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"Our mission is to assist in the reformation of Ukraine consistent with European standards, as well as to introduce democratic values and develop civil society in Ukraine."

From the Statute of
the Center for European Initiatives

International Training Course: "Conflict Resolution through Building Intercultural Dialogue", Sumy, Ukraine, June 2010

During the week of 8-15 June 2010, the Center for European Initiatives, a Sumy NGO, conducted the international training course, “Conflict Resolution through Building Intercultural Dialogue,” with financial support from the European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe.

It is well known that the issue of conflict and its resolution for any society is always present. Unfortunately, conflict is a reality which we face every day. To prevent conflict situations in the future was the main reason for conducting the international training course. Its aim was to increase youth leaders’ awareness of how to manage conflict and reach resolution by creating an atmosphere of mutual understanding and cooperation. Youth leaders from different cultures participated, arriving in Sumy for the first time from 10 European countries – Ukraine, UK, Georgia, Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, Azerbaijan, Latvia, Armenia, and Moldova. Together, they worked on the notion of conflict, defined its nature and types, and studied levels of conflict and existing barriers that prevent conflict resolution.

The training course included using non-formal methods, interactive activities, discussions, and workshops on creative ways to build peace. On the first day, the participants got to know each other and formed a team, which during the week worked on the extremely important and difficult task of resolving humanity’s problem: conflict.

To promote getting-to-know-each-other and team building, the organizers designed a game involving city exploration for the participants. Each team received a list of tasks about some specific facts about Sumy, its architecture, people, and way of life which they had to fulfill and then present the results to the rest of the group. The main goal was to complete their tasks creatively and present their discoveries to the others. During this activity, the participants not only learned new skills and observed the creativity of each other, but they shared a lot of laughs.

After this entertaining activity, the first session was dedicated to the understanding of different cultures. Training leaders asked the participants to lie down on the floor, close their eyes and count 60 seconds. It turned out that everybody counts differently, with a different speed and tempo. It helped the participants understand that each person is unique. We are all different, not only from different cultures, but within our own culture as well. It was motivating for the participants to think that another person can accept the same situation in its own way and how we need to take into consideration his/her point of view to avoid conflict. Participants were then given different conflict situations from different international projects where intercultural disagreements take place. They had to examine conflict situations and find out why they occurred and how they could be avoided and solved.

The next day, participants worked on the place of culture in defining personal identity and value building. Every participant drew so called “identity modules” with 5 criteria: social, ethnic, gender, sex and education. In small groups, intense discussions were held on the aspects of personal identity and which of them we receive by birth and which are acquired during our life.

After that, the participants worked in their national groups and answered the trainer’s questions about their own cultures. For example, what do you like to hear about your culture, what worries you about your culture, etc. This activity allowed each culture to identify itself from others and promoted better understanding and realization of their own culture and how it differs from the mentality of other cultures.

After having increased their level of awareness about different cultures, the participants were divided into mixed cultural groups and asked to create a set of values in the shape of an iceberg that was acceptable for participants from each country.

When the participants realized that every culture is unique, they acted a role-play in which they had to play a conflict situation. After finishing the performance, “the actors” shared their impressions and what emotions they felt when they acted out the conflict. Three groups of participants were then formed who treated the role-play as either “positively”, “negatively” or “neutrally”. The outcome revealed that perceptions of the conflict that was role played differed according to cultural values.

Then participants turned to study nature and types of conflicts. Groups were formed and every member of the group had a label stuck on the forehead with a certain role (about which he/she didn’t know). Everybody treated each other in the group according to the labels. The labels were different: “A little kid”, “You deceived me and I’m angry at you”, etc. But the team had to plan their dialog in such a way that they could successfully and effectively build the pyramid of understanding. After fulfilling the task, the participants shared their impressions of how it was difficult to manage the task and what kept them from doing the work faster. They discovered that interpersonal conflicts appeared mainly because of different social roles acted by people and their absence of desire to make concessions.

Later the participants worked out their own typology of conflicts according to chosen characteristics. Also they suggested their vision of levels of conflict:

  • Discomfort;
  • Incident;
  • Misunderstanding;
  • Tension;
  • Crisis;
  • Conflict resolution or its escalation.

To demonstrate levels of conflict, the short movie, “T-Shirt,” was shown. It helped the training program's participants to understand that in most life situations a conflict can be not only stopped but also prevented. The movie vividly demonstrated that unresolved conflict because of misunderstanding between each other can lead to awful consequences.

To learn how to resolve a conflict, teams were given an activity which showed that we can listen to the same story, but derive different understanding from the same information. The teams had by turns to retell each other a story. As a result a “broken phone” situation developed. For better understanding of the communication process, the trainers conducted a mini-lecture on models of successful communication.

Another point which was covered by participants was barriers which prevent people from resolving conflict situations. The participants tried to recollect a personal experience of conflict which they didn’t manage to resolve and a successful experience in conflict resolution. Based on their own experiences, they built the carpet of barriers, reasons for their appearance and abolition of these reasons. To consolidate acquired suggestions, the trainers engaged participants in the Theatre of Oppressed activities. The participants role played a conflict situation to the point of crisis and then stopped the role play to switch one of the actors with another who demonstrated the ability to resolve the conflict before it escalated to a serious outcome.

Creative peace building workshops were also organized: pottery, movie-making, loesje, LARP (life action role-playing).

The participants had an opportunity to communicate with representatives of different European countries and to learn more about their culture's identity. To demonstrate each of their cultures, participants from Poland, Georgia, Armenia, Czech Republic and Azerbaijan had a national evening at which they offered their country's cheese and drinks. Also, the participants organized quizzes checking how well participants of the training knew geography, history, culture and the way of life of their countries. Representatives from Ukraine, Great Britain, Russia, Moldova and Latvia held a “snake-night” activity.

By the end of the training there was a presentation of the European Youth Foundation programmes. The participants summed up and evaluated skills and knowledge acquired at the training.

The international project, “Conflict Resolution through Building Intercultural Dialogue,” succeeded. The participants acquired priceless experience for personal development, increased their awareness of the levels of conflicts and the conditions causing international conflicts, studied the method of conflict resolution, discussed the issues of conflict in the field of human rights, and also developed new initiatives aimed at conflict resolution.

The organizers hope that such international projects will be conducted further so that each of us faces less conflict situations in our lives.