts, music or dance has a potential social function; it can definitely create a sense of belonging, improving social cohesion and spreading cultural cohesiveness.

This is music beyond the limits of cultural boundaries, this is how RET youth, our actors of the present and the actors of the future are empowered to embrace a culture of peace and harmony and become the actors of positive social change in their respective communities.
Behind every melody a RET musician plays, there is a vulnerable story; yet, there are beautiful dreams, hopes and aspirations of a better future. We, all, have a role to play in that.
Let us give them the opportunity to dream high.

Testimonies from RYOC and RYDC members:
“It is a beautiful journey, this entire musical collaboration and exchange, between the expertise of HEM and the personal life stories of the Orchestra members; we got resilient, united and seeking harmony in our music and lives.” Ozan Aslan, RET Youth Orchestra and Choir Trainer.

 “Young people can relate to music; music is a universal language.” RYOC member.

“When I close my eyes and start moving, I feel my soul wanders in other realms.” RYDC member.

“When I dance, I break all the walls imprisoning my body and mind.” RYDC member.

You can now support a youth to pursue Music or Dance Education by
contacting us on ArtsScholarshipFund@theRET.org
RET recently opened a Music and Dance Centre in Mardin,Turkey in an effort to empower youth and increase awareness of peace and non-violence in the community.

About HEM:
HEM “Haute école de musique Genève – Neuchâtel” (Geneva)”  covers a historical and stylistic fields of music ranging from mediaeval music to contemporary creation, as well as non-European music. A prominent cultural institution in the region, the Geneva HEM is an internationally renowned artistic and teaching community and is part of the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland HES-SO.

Building a Life, Building a Future

How RET International helps San Miguelito Youth Transcend Challenges and Build Resilience

Overcoming the challenges posed by a complex and negative context that affects the youth requires commitment as well as expertise. Supported by the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) of the U.S. Department of State, the “Socio-Educational and Labour Reinsertion of Adolescent and Youth Offenders” programme implemented by RET International in Panama demonstrates that a seamless, holistic and sustained approach that both empowers and ensures continuity is of key importance in the process of building youth resilience.

The municipality of San Miguelito is part of the metropolitan area of Panama City and is the second most populated municipality in Panama. Comprising of 86’0754 individuals aged from 10 to 24, San Miguelito’s youth represents almost a third of the town’s total population. This high density of population brings with it a string of problems that include overcrowding, lack of services, minimal labour supply and low standards of living.

Other factors that particularly affect the young population worsen the scope of the problem, such as lack of life skills, very few job offers (and almost no sustainable ones) and absence of training opportunities that successfully respond to the needs of the labour market.

As a result, presently, many young people in San Miguelito are deprived of both educational opportunities and professional vocations. On top of that, young people in question tend to refrain from participating in civic and community activities – they feel threatened by the level of and are affected by discrimination in very concrete and visible ways[i].

In the face of this context of serious vulnerability, RET has decided to tackle the problem from two sides, employing a holistic approach.

In San Miguelito, RET doesn’t only work directly with young people strengthening their self-esteem, helping them to develop life plans, facilitating their access and retention in the educational system, and offering them livelihoods opportunities, but also collaborates closely with the local authorities and job providers, by starting capacity-building activities.
“This project[ii] has been developed in support of the Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies (IEI) of the Ministry of Government, together with the Municipality of San Miguelito and a series of strategic actors, to really focus on the generation of opportunities for adolescents and young people of the municipality”, explains RET International’s Country Director in Panama.

The specific actions implemented addressing young people in San Miguelito who are in conflict with the law were made complete with interventions to reduce the school dropout rates and to boost school attendance and uninterrupted education through specific pedagogical strategies.

This integrated approach was solidified with ties established with allied institutions aimed to offer support to young offenders to embrace opportunities and strengthen their resilience by empowering them to take control of their lives.

Breaking the Isolation

Initially, given the high level of mistrust the participants nurtured, RET International staff encountered several difficulties when creating a relationship with the youth. RET’s project implementers identified one of the key elements of this mistrust, as the social judgments that their environment created against them. This discrimination prevents them from recognising themselves as actors of positive social change.

In order to overcome this challenge, RET paid specific importance to socialisation, as both an outcome and an interwoven element of the programme.

Luz Arpi, Project Officer at RET in Panama explains this particular aspect in more detail: “Removing these barriers is a process of regaining their confidence, so that they can empathise with us and recognise our genuine interest in offering them possibilities and opportunities. It has been a process full of experiences and challenges, but also positive lessons, which allow us to say today that the intervention is valid and adaptable to other contexts.”

Encouraging the participants to leave behind the vacuum of isolation, the perception of being imprisoned to disenfranchisement and lack of empowerment; the experience of opening up to the social sphere accompanies skills development and strengthening of values. It increases the trust youth has for the people who accompany them throughout their lives.

“They noticed me, they helped me and they supported me. They worked hard on self-esteem because my self-esteem was low. They gave me a chance, which is what I like the most, an opportunity to get into a bar tender course. I finished it and I’m waiting for my diploma. It is very satisfying because I have learned so much about customer service, about serving others. Now I’m more tolerant, because of the fact that I have to deal with clients who have different characters and you have to know how to handle those situations.”. José[iii], a 20-year-old who participated in the project, comments about RET’s intervention and his story of breaking-out.

Opening to the social sphere always remains in interplay with the greater schemes of intervention. Through this process, young people find their own places in society, understand themselves progressively and identify their weaknesses. RET works with them to strengthen their capacity to confront the challenges they face.

The struggle toward resilience is always through an all-round approach and young people, when they eventually perceive that they occupy an important place in the society, they eventually gain the key to overcome future challenges: confidence.

This is why Carla, 22, who participated in the project stresses a budding perspective for her future that solidified after she gained confidence: “The experience in RET has been enriching. Because of some issues in my life, I did not stay in school, but they taught me to fight, to live positive things every day. I like it because, as a girl, I have learned not to fall down, but to move on. I love everything that we have done here, because they have helped us get out of where we were, which wasn’t really a good place. We have been able to move forward and to improve ourselves. We have learned things that are for life, who knows, tomorrow we could be great people. We learned to work as a team.”

