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Civic Education
What voting for a break can teach us about democracy

The second training module took place in Jordan.
Goethe-Institut Cairo / Roger Anis

Since her childhood, Dhekra Elhidri has been learning civic education, but she had never had the chance to implement the related tools in her own country Tunisia. Thanks to an intense training held at Jordan’s Dead Sea between October 20 and 26, the civic education advocate had the chance to learn new elements related to this topic - including resolving conflicts among community members in a democratic way. Meanwhile, what fascinated the Tunisian participant is that she will be able to finally implement civic education activities in her society instead of just attending lectures about it. “I discovered issues that I did not know in the past. We study civic education in Tunisia at the schools. I wanted to see how to practice civic education not only to understand it,” she says.  

Dhekra Elhidri, from the NGO “Development and Perspective Kasserine”, was among 16 participants coming from Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco and Jordan. The seven-day training discussed a number of topics such as identity difference and discrimination, tolerance and conflict resolution as well as strategies for improving the quality of NGOs, according to Florian Wenzel, one of the two German trainers.
“We have done trainings on tolerance, democracy, diversity and also on the structures of NGOs. The special thing about this training is that participants deal and interact with each other in a democratic way that can help them understand the themes of the training”, Florian Wenzel states. This includes voting for the best timing to have a relaxed and satisfying break, for example. “We work a lot with the behaviour of the participants. We use this as tools for conflict resolutions, so that they can understand democracy and can teach it,” the trainer continues. He monitors the project already from the early beginnings.
During the workshop, participants explore the question of individual rights versus the responsibility towards society, by questioning the needs and responsibilities as participants of the training. This year the project consists of three modules, such as identity difference and discrimination, tolerance and conflict resolution as well as strategies for improving the quality of NGOs. The first module took place in Tunisia in summer, the second was the one in Jordan and the third will take place in Morocco in December.

Representative for Society

Florian Wenzel explained that they always connect what they do in the workshops and the activities in the group with the real life. “For example the issue of being too late or being responsible for the group is what we take as an example of how we take it seriously to live together in a democratic way or it is just about individuals. The group is like a representation of society,” he adds. 

Commenting on the diversity of the participants, he noted that it was the first time they had trainers coming from four different countries during this training. “There are big differences between the countries in some issues. For example, every participant experiences the possibility of cooperation with authorities in a different way. They enrich each other with what is possible and what is not possible,” he recounts. 

During the workshop, participants, trainers themselves, become active members of the group, continuously questioning and adapting their role and training tools according to the needs of the group. This also includes talking openly about any cultural and personal clashes participants may face, as the participants are representing different countries coming with their own personal opinions, background and identities, which does not only refer to nationality and religion, but also to age, gender and class or socio-economic background. 

Giulia Reichmann, the coordinator of the project at the Goethe-Institut Cairo, says that they started this training in Egypt three years ago. “After it worked well in Egypt, we thought to take it one step further and bring it to the region this year. Also, we wanted to create an exchange between the countries,” she adds. Dhekra Elhidri echoes Giulia Reichmann sentiment, adding that these kinds of exchange between participants enabled her to learn from each participant. 

Living Tolerance Instead of Just Learning It

Mohsan Kamal is a freelance trainer and the project’s cultural translator for participants and the German trainers during the course. He says that trainers moved the participants from the stage of learning tolerance into living tolerance inside the training. “This gives participants the opportunity to give their point of view about specific issues regardless of the perspective of participants and at the same time to let the person accept the critics given to his or her opinion,” he stresses. 

Ghada Mohammad, a member of the Egyptian Association for Educational Resources, commends the approach of making participants live tolerance instead of learning it at the workshop. “In Egypt, civic education existed especially among schools but the idea is that people started to think differently and wanted people to direct them to the right path and this is what is happening in the course here,” she adds.

Meanwhile, Mohsan Kamal highlights the importance of not only the way the course is presented, but also topics discussed during the workshop including tolerance and conflict resolution. “These topics are important for participants, as the region is plaguing in instability following Arab Spring and the growth of extremist groups.” 

Ongoing Development For Civic Education

Ghada Mohammad highlights that civic education is always subjected to development and new tools during the years. “We learn new methods here to practice them in our whole society not in a specific group of society. It is for all and this is what we learned. We, here at the program, share conflict experiences and how to resolve them,” she adds.  

On the other hand, the success resulted by the workshop prompts organisers to create a network for trainers in civic education, to share the experience in this field and make it available for generations to come, according to Giulia Reichmann. This fact fascinates the Tunisian Dhekra Elhidri who commends the fact that the trainers will continue to share the concepts of civic education with their peers. 

This will not be the final stage of the participants’ journey in the world of civic education, as the group members will come together in Morocco in coming December for the third and this year’s final module of the training programme, as they will be handed certificates by the Goethe-Institut and the Center for Applied Policy Research from the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich.

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