Thank you Pat and Vernon. I doubt they’ll ever read this blog, but last week they put on one of the best trainings I have ever attended. I feel like I’ve had a lot of training experience. I was a very involved student in high school, college, and now I’m in Peace Corps. I’ve been to my share of trainings, retreats, conferences, etc. Before this, I’d have to say LeaderShape was number one. And honestly, it still is, but this one was up there, at a close second.
Background. The Eurasia Foundation of Central Asia (www.efcentralasia.org) is partnering with Activ (www.activ.kz) to sponsor a Youth Bank project here in Kazakhstan. Four cities (five counting Ecik (shout out to my homies down there at Fund of Local Communities) being sponsored by Philip Morris) will have groups of local youth (17-24) giving out small grants (up to $500) to other youth to accomplish social projects. I will somehow be an advisor/mentor to the group here in Taraz. I’m not sure what that means, but I’m here for questions, guidance, or monitoring. I’m super excited about working with the local youth on this project. Basically, the phone call asking if I wanted to do this went like this:
“Hello Michael, this is Ilyas with the Eurasian Foundation. Would you like to be a mentor for the youth bank in Taraz and attend a training in Almaty in two weeks?”
“Yes! Wait… what does that mean?”
“You’d just help them. Be there if they have questions, need assistance.”
“Yes! Wait… do I have to pay for the conference?”
“Actually, we don’t have funding for the advisors yet. Can you pay your own way?”
“Uh… Definitely travel. Place, no. But I think I can find somewhere to stay. So…yes. Wait… How did you hear about me?”
“Paul with Peace Corps recommended you.”
“Awesome! Sounds great.”
While most of my group had arrived in Almaty on Sunday, I had stayed an extra day (see last post about water park!) in Taraz. So I arrived Monday morning and met Alina at the train station at 7:15. We picked up from kids from Ecik and then drove out to the conference.
Back to conference evaluations. Maybe it’s because I’ve had a lot of local trainings lately, but this one was impressive in how thoroughly planned it was. Eurasian Foundation brought in two trainers from Northern Ireland (it was a treat to hear them talk all week), who have done trainings in the area before. 10 hours a day. Full schedule from the beginning. Props. Slides. Games. Tasks. Group work. Daily reviews. And Pat, who worked in our small group, was amazing at group facilitating. When we had conflict, he didn’t ignore it. He addressed it immediately, and we talked about it directly until everyone felt like it was resolved. He was positive about absolutely every response given and receptive to any idea suggested. It was unbelievable the patience he showed with the youth.
And patience was needed. Maybe some of it was the translation, because a lot seemed to be lost. Basically, the biggest differences I noticed were no understanding of time limits and no respect for a restricted discussion format. We constantly ran over on our work, because even when five minute warnings were given, no one seemed to hurry up. The same pace was continued. It was strange to see. I think it’s cultural that more time will be given maybe. Also, we had one part that was supposed to be a very organized discussion. Or actually not a discussion. Just report reading and voting. But it turned into a discussion. And this might just be me, but I don’t think you always have to share your opinion in trainings. Sure, it’s great to get a viewpoint, but when the facilitator says one more comment, and that comment sets you off, you just suck it in. Especially when its simply a discussion, and there’s no decision making to come afterwards. You don’t have all the time in the world to just debate the merits of something. But we tried.
The youth also went a little wild. I don’t know what they did every night, but few slept more than three hours a night. That’s okay. I’m a big fan of work hard, play hard. I’ve been there before where you meet these amazing new people and you only have four days to spend with them before you separate forever. But when you play hard, you have to work hard. And when 8 of 25 people are showing up 20 minutes late to the first session, that’s a problem and that’s disrespectful. Two people from my group skipped all of Thursday morning. Eurasia paid for them to come to Almaty, paid for their hotel, and paid for the training, and they have too much fun at night to do what they came there to do. I was seething on the inside because of that.
But for the most part, the training went really well. I think my favorite activity was analyzing the painting Guernica but Picasso. It somehow related to monitoring. I don’t know about that, but I think we should add it to our Pre-Service training exercises. Give out the painting and ask, what do you see here? How does it make you feel? And once all the trainees are done answering, tell them, “This will be your site. Enjoy.”
Another highlight of the conference was the idea to use adhesive spray to make “sticky walls.” The trainers used sailing fabric that was strong nylon and sprayed it down with some 3M product. This meant they never had to use tape. They just stuck things to the wall. So useful and I’ve never seen it done. I’m not sure how cost effective it is, but I think if you use the sheets long enough, it would be really really handy.
Usually, I would model the youth’s behavior when I’m in Almaty and take advantage of the night life. However, I was so exhausted by the long trainings, I basically crashed every night. We did get to see Kyle and Meriah, which was cool, and we ate at Pizza Hut. Yes, Pizza Hut (see next post.)
Now, the training is over and we launch our youth bank soon. It should be a lot of work, but I think it will be a great experience for me and the youth. And if anyone is interested in giving some donations, I’m going to try to set up some channels to make foreign donations possible. $500 dollars, and you can sponsor your very own youth project in Kazakhstan!