Confidence, as the main outcome is accompanied by a greater capacity to listen and share with others, resulting in a feeling of community and reinforced resilience. It is the key that opens the door to opportunities and the very courage to make one’s dreams reality.

Making Dreams Reality

Once equipped with self-confidence, young people can develop the initiative to think long-term and sculpture life-plans. A vision of future can only be built and the practice of long-term, thinking can only be adopted once a solid basis is secured.

About this particular stage, Luz Arpi states: “An important change we could see in the young participants was that they could recognise their potentialities, their abilities, that they were able to identify their dreams and elaborate their life plan. They understood that they have dreams and that they have all the tools to be able to fulfil them.”

Gabriela, another young participant of the programme speaking about her achievements proves the value of having goals and long-term plans: “At first I thought it was boring, it was very hard for me. I am so weak; anything makes me want to start crying. They always encouraged me and told me that I could do anything, that I was able to achieve my goals and overcome my weaknesses. Thank God, I am finishing my studies and I am now part of Panama’s National Civil Protection System (SINAPROC). I like to be here, to meet new friends, have new experiences and share them. I used to be very shy and isolated from the others, but I have learned to relate and get along with my friends and the people around me. “

The final and one of the most important elements in RET’s action within the framework of the project is its sustained commitment to work with young people in a way that avoids re-victimisation. It’s known that in such contexts, the absence of proper follow-up activities leaves any attempt to build resilience as a one-time intervention whose fate depends on chance. If vocational and life-skills trainings and the implementation of a long-term life plan forms the crux of RET activities, sustained commitment guarantees their success.

Youth with Opportunities

RET International’s interventions allowed the challenged youth of San Miguelito municipality to become actors capable of generating positive change in their environments and communities. What these young people have learned will be very useful for their own lives, but also to support their peers who might have gone through similar situations and require someone to give them a hand.

Here lies the transcendence of RET International’s work, not only does it generate change within them, it also offers them the possibility to become multipliers of these changes within others and the community at large.

——————————————

[i] MARTINEZ, Vicente. Socioeconomic and Cultural Reality of the Yourh of the Metropolitan Area of the Distric of Panama, Colon, La Chorrera, San Miguelito y Arraijan, in the Republic of Panama. Panama University. 2014.

[ii]RET International implemented in Panama the Project “Strengthening Sustainable Opportunities for Young People in San Miguelito”.

Jóvenes[iii]The names of the young people have been changed.

A New Resource for Youth Programming in Emergency Settings

The Desk Review of Programming Guidelines for Adolescents & Youth in Emergencies

Adolescents and youth as a distinct group are often overlooked during humanitarian crises, with their unique concerns and needs seldom prioritised. The Desk Review of Programming Guidelines for Adolescents & Youth in Emergencies provides an overview of programming guidelines for adolescents and youth in emergencies and is a contribution to the goals of the Compact for Young People in Humanitarian Action.

 

This resource is the result of an inter-agency collaboration, led by RET International, between the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE)’s Adolescents & Youth Task Team (AYTT), the Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network Australia (MYAN) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

 

Access the Desk Review here:

 

While a range of guidelines for engagement in Adolescent and Youth programming has been developed to date, there has not been any systematic consolidation or compilation of these resources nor has there been any review of the existing gaps in availability of practical guidance and tools. To contribute to the closing of this gap, we have together undertaken a desk review, covering the following domains: Education, Health, Livelihoods and Durable Solutions (repatriation, re-integration into the hosting country and resettlement).

 

This publication provides a brief assessment of the most relevant programming guidelines dedicated to addressing the needs, concerns and aspirations of adolescents and youth in humanitarian crises. It presents a comprehensive mapping of practical guidance and related tools for humanitarians and communities to coordinate, plan, implement, monitor and evaluate essential actions for youth through all phases of an emergency.

View the official announcement by clicking here below:

Putting Peace in Practice

In 2016, RET’s interventions in the Republic of Chad have been integrated new horizons and methods with the launch of the “Peaceful Communities through Effective Youth Engagement” programme funded by the Federal Foreign Office of the Republic of Germany. Addressing the refugees and host community members alike in the South of the country, the programme´s interactive components that accompany core education activities such as Literacy and Numeracy classes, have opened a path toward sustainable social cohesion.

“Now…” says GK, “I can read my name, read whatever is written on the page of a newspaper. I no longer feel lost.” The classroom she has just left to offer her testimony is a part of the school building that is not far from central Goré in the South of Chad. Inside the classroom, the instructor is scribing on the blackboard the basics of French orthography, putting the “accents” on vowels while waiting for the participants to finish writing to answer the questions. The participants raise their hands and snap their fingers showing their notebooks to the instructor. Their enthusiasm and sheer energy, considering the age group most of the learners belong to, indicate that any concern with age is not a barrier when it comes to pursuing education.

Literacy classes constitute a core component of the extensive programme funded by the Federal Foreign Office of the Republic of Germany and implemented by RET International in Chad. They serve as an effective tool that enables refugees and host community members to consolidate the capacity to survive and navigate the social sphere. Fundamental education is what other components of operations across the country can hope to build on – including the DAFI Scholarship RET manages since 2012, supporting young people to continue their education in universities.

RET International entered the beautiful yet fragile land of diverse cultures and communities that is the Republic of Chad back in 2005, in the wake of the Darfur crisis. RET’s programmes aimed at providing formal and nonformal education to youth in regions that accommodate several other NGOs and UN Agencies, achieved remarkable results. The peace-building programme funded by the German Foreign Office is implemented in the South of the country which accommodates refugees coming mainly from the Central African Republic.

RET’s arrival has changed the face of the situation here. As for literacy classes; our sisters and brothers didn’t know how to read and write, they didn’t know how to calculate. But now, they can speak French, they know how to read and write”, Djoulai Bogama, The President of the Camp of Amboko summarizes the achievements.

The programme’s abundance of components and approaches, ranging from establishing “Peace Clubs” to various modes of life-skills training, from Sports Events to discussions, consolidate a comprehensive “toolbox” that allows RET to penetrate every stratum of the target communities, concretising achievements on many levels.

