From 18 – 24 February a 3-phase Human Rights project ‘ART4HRE’ took place in Rustavi, Georgia. This was the 1st phase and it was organized by the organization ‘Youth for Peace and Equality’ and was funded within the European Commission programme Erasmus+ by the National Agency in the Netherlands. During the training week, the participants learned that art, photography, and crafts can be used in human rights education, to battle hate speech, promote acceptance and solidarity and to promote freedom of speech. More explicit project reports from our participants can be read below.

Asyana Eddy: “When I reflect on the week, the words that come to mind the most are encouragement and inspiration.”

To be quite honest, on my way to Georgia I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Of course, I had a general idea of what was going to happen and I was incredibly excited, but I was not sure how it would play out, what the setting and atmosphere would be like, or what type of people would be at this training. I dare to say I was pleasantly surprised throughout the whole program. It went far above and beyond my expectations; this applies to not only the content of the program but the people, the activities, the experience as a whole as well.

Once everyone arrived in Rustavi, we didn’t have many moments to spare so we dove right into the material for the week. The first few sessions began with team building and exercises aimed at getting to know each other, but once all of us had a basic idea of each other’s names and nationalities, we began working on the content of the week. We started the week off with learning some of the basics; we did so by looking into the development of human rights both institutionally and legally. We focused mainly on the European Convention of Human Rights and looked at at the main articles of the convention. We explored what the implications of the articles are and how they are implemented in each of our countries. We also did activities to gain a better understanding of the terminology surrounding human rights; this included learning how to differentiate between the different types of discrimination. This sparked a lot of discussion and debate in our group, which was interesting to be a part of and learn from. Once the basics were covered, we took a deeper look into what lies behind human rights violations. We looked at the triangle of violence and how violence can take different forms and occur on different societal levels, from personal interactions to cultural and institutional instances. We also looked at hate speech and focused on the underlying narratives of hate speech. As an activity we were split into groups and assigned speeches from different politicians; we then dissected the speech and identified harmful underlying narratives.

Our week covered a wide range of topics about human rights and most of it was not necessarily light-hearted. Many of our sessions went overtime because of the deep discussion we would end up in. The discussions usually didn’t stop with our sessions; we often found ourselves discussing and sharing our own experiences and understanding of human rights violations during our breaks and meals. I appreciated the safe and open environment we were able to create with each other, and the passion that the setting was able to spark in all of us. Despite the heaviness and seriousness of the week, as a group we were definitely able to have a fun time together. We laughed lots, we made art, and we explored the cities of Rustavi and Tbilisi together. There is beauty in finding people who you can discuss serious issues with, but then together choose to let the go at the end of the day and enjoy the world for what it is.

When I reflect on the week, the words that come to mind the most encouragement and inspiration. I was so encouraged and inspired by the people I met this week in Georgia. It was a reminder that there are more people fighting for this, there are more people who are passionate about the rights of others and dedicate their lives to making sure they are respected. We spent the last two days of our training planning the youth exchange in Bulgaria. As a group we are very excited to implement the things we learned during our week of training and we hope to make the youth exchange in Bulgaria a great time.

Eline Westra: “I was happily surprised to discover some artistic talents of others and of myself, and am excited to use them in current and future human rights projects”

Against the mystical background of a somewhat abandoned, post-industrial neighborhood of Rustavi, Georgia, the creative energy of over twenty young people from all over Europe was challenged and trained to be applied to human rights education. With about thirty fellow youth workers from Estonia, Belarus, Ukraine, Armenia, Poland, the Netherlands and Georgia and I happily surrendered to this very intense though enjoyable learning process, which included acquiring tools to work with youth to tackle prejudice and discrimination, as well as ways to deconstruct hate speech narratives.

It was a hugely inspiring week on both a personal and professional level. I was once again reminded of the potential of horizontal, non-formal learning methods, which make the learner the primary responsibility for his/her own learning process. This move away from traditional, hierarchical and forced teaching processes to one that puts the creativity and the intrinsic motivation of the learner in the forefront is a smart one, in my eyes, and one that could be very beneficial to all.

