CAN's Opportunities Initiative: Testimony by North Caucasus participants about trainings and scholarships

Magomed G., who participated in the 2010 EUVP:
My participation in the 2010 European Union Visitors Programme made a strong contribution to my personal and professional development. It was definitely the best programme I have attended so far, in terms of the content, quality and range of people I got to meet.The EUVP is designed for young leaders from non-member countries to visit the Institutions of the European Union, as guests of the European Parliament and the European Commission. I had the good luck to participate in the programme that enabled me to gain through first-hand experience a better understanding of the European Union, and that the experience will be of benefit to me, a university lecturer and academic from Dagestan, in future years. I seek to increase the students’ capacity as future politicians, and socially active professionals in Dagestan.

During the 5 working days in Brussels in March 2010, where meetings had been arranged for me with 20 representatives of the EU Institutions, this programme helped me to move from theory to practice and to adjust my previous knowledge. I had an opportunity to meet with different specialists that took place in different buildings of the EC, I was very impressed by how much attention the EU institutions pay to support and development in EU-Russia relations. It was a very interesting and useful study tour. During the meetings I had discussions with specialists on the following topics: How large the EU can become in terms of border and identity? The activities of European Union institutions in a range of policy areas; What multiculturalism might mean as a political project that EU member states might be for or against? What are the general expectations and fears in view of the phenomena of Islamophobia? What will be important to further improvement of multidimensional cooperation between EU institutions and Russian professionals: to develop a political dialogue and mechanisms for the peaceful resolution of conflicts; partnership in social and cultural fields? Co-operation with higher educational institutions in Russia in the field of information on EU policies. Are there any special programmes designed for this purpose?

This EUVP is excellent for several reasons. First, it is good to study outside of your country and you can understand a problem from different angles. Second, you can make many useful personal contacts with people who can help in implementing your particular project in a future. I definitely encourage young professionals from Dagestan to apply to this program because it is necessary to show initiative, be open for new contacts and ready to meet new people. I sincerely hope to keep in touch with the people I met during my stay in Brussels.

Tamila E., who participated in the seminar “Gender Equality in youth projects” at the European Youth Centre:
The seminar was a great international experience for me. To be honest, I was a little nervous going there, because I did not know what to expect, how to act, what to say. But everything was perfect, from the very beginning to the very end. I liked the atmosphere during the whole seminar.

The seminar's main objective was not to teach participants from different countries how to deal with gender issues, it was more of a discussion: sharing experiences, identifying challenges, exploring new trends, exchanging experiences of youth projects, making concrete proposals on how to improve gender-based problems. I like how the seminar was organized - everybody had the chance to express their own opinion, to argue, agree or disagree with the statements, opinions, etc. I obtained a lot of knowledge on gender issues, for example, the difference between gender and sex, gender equality and gender equity. All of these discussions gave me a lot of food for thought, even if sometimes it was a little confusing, because I could not always find examples from my reality in Chechnya to share. However, I am happy that I had the opportunity to learn more about these new ideas. Working in groups, my colleagues and I identified and presented to other groups the challenges that we consider the highest priority, and then we prepared recommendations.
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Though the seminar was short, I am sure that I have obtained enough information and experiences to apply in my community through different projects. I now know different options how to address gender-based violence, how to promote women's rights and how to bring about equality in a society. I understand that it will not be easy, but after coming home, I realized one thing - if you want to change something, you should act. If other disadvantaged neighborhoods (for representatives of which this seminar was held) can achieve change, then I am sure that we can achieve it as well in my community.

Zarema Ch., who participated in the 2009 John Smith Fellowship in Britain:
I am very grateful to the JSMT staff, trustees and all 2009 Fellows for making these 5 weeks such an excellent experience! It was definitely the best programme I have attended so far, in terms of the content, quality and range of people I got to meet. I discovered and learned many useful things and ideas, and was happy to find confirmation of many of my assumptions. But there were also many challenging issues, which weren't so easy for me to agree or disagree with (national identity, business support, state sovereignty, what makes a good leader, the value of the London pride, the appropriate place for public opinion in criminal justice, policy making, regulated and unregulated press and many others). It definitely gave me sufficient food for further thought and action when appropriate. For all this, I am very happy and grateful for having attended the programme.

But above all I am grateful for having met all the other fellows! I confess that I am missing all of them and our discussions (especially the questions-answers parts, the evening walks and chats)! We spent a lot of time in learning, absorbing good things and dismissing bad ones, asking questions, exciting and surprising each other, relaxing, singing, dancing, walking, reading and so many other things. I still remember our National Food Night. Everything was so delicious there! The wonderful taste of various national dishes reflected how special all of our countries are, and of course each of us proved to be a very talented and accomplished person. These nice memories will always be with me!