In another classroom setting, now toward the North of the town, the solemn concentration of the participants of the literacy class is replaced by an expressive joy, a passion to share and to contribute. As RET’s facilitator strolls the aisles of the classroom moderating the discussion, hands are raised to convey observations, opinions, emotions and experiences in local language.

Building on the fact that interactions are key to social cohesion, discussions serve as a means to bridge the gaps between communities, social groups, families and individuals. Their subjects can vary from inter-community issues to health problems and risks, generational gaps to consequences of bad practices.

RET doesn’t work on paper. RET goes to the refugees and they put refugees and locals together to discuss the source of conflict” Ngaba Korndoh Rodrigue, Representative of the Central Committee of the Youth explains, emphasizing the scale and the inclusiveness of the practice.“RET works with all categories of refugees, there are many things that have changed since RET’s arrival…”

The ‘Everyday Component’

Harnessing the power of communications is not only limited to discussions. The programme also uses performing arts and the creative impetus. The building where the Youth Council congregates is home to the town’s Youth Theatre Group founded as a part of the programme, whose activities aim conflict resolution.

Dialogue, on the other hand, doesn’t have to transpire only between groups of people tied together by roots or identity. It’s not functional to ignore the necessity of opening the channels for inter-generational dialogue – a type that can be even more challenging to establish.

It’s great to be able to talk to children and youth (about their problems)” expresses Professor Dima Daniel, teacher of Animal biology who fled Central African Republic. “We discuss for example, the subject of early marriages, the consequences of it… which will be an obstacle for those who marry early, having no idea of what marriage is. We for example discuss how to live in peace with others”.

Designed to diagnose and solve problems on a base level, and to tackle important issues, this particular strand of communications allows the youth to understand and solve the problems at present and see the tasks ahead. The approach is also aligned with RET’s core principle of regarding youth as an actor of peace and leaders of their communities.

On the other hand, it’s another fact that no matter the intensity and the inclusiveness of the dialogue, if the interactions fail to create a ‘ripple effect’ across the society, it is difficult to ensure genuine social cohesion on grassroots level.

Each afternoon, the youth gather in groups in certain places to discuss or to simply play football” says Benedict KORNDOH, the President of the Women Council, implying the everydayness of the interaction. “Now they (members of the host community and refugees) go to the hospital, to the school, to the town together.”

As she implies, football or other sports games have a specific meaning for the youth. In instances that concern women, the spirit of sisterhood functions the same way to cultivate bonds: “When I go to the market and if I don’t have money that day, I can say (to my friend), ‘Sister, will you lend me some?

This “communal” spirit that marks celebrations, sports games, feasts and even daily chores stand as a proof to the sustainability and the effectiveness of the project and its being claimed by its target groups. This also constitutes the reason why RET Participants, whenever asked for an account of their experiences, are eager to point out to the benefits of “dialogue”. The interactions RET encourages are, in the end, designed to splash beyond the regulated settings of the classroom, onto the agora, onto real-life, to become a motif of the mundane.

Education in the fundamental sense is inarguably indispensable to the labour of developing self-reliance in youth. In this regard, literacy and numeracy classes along with their “elder cousin”, the DAFI scholarships programme, are vital to RET’s work in Chad.

However, it’s only through interactive components that encourage bona fide exchange and speaking of minds, strength can be built. The programme funded by the Federal Foreign Office of the Republic of Germany ensures, daring to go all the way down to the micro, to foment back the macro, lasting and above all, sustainable results.

Of course, like everything else, continuous labour should be fermented with patience and a respect for the detailed course of the process. As Sanglare Filomene, a community relay working for RET puts it: “It’s always with time. Nothing happens in a moment”.

A Case for the Elimination of Discrimination

“Refugees and migrants are particular targets of racial profiling and incitement to hatred. In the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants adopted in September 2016, United Nations Member States strongly condemned acts and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance against refugees and migrants. In doing so, they also committed to a range of steps to counter such attitudes and behaviours, particularly regarding hate crimes, hate speech and racial violence.” (http://www.un.org/en/events/racialdiscriminationday/)

RET International is committed to assisting communities meet the educational needs, in the broadest sense, of young people made vulnerable by displacement, violence, armed conflict and disasters. Ultimately, we aim to help build a world in which the actions of empowered young people lead their communities out of crises and towards stronger social cohesion, peace and prosperity.

To offer this protection to young people and provide them with the opportunities to be actors of positive social change, we often work specifically to promote integration, inclusion and the elimination of discrimination in any form. We support vulnerable young people through educational programmes that create the conditions in which they can achieve their integration and improve their quality of life.

Young people face many sorts of fragile environments and contexts, from being a child soldier to having to live with violence and gangs. However, displacement is frequently at the root of their vulnerabilities and therefore we work very often with refugee populations. In their case, discrimination is a clear risk factor. In Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, xenophobia is a source of concern. It is hard for displaced young people to find decent jobs, and very often the youth have little or no access to the educational system.

In other contexts, refugees may have language barriers or cultural differences between themselves and the population of the host country. We have witnessed these challenges through our experience of protecting young people and their families in 28 countries, since our inception. Today we continue to do so in Afghanistan, Burundi, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Lebanon, Turkey, Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia and Belize. In addition, we have just started working in Mexico with programmes promoting the development of resilience and self-reliance. We bridge the gaps which separate young people from education, livelihoods, income-generating activities or access to services (health, legal, protection and more), within and with the host communities.

Discrimination has a strong impact in all aspects of society, diminishing productivity, political stability, social cohesion and peace. The basis of discrimination is mistrust, which occurs most often through misconceptions about others, especially if the refugees are perceived as different or strange.

Discrimination is not natural or inherent in human beings. It is a learned behaviour transmitted within families, homes and communities often through emotionally charged biases. Negative messages in the media can strengthen the rejection of people because of their race, culture, nationality, gender or sexual preference amongst other reasons.

The question, in this case, is how can we deal with discrimination in these particularly harsh realities?

Governments can promote policies that favour integration, which would benefit their populations as well as the refugees they host. International agreements such as, for example, the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants can offer inspiration for such policies aiming to protect people against bias and discrimination. Governments therefore play a key role, but we too, as organisations and individual citizens, have a responsibility to develop a dialogue about differences, cultural diversity and integration. Sometimes the person who discriminates simply does not have enough information to change his or her own mind-set.