This goes especially for the field of human rights, where violations often eventually come down to a lack of connection, understanding and unchallenged prejudice. I realized how effective the Arts are in providing the first step of tackling these challenges: help people experience different perspectives. The week in Rustavi made me more hopeful about ways to reduce violations and gave me some concrete tools to step in and act. The amazing way our own group interacted and became close was moreover a real-time example of the possibility of bridging and going past national, linguistic or other ‘boxes’.

I was happily surprised to discover some artistic talents of others and of myself, and am excited to use them in current and future human rights projects. During the week I portrayed Human Rights law by means of photography, I learned and performed a beautiful Ukrainian song about imprisonment, I attended an impressive psychodrama performance of one of the participants and co-developed a Haiku (Japanese poetry form) workshop for human rights teaching. We enjoyed amazing Georgian food every day – which was nothing less than Art as well – and we collectively set the alarms every night as the days passed and tiredness grew.

I returned home exhausted but very inspired, within my suitcase a postcard of truck-driving women (created by one of the participants to fight stereotypes in that profession), delicious semi-sweet Georgian wine, a booklet of reflection on my learning process and my own stereotypes, and with many ideas for the upcoming months. I am grateful for having taken part in this ART4HRE project and am looking forward to future cooperation with the other participants, which is actually already happening.

Hanna Dosenko: “It was indeed a beautiful experience.”

Since I come from Eastern European background, I knew that I would feel very much like home in Georgia. I had more expectations about the training itself and other participants. From the info pack, I was able to conclude that we would have a lot of discussions about human rights and violations and there would be a practical part to it.

I was pleasantly surprised to see how much thought was behind every part of the programme. Firstly, organizers mixed all participants which means that we had our own intercultural exchange in every room: I lived with girls from Belarus, Georgia, Estonia and Bulgaria. Even though many of us could speak Russian, it was nice to notice that people switched to English every time there was someone who could not understand. Very inclusive. Later, during the week, I found out more about the backgrounds of participants, and I was genuinely impressed by the diverse experiences and interests they had. There were artists, human rights law students, volunteers in NGOs who were willing to share their knowledge and expertise, as well as to learn from each other. It was one of the most comfortable groups I ever worked with – and for that, I would like to pass a high five to organizers.

The training was intense, yet easy to follow. We always knew what we were going to do, the instructions were clear as day. The activities were entertaining despite the fact that we had to discuss serious human rights-related topics. Normally, during the first part of the day we would do the theoretical part, discussing definitions like stereotypes/prejudices, gender, racism and other categories that are hard to define. There was a lot of group work which helped us to learn how to work with new people and how to be patient and tolerant towards opinions of others. I was introduced to many hidden corners of human rights debate. I was encouraged to share stories from my country, as well as discuss it with a group. The process was smooth and engaging, I never had a feeling that I was left out or silenced. The trainer Nick Padisson was my favourite, as he was a great fascilitator, an interesting person to talk to, very friendly and professional. I definitely learned a lot from this person. I will not hide the fact that discussions made me sad at times, as I am quite sensitive towards these topics as much as I am passionate, but we had a plenty of energizers in between during which we could run around in the room and do funny things.

The second part of each day was an art form. We did music, theatre, photography and illustration in groups or individually. I was very inspired by these creative evenings as I was able to produce a real piece of art about human rights in a short period of time. I would have never tried other formats outside of my discipline (theatre and photography) if not this project. I used to be scared to draw because I think I am not good at it. But during the week I discovered that it is not the skill that matters most, but the idea you carry to the world. And working together makes it way more fun and meaningful as you share ideas in a group of like-minded people who will not judge you, but would help you to develop further.

It was indeed a beautiful experience. At the end of the week, I made a theatre performance called Hands of Humanity. I wanted to share how powerful storytelling could be used if done through theatre. I wrote a piece about autobiographical stories of my friends who went to war in Ukraine. It was very personal, yet still connected to the main theme of the project – I focused on human rights violations in the armed conflict. The entire group and organizers came to see it during one of the free evenings. By the end of my performance, I found most of them crying, both girls and boys, and no one could speak for at least 15 minutes after I was done. I was touched by this as I realized that no matter where we came from, we could relate to someone else’s story because it is in some way reminds us of our own pain. I found myself sobbing on the shoulder of a Belarussian participant, and giving hugs to people I felt so connected to even though we’ve met less than a week ago.

