I fall silent and watch as the group immediately comes together, the leaders speaking loud and firmly. I hear, “I know what to do” as well as observe lots of motioning to one another, mimicking the motions of what they need to do. I smile to myself as I know what’s about to happen, as this exact scenario looks very familiar. I also must remember this is a group of adults, not 13- year olds, so I adjust (in my head) the level of how challenging I am going to make this. One female co-worker softly places one piece of newspaper on the ground, and I run up aggressively and snatch it from the ground. The look on my co-workers faces show the surprise and shock at what just happened. In Assamese they start to converse quickly, a re-evaluation of how many pieces of paper they have left happens, and they try to re-strategize how they are possibly going to get to the other side of the “river”. I tell them again, “If no body part is touching the rock, then the very hungry alligators will come up and eat it”.
In late March, I did a Training of Trainers (ToT) for the staff of Foundation for Social Transformation: Enabling Northeast India. It was a small group, but the core team was present. I took a few hours to plan out a full agenda, come up with a curriculum, and prepare materials that I would need. I would have a full day of training, and I wanted it to be very fruitful. The situation described above, was from the “Toxic River” activity as part of a mini-life skill module on Teamwork. The team was given a certain amount of newspapers (or rocks) that they would have to use to get across the sitting area of our office (now imagined as a toxic river).
This ToT idea came to me at Midpoint, but I never was able to act on it till March. Better late than, never right? Also, much of my frustrations with the project was how slow it was progressing. We finally started in early March, with the eleven set modules taking me through till the end of my Fellowship. Finally, I was doing what I came to India for, and all the ground work I did the first half was to set up this part of my project.
However, there was still the challenge of implementation. My language ability is nowhere near what is required to conduct these sessions in Assamese, so I would need to rely on co-workers. Nonetheless, with the exception of my Mentor (who has multiple projects/job duties), how are we supposed to do this weekly, let alone go to the field four times a week? I’ve had experience where I had to do sessions in two languages, but sometimes with the time it takes to translate, we lose the kids’ attention. That’s when it dawned on me, it’s not the language, it’s sustainability that’s the biggest challenge of this project. Once I leave, who is going do what I do for this project? I wrote the modules, I’ve been doing life skills for awhile now, and worked with kids even longer than that. This is where the idea to do a ToT for the people in my host organization, came to life.
“Okay so remember, none of you can touch the string. If you do, that person has to go back to the other side. Oh, and you also must be physically connected to someone in your group at all times. If you get disconnected, that means your entire group has to re-start the process.”- My instructions for Human Bridge activity
According to Shek & Wai, “Training provided for potential implementers of adolescent prevention and positive youth development programs is a crucial element in the success of program implementation and intervention influence” (2008, p. 3). Personally, I know the importance of conducting ToTs, and have used this model before. As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand, I trained a large group of university students on how to run a full life-skills program with younger children. It was a success then, and I still see that those same university students are using those skills they learned, in different projects and in different contexts. That is the goal here and now, in India. I had to adapt those concepts to my organization, and an Assamese context. I ran the activities as if my colleagues were kids again, and it was both fun and funny to see different sides of the people I worked with. I was appreciative that they participated fully and took all the challenges I added with stride.
After that first training, the feedback from my colleagues was positive, and the staff want more trainings on this. I’ve added this component to my project, in addition to the work with the kids, and I’m very happy with the progress I’ve seen in my colleagues especially now with their interactions with the students.
For me, this was the way to address the sustainability aspect of my project. I don’t have the language, but I can train the adults I work with since they do have the language skills. Furthermore, a lot of my colleagues do not have any experience working with the youth, and this was a way I could leave them something I personally taught them, as well as equip them with some technical skills to execute this project, or even to just engage a group of kids that they may come across in their future endeavors.
Now when everyone starts humming a song that we did as an energizer, or tells me that they have done an activity with kids in their own families, I feel fulfilled in a way that I was hoping for, but not expecting at all. It gives me hope, that even after my time here is gone, the impact of being here will still be felt, even if on a small level.
Shek, D. & Wai, C. (2008). “Training workers implementing adolescent prevention and positive youth development programs: what have we learned from the literature?” Adolescence 43 (172).