We are facing one of the most challenging times since World War II, with record-high numbers of forced displacement. The UNHCR’s Global Trends estimates that in 2015 65.3 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide, 21.3 million of which were refugees, 40.8 were internally displaced and 3.2 million are asylum-seekers.

That is why we need to understand these humanitarian needs and see the world as a whole, as a unit. Food and shelter are essential needs, but modern crises tend to be protracted and so integration becomes essential as well. Celebrating and recognising cultural diversity, respecting values and beliefs, promoting collaboration and solidarity are all elements of the solution to today’s crises.

How RET Faces Discrimination

  • Through the campaign “What Unites Us”, a movement created with young refugees in Latin America and the Caribbean, aiming to promote acceptance and integration into their host communities.
  • By developing events which celebrate cultural differences through sharing traditional foods, customs and songs, as we do regularly in Turkey. Children and young people share their experiences with others easily and they learn very fast about social cohesion and inclusion.
  • Some other very effective activities include street actions, such as peaceful demonstrations with messages of integration and calls to stop discrimination. RET organised one of these events last November in Lebanon, making sure the voices of those wishing to end violence against women were heard.

 Other interventions include:

  • Giving psychosocial support to our participants around the world, making sure they understand discrimination is not normal and reminding them that all must demand respect as members of a community.
  • Opening safe spaces and community centres, physically and virtually (through blogs and social media) to exchange different points of view and to hear other voices celebrating cultural diversity.
  • Developing interventions respectful of Human Rights and the protection of children and young people.

Finally, facing discrimination also requires always working hand-in-hand with the host governments and local host communities. This ensures that actions are well received, that they are within the priorities of the local government and can therefore have the highest impact possible for both the refugee and host populations.

Sixteen Days and More

March 8 was International Women’s Day, an opportunity to celebrate every effort made to eliminate violence against women and support women’s empowerment.

Violence against women is still a reality, as are the challenges they face to ensure, on equal terms, their rights and opportunities for growth and development.

Sadly, in 2017, one in three women still experience physical or sexual violence, most often by an intimate partner.[i] We are clearly not living in an equal world yet. In some countries women still do not have the same rights or opportunities to participate and contribute to society.

That is why it is important to highlight how individuals, groups and communities, in this case linked with RET’s work, are showing their commitment to women’s empowerment. We need to develop a conversation about violence against women. A few days ago was the International Women’s Day, and it is a good time to do so by talking about these local commitments, which together make a global difference.

More than 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women

As 2016 was drawing to an end, the world celebrated the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (25 November to 10 December). Along with many of our partners, RET participated in this global campaign, as we are growing ever more concerned by the plight of young women in fragile environments. Gender-based violence is present all around the world, but is not acceptable anywhere!

After the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign and all the messages of support, we clearly saw that the core of such a campaign happens in the field. Our teams and the young people and women we work with were the ones to really carry the campaign through numerous additional trainings, events or artistic performances.

Having a look at the activities our teams and beneficiaries implemented can help us understand the real purpose of such global campaigns and the concrete commitments they are designed to fuel.

TURKEY – Art as a Way to Create Understanding

In Turkey, the motivation was very high. As a response to the 16 Days Campaign, RET’s centre in Viran?ehir organised a Gender-Based Violence (GBV) training for male participants. Gender-based violence prevention will never work if half the world’s population do not consider that the subject is relevant to them, if they do not consider themselves affected or responsible.

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This is part of RET’s holistic approach, which considers that engaging men is essential to solving the problem. Encouraging them to face their own situation, fears and challenges, opens the door to giving an equal treatment and respect to women. Men’s groups are part of the continuous work that our professionals develop in various countries and regions.

In Mardin and ?anl?urfa, our team decided to organise the premiere screening of Gülten Taranç’s award-winning film “Wish to Wash with Rain”.[ii] The film is a deep reflection on violence through the eyes of a woman; for participants of the centres it represented a great opportunity to discuss the issue of GBV. After the screening, our programme participants engaged in a lengthy Q&A session with Gülten and the main actors to dig deeper into the messages of the film.

Some RET Centres, such as the one in K?z?ltepe, chose to organise trainings on social cohesion and GBV. Others focused on artistic performances such as the Süleymaniye Centres, which celebrated with dances and a women’s choir.

In total, 11 events were organised throughout Southeastern Turkey.

When art forms such as movies, music and theatre are used as a way to exchange experiences and considerations about violence, it is possible to produce deeper connections and understanding through the use of metaphors. Art allows individuals to express ideas and experiences in a way words sometimes fail to do. As such, it is a fantastic tool, which our team in Turkey knows how to use effectively.

LEBANON – Awareness on the Streets

Women and youth in Jezzine, Lebanon decided to raise the awareness of their community directly in the streets.

These kinds of activities have a double effect. They are not only about the citizens in the streets or the awareness-raising of institutions or authorities. Marches represent opportunities for the women and youth involved to have their voices heard and to feel empowered to make changes in their own lives.

The youth in our project also wrote, directed and acted in a short film on GBV and created short theatre sketches to express the concern of the younger generation and their will to make GBV part of the past. Theatre is a powerful tool that moves ideas and feelings in a very strong way.

During the 16 Days Campaign, we were also very honoured to have the visit of Mr Philippe Lazzarini, UN Humanitarian Coordinator and Deputy Special Coordinator in Lebanon to our centre in Jezzine and have him engage with the youth and women we have worked with for the past year.

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Latin America and the Caribbean: From Theatre to Advocacy

In Latin America, our teams worked with the women and youth of our programmes on the theme of GBV through a “Theatre for Integration” activity, which was part of the International Community Festival. This workshop addressed all forms of violence, by inviting participants to act the stories of confrontation they shared and redirect the actions to look for opportunities of forgiveness and integration. In this activity, all the stories highlighted the role of women in challenging situations like forced displacement, family relationships and health risks.