Now I understand why Brian Brivati, the programme director, mentioned “life changing experience”, because for me the John Smith Fellowship was a time when I got so much: knowledge, energy, understanding, even a new kind of appreciation and respect. I believe that for me, the most valuable aspect of the programme was my attachments (time spent with relevant British institutions. I visited several organizations that support business in Great Britain, so I could observe their activities from close by and obtained knowledge on the forms of the effective public-private partnership and met with representatives of the South Wales Chamber of Commerce. I was very impressed by how much attention the British Government pays to business support and development in U.K. Also, during the program, with my newly-obtained knowledge and information on support and development of business in Great Britain I developed the project "Practical advice for business", which includes creating a web-site similar to the web-site of Business Link (www.businesslink.gov.uk). Among a range of practical advice the website will contain: online workshops, trainings conducted in the business-learning centre of the Chechen Chamber of commerce and industry where I am currently employed, online exhibitions, search of partners, online forums and conferences. Also, I plan to organize a team of professional business advisers in order to hold one on one consultations for small and medium sized businesses and designing and producing guides offering practical advice for businesses in all aspects of business. I believe that my project “Practical advice for business” will significantly contribute to business development in Chechnya. It will help our entrepreneurs save time and money and to get quick and reliable access to much-needed information and advice. I will do my best to implement the project!

And I am very much looking forward to our follow up conference in London!

Adam I., who participated in the Hansen Summer Institute in California:
Participation in the Hansen Summer Institute was a great experience for me and made me very happy. I heard so much that was new to me, heard from new people from the whole world, and got to see America and ordinary American people. To take part in this program it is necessary to show initiative, be open for new contacts and ready to meet new people.

All in all, everything went well. We had been well-prepared for the program, because we had earlier been sent brochures with information about the program and everything took place as described. About the program: it was very intensive - lectures, excursions, visiting different charter schools (private schools for poor children) and a center for the rehabilitation of young criminals. We also visited the city administration of San Diego and met personally with the mayor. The rest of our time was organized in the same way. We visited an "Independence Day" parade, had picnics, went to the zoo and so on. I particularly liked our visit to the border with Mexico, which was an indescribable impression for me, because at the fence were simple, poor Mexican migrants. Concerning the lectures, they were really interesting, the teachers interacted with us all the time and gave us opportunities to find out the truth on our own. Different kinds of games gave us a chance to immerse ourselves in conflict situations. When the program was completed, all the participants had to write a final report, like a feedback. I had some problems with the language; in everyday conversations I was comfortable, but following the lectures was hard for me. Future participants should know that it is really important to know English well!

Concerning participants from other countries, I had warm relationships with all of them, found a common language with them despite our different mother tongues and especially befriended participants from Cameroon and Sri Lanka. In the course of the whole program we were together, getting to know each other better and better, although we had this kind of contact with all participants. I am still in contact by them through the internet.

I learned how we need to communicate with people from all over the world, that it is necessary to seek dialogue in all situations and I learned some useful things about leadership qualities. We played out conflict situations and tried to find ways out these situations and many other things. I consider this a very valuable program, even more so for young people from our region. The program teaches tolerance, which is lacking so much from today's world.

Asya U., who participated in a fellowship for ethnic minorities at the UN/OHCHR in Geneva:
"I was one of five candidates chosen to participate in a fellowship for ethnic minority activists at the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva, Switzerland, from March until June 2007. The other four fellows were from Canada, Laos, Africa and India. During the fellowship we were taught systems and mechanisms of human rights protection at the UN. We had meetings with representatives of the Committees on forced disappearances, trafficking, torture, refugees, racial discrimination and the protection of children. Also, we took part in the fourth and fifth sessions on the human rights of minorities. At the meetings and training with the International Labor Organization we had lectures on global economic issues and the experiences of different countries. For me, the most useful and interesting part was a special training for journalists. Our instructor taught us to write press-releases for human rights organizations, how to prepare briefings and long presentations on human rights violations for international organizations, and how to start a blog. One of the main objectives of the fellowship was documenting and analyzing violations in UN memberstates. We also had to design a specific project for our own community; mine was to organize training for young journalists. During the fellowship I was able to visit the Council of Europe in Strassbourg, France, and to learn there about its mechanisms and meet with advisors, chairmen of the Committees, lawyers from of the European Court of Human Rights, Press Officers and others. Thanks to the help by the Chechnya Advocacy Network I have received two certifications from the UN and finished an online training by the BBC for young journalists. I hope that it will help me become an experienced and well-trained journalist who can help my people and my country."

Amata A., who participated in an online/distance course on education journalism:
"I had the good luck to participate in the distance course "Improving coverage of education issues", held by TOL. The course was for journalists who specialize in the field of education. It included: 1) Specialist Reporting; 2) Reporting education; 3) Interviewing Children.

The educational system of Chechen Republic, like the republic itself, is today going through a period of revival, and is in need of improvement and development. Due to the course I know now that journalists must pay a lot of attention to that field, because almost everyone is touched by education. I think the education is like a life buoy for our republic, through which lies the path to revival. And it is the press that lets society know which problems we have and when we must sound the alarm.