It was a wonderful opportunity and I am sure I would use the competences I’ve got out of it in my future projects. I was inspired, challenged, encouraged, fascinated – and all of this in one week! It may sound too idealistic, but to me, it was perfect and I would not want it any other way.

Yoran Wallinga: “When we stepped into our airplane to Georgia on February 17th we were not sure what to expect of what turned out to be a week of a lifetime.”

My name is Yoran Wallinga and I was one of the lucky people who participated in the first part of the “Arts for Human Rights Education” project. In this project, we came together with a group of 28 youngsters from different European countries to learn about human rights and human right education. When we stepped into our airplane to Georgia on February 17th we were not sure what to expect of what turned out to be a week of a lifetime.

The project we are participating in is a big one, as it exists of three phases. The first phase was a training course in Georgia, the second a youth exchange in Bulgaria and the third one a series of seminars in the Netherlands. For the first week of the project, I and three other young people of the EIDP traveled to Rustavi, an industrial town close to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Here we were welcomed in the ISCR, a scouting building which accommodated us for the week. While sharing a room with four to five people from other countries, we enjoyed the Georgian breakfasts, lunches, and dinners that were served to us.

While meeting the other youngsters from other countries was definitely fun, I quickly found out that this week would not only be about having fun and playing games. A busy seven-day schedule was ahead of us, with four sessions each day, keeping us busy from 9:30 to 19:00 each day. I expected this to be interesting, however also exhausting. My expectation was a classroom where an expert would speak to us, in a style similar to university lectures. However, this turned out to be completely different. The programme was based on non-formal and interactive education, which meant that there was no such one-way style of communication. In contrast, every participant was really active during the sessions and we were given the opportunity to learn by exploring ourselves. The main forms of education were discussing with other youth workers, playing games or working in groups on tasks. For me, this was the most intensive educational week in my life but the non-formal style of the week and the low-pressure interactive working made me enjoy it a lot.

The first day we had nice activities such as a walk through the city to get to know the other participants better. After the first day, the morning and afternoon sessions were about educating us about certain human right subjects. Informal and non-formal ways, we discussed a variety of topics, including human rights and its foundations, discrimination and hate speech. The most interesting about these sessions to me was getting to hear from other people and how they have experienced human rights violations in their countries. The touching stories from the other participants really opened my eyes, and also brought us closer as a group. Additionally, we also brought a visit to the public defender of Georgia in Tbilisi, which was really interesting.

In the late afternoons until the evening, we had so-called ‘art sessions’ in which we were given the opportunity to work with different forms of art. Here we tried to express what we had learned and created artworks that would make an impact on people or that would express our feelings. Each session we were given two hours of time to create something within a broad subject. We worked with illustrations, photography and cinematography as well as music. The group had some real artists in it, as some of the participants were excellent photographers, illustrators or actors. As I usually do not work with art this much, these were really refreshing sessions for me. We were given no specific task for each session, actually, there were no restrictions. This really opened up my creativity and with other participants, we made beautiful paintings, photo series and I even rapped (of which I hope the videos will never go online). Everyday left us with a proud feeling of what we had made in such a short time-span.

The last days were focussed on training us to be educators and facilitators of activities. In the second part of the project in April, when we go to Bulgaria for a youth exchange, we will be the facilitators. Mr. Paddison, our professional trainer, gave us some really useful insights on group dynamics. He explained to us how we should get the attention of groups, what is the best way to communicate with them and how to successfully create a learning environment.

However, the best part of the week was the group and the fun activities we did. We had a day-trip to Tbilisi and almost every evening the group was up to grab some drinks at a nearby bar or to just chill together in our accommodation. While the day-schedule was tiring, we found the energy to create an exhausting evening-schedule as well. One of the highlights was the supra we had, where we experienced a diner while listening and dancing to traditional Georgian music. Actually, this is where I felt I learned the most. Sharing personal stories with people who live in completely different worlds than I do was a great experience. It was really refreshing to hear from perspectives other than my own and of the bubble I live in in the Netherlands. The group really felt like my family throughout the week, and after the project finished we spent some more days together with part of the group, staying the same hostel and visiting other Georgian places.

The week was a great success, and now we are working hard to make the youth exchange in Bulgaria an even bigger success!