During the same period (December 3rd and 4th) the National Meeting of Young Women took place in Costa Rica with the stated objective of creating a political agenda to empower young women in the country. RET was in the Organising Committee along with the Vice-Ministry of Youth, Vice-Ministry of Citizen Dialogue, the President’s Social Council, the National Institute of Women, UNFPA, UNESCO and the Council for Young People. All the women who participated had the opportunity to give their perspective and collaborated to generate lines of action and advocacy messages for the rights of women and gender equality.

In the State of Táchira, Venezuela, RET and UNHCR with other local humanitarian organisations created a campaign called “la Messi Venezolana” (in reference to Deyna Castellanos the star football player from Venezuela). The campaign was made of two series of workshops for high schools focusing on GBV prevention and other gender identity issues directed to adolescents and youth.

Campaigns such as the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence are catalysts designed to encourage key issues to be taken up by relevant actors. They focus the attention of NGOs and communities and provide an incentive to act on certain themes. The concrete results are those described above. Women and youth who march or express themselves through art, artists who share their messages, men who feel included and trainings which transform awareness into positive behaviours.

This is not only part of one campaign, but also a daily effort developed by RET’s team and participants (specially youth and women), to change their life and raise awareness in society.

RET was therefore delighted to support the campaign, but we do have a reservation: sixteen days are clearly not enough. We will therefore continue to focus on this issue, in our programmes of course, but also in our communications. Our next article will therefore cover the often-untold story of young women soldiers in the illegal armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Gender-based violence is present all around the world, but is not acceptable anywhere!

(Also read: The Girls behind the Guns)

 

[i] UN Women: http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/facts-and-figures#sthash.b5VYwNOf.dpuf

[ii] The story of Gamze illustrates that the victims in women murders are not only those murdered. (https://issuu.com/tarancandtarancfilm/docs/issue).

The Girls behind the Guns

Since 2012, we have often written about RET’s presence in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where we work with former adolescent soldiers. Their reintegration into civilian life, after having been enrolled into illegal armed groups, is a long and complex process. By 2016, over 500 under-aged soldiers had reclaimed their lives after taking part in the RET programme. Our approach is truly holistic and we prefer to work intensely, but with fewer participants at a time than most other programmes. By doing so we ensure their durable reintegration into their communities and life. In these last five years, we have had only 2 former combatants return to fighting. The positive effects of these reintegrations echo throughout the affected communities long after the youth have left the armed groups.

However, there is a certain cohort of under-aged soldiers we would like to draw your attention to in this article: young women.

The images of young boys parading large guns designed to be carried by men have become the terrifying symbols of many conflicts and fragile environments. The hope and playfulness of children and youth crushed to create agents of violence may be one of the darkest realities human communities have to confront. What we often fail to grasp is that young boys are not the only ones targeted by armed groups. Young women, though not as numerous, are also preyed upon to fulfil different, but perhaps more degrading roles. They are the cleaners, the cooks, sometimes the fighters and very often, the sex slaves. Their lives are needlessly ruined, maybe even more so than the ones of the boys.

Understanding their experience and how to help them is necessary to have a more complete picture of Demobilisation, Disarmament and Reintegration (DDR) programmes of the kind RET is engaged in. This is important as DDR is one of the most challenging ventures the international community, governments, civil society and specifically, NGOs can engage in. It is, therefore, also a measure of the commitment organisations have to serious conflict resolution and long-term change.

Nyota* (15 years old), Borauzima* (16 years old), Mapenzi* (16 years old) and Kyavira* (14 years old) are four of the girls whom we have helped get back to a stable and safe life in their community. The testimonies they brought back from their experience in illegal armed groups help us understand the roles young women play and the daily hardships they must confront.

During their time in the armed groups they were ordered to cook and clean. They were used as messengers and often provided the menial labour necessary for such organisations to function when they are not engaged in combat. These maintenance roles, which represent very hard labour, must not hide the fact that young women and girls are very often also used as sex slaves. This was the case of Nyota, Borauzima, Mapenzi and Kyavira.

These roles place young women at the very low end of the social hierarchy of the groups and open the door to every sort of abuse. All four explained that they were routinely victims of physical violence. Pushed, dragged on the floor, shaken and forced into unwanted sexual acts. This was made worse by psychological aggression. Seen as objects to be exploited, they reported being rejected and isolated, terrorised and deprived of any sort of affection. Such traumas during adolescence are even more damaging than their combined physical wounds.

Simply getting young women out of these groups is by no way enough. The support they need to rebuild their lives is complex and requires skilled professionals. Upon arriving at RET’s Centre for Transit and Orientation (CTO) they expressed feeling fear, anger and anxiety, coupled with very low self-esteem. They had nightmares and difficulties controlling their emotions, as well as, eating disorders such as anorexia. They had lost their social skills and retreated into solitude, sadness and despair. In order to address all the hurdles separating them from a safe and integrated life in their communities, RET’s programme worked with them in four general steps.

To begin with, once the four young women had left the armed groups and arrived at RET’s CTO, there was a need to prepare them for the activities and services to which they would have access. It is important for any participant to start by having them understand that what they have lived through is not acceptable as “normal”. They must accept that it is not their fault and that these traumas can be overcome. These young women also need to know what type of support they will be receiving and understand that their confidentiality is guaranteed. Protection mechanisms need to be in place to ensure that these young women are actually safe and perceive this environment as a safe haven.

Once reassured and aware of the opportunities proposed to them, they then benefited from health check-ups, hygiene kits and medical services through our specialised partners and local hospitals.

The third step was to offer them professional psychosocial support. This was done through activities such as individual counselling sessions, participative games, sports, group therapy, theatre, discussion groups or support sessions with the host families who had opened their doors to them. All these activities aimed at increasing their resilience and prepared them to plan for their future. This paved the way to the fourth step: their socio-economic integration into their communities.

Once Nyota, Borauzima, Mapenzi and Kyavira had started to recover, they were led through an orientation process, which helped them to decide on how they wanted to shape their future. They were presented with the opportunity to either go back to school and pursue their studies, or attend vocational trainings to practice a trade. They all decided to learn to become tailors and, thus, received a basic training and were introduced to professionals to learn from their experience. Once their training was completed, they were offered economic reintegration kits. They continue until this day to practice their trade and to benefit from regular follow-up from our RET team to make sure their reintegration remains a success.