During the course we were given tasks – to visit a school, to obtain an interview with pupils and teachers, and to write a short article on a relevant topic. This helped me to move from theory to practice and fix received knowledge. From the last part of the course - «Interviewing Children», - which I found the most interesting, I learnt how to deal with children: they are very sensitive and a journalist must know some aspects of children’s psychology, which is especially important in our society where children had to go through postwar hardships alongside adults. I want to point out that our work was read and evaluated by a professional of journalism, Linda Christmas. Her advice and remarks on the articles helped improve our skills and I want to thank her for that.

I’m glad I had the chance to participate in the TOL course "Improving coverage of education issues". The knowledge I got from it helps me during my professional work. Also I’m grateful to the Chechnya Advocacy Network, because without them I wouldn’t have known about this opportunity."

Murad P., who spent a year in New York on a legal fellowship:
"I participated in a program organized by the New York-based organization Public Interest Law Initiative. This program is for Human Rights lawyers interested in improving their knowledge in their respected areas. The program lasts for two years. During the first year participants take classes at Columbia University Law School and intern in Human Rights organization. In the second year participants return home and implement their projects they worked on during the first year. I personally was able to improve my practical skills in strategic litigation before the European Court of Human Rights through taking classes related to European Law and interning at the well-known organization Human Rights Watch. Now I am going to implement my project on taking cases before the European Court of Human Rights. This program is excellent for several reasons. First, it is good to study outside of your country and you can focus on your studies. Second, it helps to understand a problem from different angles, since you are actually not in the real situation. Third, you can make many useful personal contacts with people who can help in implementing your project in a future. I am back home now and I feel more confident due to the knowledge I gained in New York and the assistance of people, who are interested in improving situation in the whole world. Because all of that I think that young people from North Caucasus should apply for such programs and with joint efforts we can make life better in our small part of world."

Ibragim A., who participated in the 2008 John Smith Fellowship in Britain:
My participation in the 2008 John Smith fellowship programme made a strong contribution to my personal and professional development. When I compare myself before and after the JSF programme, I find that owing to the programme I became incomparably more effective in my professional work: more reasonable, accurate and punctual. I am better now at designing and understanding priorities as well as at performing and combining the work needed for community mobilization. The knowledge and expertise I acquired made me more persuasive when it comes to business co-operation, as my partners now see that I really have something good and useful to propose. This was not the case before my participation in the JSF.

During the fellowship I designed a project on community development and infrastructure improvements in my native town of Shalazhi, Chechnya. The International Rescue Committee, at my initiative, will perform a Quick Implementation Project on water supply and sanitation improvements in the town this October. Hopefully, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) will become a strategic partner of the IRC/North Caucasus, which will enable the NGO to implement more projects in the area. This new cooperation came as a direct and immediate result of the work I did within the fellowship programme. Moreover, the Fellowship programme in itself is not designed as a transient event with a quick termination; on the contrary, it starts a far-reaching development initiative and continuing co-operation for years to come.

I definitely encourage young professionals from the North Caucasus to apply to the John Smith Fellowship. The only thing I regret is that I can't be a first-time fellow again……

Laila S., who participated in a training on women's rights in Sweden:
Laila S., who participated in a training on women's rights in Sweden:
"I have to say I'm extremely happy that I took part in the seminar in Lund. And I'm grateful that CAN helped me to get there. It was a very interesting and useful course. During the training we had lectures on human rights and humanitarian law, equal rights and non-discrimination, trafficking in human beings, violence against women, refugee law and internally displaced persons, minority rights, women in armed conflict; we studied civil and political rights; economic, social and cultural rights; the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, etc. Also, we conducted study visits in Sweden and Denmark as well. We visited a court in Malmo, the Danish Refugee Council in Copenhagen, a women's shelter, a prison, the NGO Save the Children and some other institutions. It was a very good experience for me and it gave me an opportunity to compare the level of democracy and implementation of human rights in Europe and in my home country. And I have to admit we have to work hard to achieve at least a more or less similar situation in these areas in Russia. Nevertheless, now I feel I've got more power to struggle for human rights and rights of women in particular. The knowledge I gained from the seminar will help me with that. I received 10 kgs (!) of books on human rights and different instruments on this topic to continue my studies."

Marina M., who participated in a journalism training in Prague:
The TOL training in internet journalism was really a great opportunity for me. I am not saying that just as a compliment to the organizers, it's absolutely true. First, the subject is very interesting; I don't know any other organization that teaches journalists to create web-sites, to make them profitable, to develop them so they will be interesting to readers, etc. That's why it was so interesting. But there was much more during the training. We had an opportunity to meet with different specialists, took a tour at Radio Free Europe, met journalists whose names we only saw on TV before. I think this kind of practical training, where participants are not just taught the theory, but go straight to practice, is really important for journalists. I am very glad that I was able to take part in this program."

The Chechnya Advocacy Network was formed out of deep concern about the situation in Chechnya and the surrounding areas and the challenges faced by Chechen refugees elsewhere. We strive to raise awareness of the situation in the region, particularly its human dimension, advocate for a strong international response to humanitarian and rebuilding challenges and work to empower local people to improve their communities. We do not endorse any specific political outcomes. Instead, our goal is to help the residents of the North Caucasus region build a peaceful and happy future. We welcome everyone who shares these goals with us.

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