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The case of these young women shows us that leaving the armed groups was just the beginning. Helping them repair their broken lives is a much longer process, which involves time, effort and many forms of intervention and know-how. Of course, the RET programme also works with young men and boys. It equally includes many awareness-raising activities for the community to avoid future recruitments and create the conditions in which, hopefully, child soldiers will one day be less and less a sad reality in unstable and fragile environments. To get there, however, it is important to acknowledge that young boys are not the only ones who suffer and that behind the images of them holding guns are young women who suffer just as much, if not more.

We, of course, wish to thank our RET colleagues in the field for their dedication day-to-day on the ground in ensuring that these programmes are designed and implemented in the most effective manner possible. We also thank the Government of DRC for welcoming RET and for their collaboration and Luxembourg’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as the Government of Germany’s Federal Foreign Office for their support to out programme in DRC throughout the years. The lives of all these young women and men could not have been changed without the generous support of all these key RET stakeholders.

 

*The names of these young women and some contextual details throughout the article have been changed to provide anonymity; their story, however, is true.

Let’s Talk about Gender-Based Violence

As 2016 draws to an end, and as we recently celebrated the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, we are reminded that gender-based violence is sadly still prevalent across almost all societies around the world. Tragically, in fragile contexts such as within displaced communities, it is usually greatly accentuated. Understanding the complexity of gender-based violence in humanitarian contexts is a first step towards solving the problem. We, therefore, sat down with Noor Tlass, a psychologist with more than four-years of experience in gender-based violence and one of our supervisors in RET working with vulnerable women in Southeastern Turkey.

Noor, we all seem to use the term gender-based violence incessantly and oftentimes without giving it proper attention, what is the most common misconception you encounter?

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a term that is constantly being “updated”. We mainly need to understand that GBV is not necessarily linked to the scenarios that first come to mind. For example, sexual abuse is just one type of GBV.

GBV can be committed by anyone, the father, the mother, the care provider, the humanitarian worker. Therefore, the first thing we have to consider is to put effort in explaining the content of this term to the communities and to our participants.

Yes, when talking with our colleagues and partners around the world, I feel that the outlines of the survivors’ stories can differ vastly depending on geography, types of communities and the individuals themselves. But are there any significant challenges that stay the same?

First and foremost, the culture of stigma… People are so often afraid and almost always ashamed of sharing the violence that they have witnessed or have been exposed to.

We, at RET, have good relationships with the Government of Turkey and other NGOs, as well as with Syrian associations; we do not have any problems concerning collaboration and support. Our main problem is to find the way to lead our participants to an understanding. Some witness violence and they think that it is normal. For example, some people think it is okay for the husband to abuse his wife. They do not really understand their rights as human beings. That is why we are focusing on awareness-raising sessions, psychological education sessions and legal education sessions for people to become aware of the rights they hold. Gender-based violence is a heavy topic and it often conjures concepts such as pride or honour when discussed. That is why we always need to invest the necessary time to explain.

Do you think this particular understanding of rights can change per region?

Yes, in my view, attitudes tend to change according to the environment in which people were brought up. Some people will, for example, hide the stories of violence they were made a part of, while in some other region or community, they do not feel so ashamed to share their stories. It is not forbidden. What is challenging is that the women often regard themselves as a problem and that is not true or valid.

Do you deliver GBV training to men, as well? What is their attitude towards this issue?

Yes, just like amongst our RET staff, we have beneficiaries from both sexes. Men really are trying to develop empathy for this topic. They generally really try to understand and support women’s human rights. The men we encounter and work with are collaborative and supporting. Contrary as to what some may think, we did not face problems with men in understanding GBV, what to do or how to identify it.

In order for us to have a clearer view, could you briefly explain how the GBV programme you work on operates? How do we identify and reach people and what services have to be provided?

Participants are either identified through outreach activities, referred to us by external services such as other NGOs, local authorities and even health institutions. They may also come to us on their own initiative.

Then, the genuine process begins. At this stage, obtaining the participant’s informed consent before registering her is extremely important. This is to ensure that her choice to join the programme is free and voluntary. Without consent, we cannot do anything and this consent must be renewed at every step of the process.

Once in the system, the young girls have access to a space where they feel physically and emotionally safe where a range of activities are proposed to help them gain power over their lives, make friends, develop new skills and help them understand the violence they have been exposed to and its consequences. In these spaces they are also informed of the help and resources that are already available in their environment, either at RET’s centres or externally.  The empowerment activities encompass elements such as language education; awareness-raising sessions on a series of issues including their legal rights as children, women, and refugees; life skills sessions and psychosocial structured activities. During these activities, we engage the participants with different games to encourage them to speak out.  The response activities include individual counselling and emotional support groups. The emotional support groups are where young girls who are survivors of violence are grouped according to their age and problems. These groups are closed. They use specific activities and techniques, such as handicraft and psychodrama, as a vehicle for achieving psychological and social change. These groups help girls share experiences, develop a social support network, strengthen their problem solving skills and positive coping mechanisms, and improve their self-esteem and self-confidence. During the groups, the presence of interpreters allows each woman to express herself in her mother tongue, facilitating participation and integration.  As the internal support mechanism takes place, girls can also be referred, according to their specific needs, to external organisations and professionals, such as local authorities, specialised NGOs, and other partners.

This is the outline of the system you had presented at the UN Day of the Girl Child Conference in Istanbul in October. At this event you also talked about the practices used to reach out and encourage participants, could you tell us a little about this here?

Well, owing to this culture of stigma, which regularly prevents survivors from speaking out, we, at RET, organise regular activities, such as lunches, that bring women together and establish bridges between cultures. These activities create open spaces for the survivors to connect with our team. These gatherings allow trust to be built, which is an essential element in the decision of the women to enter the programme. After these activities and the first sessions they start to feel comfortable and get a better idea of the safety offered by the centres where they are free to express themselves. This way the women who might have had hesitations are reassured and do not lose the opportunity to benefit from our programme.

What else would you say allows a GBV programme to be successful?

I might say, in addition to other elements, that the individualised approach we treasure makes a difference. Our RET Programme Coordinators identify and take into account the specific needs of each and every case. I can say that we go the extra mile to ensure that each individual participant gets the most out of our services. From employing female drivers to put participants at ease, to the specific support provided to pregnant women and women with children, we try to think of all the concrete preoccupations these women have. Most importantly, we guarantee their anonymity and the confidentiality of the information entrusted to us. This is achieved, among other measures, through a coding system we specifically designed to ensure no one, other than the psychosocial counsellor in charge of the case, can have access to their files. At RET, we devote special attention to individual comfort, respect, security, and confidentiality.

What would you like to improve or add to the system?

Our RET system is not static. It improves case-by-case, group-by-group, step-by-step, as the beneficiaries’ experiences and opinions are taken into account. Evaluating each session and collecting suggestions to improve the weak points is key. Evaluations also engage the staff who work in the GBV department. That is why we do not say we need to improve this or that part, as we are already in the process. In reality it is not me, but the system we put in place, which informs us on the improvements we should make.

How about the challenges you run into when recruiting? Does a GBV specialist have to be a trained psychologist?

Yes this is a very valid point – the staff needs to have experience. They need to have expert knowledge and relevant experience, because our survivors suffer from deep traumas. They need professional support. Therefore, our staff mainly consists of psychologists and social workers. We also need lawyers to refer the cases to the government institutions, as well.

Our aim is to ensure solid training on the services we provide. We care for our staff and the ways they can protect themselves from being affected by the stories they hear.

Yes, I imagine that working in this field must be emotionally taxing, so do you use programmes and methods to assist the staff psychologically?

We are all human and we all have emotions. We do implement and advise self-care activities for the staff to be able to get insights into their own emotions. When we see that their behaviours demonstrate something abnormal, let us say anger, we guide them to apply self-care. We work closely with the staff who are involved with the survivors may they be psychosocial counsellors or case workers.

Lastly, I know that before working in Southeastern Turkey you were very active in Syria and in particularly unstable areas, what is the difference between working in zones of conflict and working in a safe zone?

First, here, I myself am safe. Across the border, I was working under duress every day and never knew if I could go home or not. In zones of conflict, you may need to stop the sessions for security, for the security of the staff, as well as the security of the participants. In some cases you may need to stop because the families of the participants may not want them to talk to you. In safer zones, the presence of a government, as well as people who work at the hospital, the presence of police, the law, all this makes a huge difference. You know that these institutions apply human rights and they respect the confidentiality of the survivors.

Before wishing you the best in your efforts, do you have any concluding remarks?

I hope, through the combined efforts of everyone working on GBV, that the world around us will be better able to understand that the women we support are “survivors”, not victims. They have tremendous strength and are really able to face problems, to stay alive and to fight in order to live in better conditions. This is perhaps the most important fact we all have to keep in mind.

Thank you Noor, it was a pleasure.

Heard As Never Before

The (women) group’s goal is for them to have a safe and trustworthy space where they feel secure and united with other women who have lived similar stories. There, they can meet, work on their grief, receive support …”

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a worldwide phenomenon. In Latin America and the Caribbean it is expressed in different ways: through forced marriage at an early age, exclusion of women in areas of influence and decision making, psychological, physical and sexual violence. In some settings, GBV is validated culturally and socially normalized. It is therefore difficult to perceive it as such, but the truth is that if you look closely you may find that many women feel exposed and at risk in their daily lives.

In situations of vulnerability, such as after a forced displacement, the risks multiply. In these situations the risks of GBV increase, as evidence shows that masculinities and femininities are generally heightened during a crisis. Also, when general violence in communities rises, there is a noted increase in gender-based violence.

By working with support groups in the Latin American and Caribbean region, RET hasbeen providing care to survivors and preventing GBV. The aim is to create safe spaces in which women at risk of GBV, or survivors of GBV, can be greeted and heard, without being judged and attacked because of their experiences.

These support groups, led by specialists, generate a process of recovery of confidence and self-esteem, while creating awareness of one’s abilities to face risks and adversity. They are designed to allow the survivor to heal personally, while gaining the understanding that they are not the only ones facing violence. Women learn that many others have to confront GBV, that what happens to them is in no way acceptable and that together they are stronger.

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This is expressed by Yosmailin Guerrero, a psychologist at RET in Costa Rica as: “the group’s goal is for them to have a safe and trustworthy space where they feel secure and united with other women who have lived similar stories. There they can meet, work on their grief, receive support…”

 

From Personal Grief to Collective Wellbeing

In some cases, women who have had to confront GBV tend to become isolated; they feel a certain shame about what they have experienced. Therefore, support groups facilitate the “sharing of experience, in order for them to realize that they are not alone, that there are others who have had similar experiences and who can provide support. We see how within a group they become friends, they understand each other and share their experiences”, says Elisa Roca, RET psychologist in Ecuador.

In a women’s support group one learns fast and each participant gets stronger. These are social mechanisms RET relies on to provide greater personal security to participants, allowing them to share their stories, but also to create a new interpretation of their present situation and therefore perceive new ways forward. Our aim is to strengthen and develop resilience in each of the participants, both to leave behind the violent experience, as well as to deal with and prevent future risks. Creating social ties between women is an efficient and sustainable way to fight against GVB.

Guerrero adds that “part of the work we do is talk about the grief, the problems experienced, the shames that we share, what we leave behind when fleeing our country; this is very important to address. But we then have to move from there and not keep repeating the same story because it risks increasing the harm already done. So, this is how it happened in the group, they decided to do something different, they began to grow, to value what they have today, to build a new history and to value their knowledge.”

In order for women’s groups to function, our approach also integrates individual attention as a preparation to group work. As we just saw, groups prompt resilience among women, individual support, on the other hand, works deeply on the trauma and the psychological, as well as emotional effects resulting from the event or situation of violence.

This articulation between individual support and group support is well explained by Roca, our psychologist in Ecuador: “some of them, when moving from the individual therapy to the group process, built up more courage, felt more support; this process helped them to integrate, to feel accompanied and strong.”

 

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The result of this process is women who have a high capacity to produce changes in their lives, in their families, as well as to positively influence their environments. The initial pain generates the possibility of a broader understanding of the manifestations of violence and discrimination, with a greater capacity to offer responses in order to move communities towards respect and wellbeing. It is extremely important to understand this dynamic, since GBV is the responsibility of all sectors and members of society.

 

Finally: Being Heard

There are many stories and cases that we can consider as emblematic of women who have been overcoming situations of violence and that today are referents in their groups and leaders in their communities.

This is, for example, the case of Eulalia*, who survived 11 years of violence with her ex-partner. During the last years of her experience, she had nightmares every night. She worried about the paralysis in which she had fallen and that had caused her to be unable to leave. She felt limited and uneasy. In her individual process she began to understand what was going on, she faced her deepest fears and moved on to find a way out. She discovered that it was not only a question of moving away from the one who hurt her, but of rebuilding herself, finding her true motivation to change her life and embark on a path of self-care and of discovery of her abilities. After a year of work, Eulalia has become today a leader within the women’s group, a reference for other women in the community. She has resumed her studies and is saving to go to university. She accomplished all this while taking care of her children and with a strong commitment to provide support to other women. She is now and example and a voice heard within the group and her community.

The story of Antonia* is also a wonderful example of what is being achieved in the women’s groups. In her life, there have been very few moments in which she has not experienced violence in her environment or directly towards her, to such an extent that it was almost impossible to distinguish between violent and nonviolent treatment. For her, violence became normal and an everyday thing. Because of violence she was forced to leave her country and seek refuge in a new territory, violence had also diminished her voice, since during most of the work process she remained silent. But Antonia finally decided to speak, she gathered the necessary courage to share her story and her biggest surprise was to find herself in an environment in which she was neither judged nor victimized. Her story became an important event and was welcomed by the group as part of the healing process they all shared. Antonia then expressed what they may have all felt: “it is the first time in my life that I share my story and someone listens to me.”

* Her real name has been changed to guarantee her anonymity.

An Unpredictable, yet Reliable Path to Development

This summer, on August 22, the Burundian NGO YouthGlobe organised a Youth Forum with the support of RET International in Bujumbura, Burundi. This event was of interest in its own right; it was successful and inspiring. But even more interesting, perhaps, is how it illustrated the fascinating paths education initiatives can take. The actors who came together this summer were linked through years of encounters, projects and hopes, which were all grounded in education. The story of this forum and its actors is therefore one worth telling.

As mentioned above, the Youth Forum was successful and inspiring. In addition, it was very well attended, with over 300 Burundian youth, government representatives, as well as several international organisations. Its theme «Education and Entrepreneurship: The Responsibility of Youth in Creating the Burundi that We Want» encouraged youth to think about their role in the future of their country and to take charge of their own lives. Following the Forum, YouthGlobe plans on supporting the young people who wish to start businesses by taking them into their Innovation Centres. Local and international media has also indicated that they would help create a space to continue the conversation.

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Among the panellists facilitating these discussions, was Salathiel Ntakirutimana, co-founder and Senior Advisor of YouthGlobe. Salathiel is a young Burundian who met RET many years ago when he was not even 20 and after having lived as a refugee in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He was, at the time, a student at Lycée Muyaga, in Cankuzo Province, Burundi. We supported him and his school, as part of our programme, and later proposed his candidature to a scholarship, which led him to Waterford Kamhlaba UWCSA, in Swaziland. Salathiel would then continue his educational adventure all the way to Harvard University for a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering. Upon his graduation from Harvard University Salathiel moved back to Burundi to develop Santrad Power, an energy company he started to address the crippling energy problem in his country. His aim is now to make Santrad Power the premier distributed energy solutions provider across the African continent.

Today, he is, without a doubt, one of Burundi’s exemplary youth leaders, dedicated to opening the doors of success and self-reliance for other young Burundians. Throughout the years, we have kept close ties with Salathiel and we are therefore delighted to now be able to say that, following our collaboration in YouthGlobe’s forum, Salathiel has officially become a RET Youth Ambassador.

RET’s Youth Ambassador Programme aims at providing support and developing the skills of young people who have participated in RET’s programmes and who demonstrate strong leadership. RET Ambassadors are then offered opportunities to exchange and promote the cause of protecting vulnerable young people and young women through education. Salathiel’s vision for YouthGlobe is to get the youth involved, motivated and active in entrepreneurship initiatives for the future of Burundi. He is, therefore, a perfect fit for the RET Youth Ambassador Team.

Forums and organisations like the ones created by Salathiel and his colleagues are examples of how young people are actors of positive social change. Protecting them through education creates a virtuous cycle, which in turn inspires and offers opportunities to other young people.

One of the participants in the Forum, Alexander, is a student at the Université Lumière de Bujumbura on a tertiary education scholarship, funded by the German Government through the UNHCR and managed by RET International. As a participant he expressed how the Forum had been a revelation for him, as it answered questions he had on his opportunities after graduation. More specifically he indicated that: «The different interventions at the forum have allowed me to understand that I have all that is necessary to take my future into my own hands, but also that my knowledge and skills will not be useful, if I do not share them with others. This was very valuable to me, because now I intend to invest in the future of Burundi.»

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Initiatives such as the RET Youth Ambassador Programme, tertiary education scholarships or youth forums and organisations such as YouthGlobe all stem from the same deep-rooted belief that young people are the future of their country. They are the ones who can lift their communities out of crises, towards stronger social cohesion, peace and prosperity.

From Salathiel’s early years of education in Lycée Muyaga to Alexander participating in last August’s forum, we see a complex, but undeniable link. This is the way education works and spreads; it is the magic it holds. All these actors, from Salathiel, his partners, the German DAFI scholarship programme, UNHCR and RET to the participants of the Forum, came together to create the virtuous cycle communities need to free themselves of violence, crisis and instability.

It is an illusion to think we can predict the exact direction education will take. The results, on the other hand, are reliable. Protecting young people through education leads communities out of crises. This is why we should never consider youth as beneficiaries; they are our partners in resolving crises and laying the foundations for future development policies to take hold. This is a key point to understand if we wish to, one day, bridge the gaps between humanitarian action and development aid.