WAPA – War Affected People’s Association, is one of the projects supported by our Foundation as part of our solidarity project funding activities. WAPA fights against the use of children in armed conflict and for their reintegration into strengthened communities. The association works with local partners and is already active in Uganda, Sri Lanka and Colombia. The more specific project supported by Azickia is that of reintegration through art therapy in Colombia, in partnership with the local NGO Proyectarte.
WAPA, like so many other international solidarity organisations, has not been spared by the difficulties linked to COVID-19 and the strict health conditions imposed by the Belgian government: indeed, important fundraising events had to be scaled down or even cancelled, offices were temporarily closed, projects on the ground were disrupted and had to be adapted. Being physically remote, it was imperative to maintain links between colleagues, with local partners and project participants. The keys in these turbulent times: resilience and digitalisation!
Exploring the world through our screen
During the first lockdown, digital technology enabled us to stay in touch and – for the majority of us – to be able to maintain a professional activity. For associations and organisations working in the field, far from their head office, online tools have proved to be indispensable for maintaining their actions but also for continuing their development and extending their impact. For WAPA, the plan to extend its actions in a new country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, was not cancelled by the lockdown, but adapted thanks to digital technology.
For many years now, WAPA has been keen to start working with a local Congolese partner (DRC) to support young people demobilised from armed groups in the east of the country. WAPA had planned to fly to Kivu, first at the beginning of July, a mission that was postponed, then in October, again postponed.
Faced with all these uncertainties, WAPA decided to organise for the first time a virtual exploratory mission with a series of potential partners. The organisation will apply the same selection criteria as before, except that everything will be decided on the basis of online visits and interviews. As soon as possible, the WAPA managers of the Congo project will visit the site to confirm their first impressions and strategic choices.
On the agenda: online meetings with the project managers – both the team and the board of directors and volunteers, programme beneficiaries, and all other stakeholders. WAPA also takes this opportunity to meet with local officials and heads of international organisations present in the region. The different organisations met during the week are evaluated in the same way as during a traditional « on the ground » mission: common values, relevance of the project to WAPA’s mission, local administrative and logistical resources, geographical location, transparency of accounts, communication capacities etc.
The objective remains the same: to meet THE local partner with whom WAPA will be able to carry out sustainable programmes for children used in armed groups, to provide them with the most comprehensive care possible… without the pleasure of travel and cultural encounters.
If WAPA has chosen to go on with this exploratory mission, it is because they are convinced that the work carried out there with former child soldiers is urgent, essential and yet severely underfunded. To be continued…
Transforming teaching material
In addition to its field missions and fundraising for its local partners, WAPA also carries out advocacy (the #SIGN4WING petition, the creation of the WING platform, meetings with political representatives, etc.) and awareness-raising activities (WAPA live, the “Essential” campaign, etc.) for different audiences.
WAPA and the Belgian Red Cross are jointly organising activities in secondary schools in French-speaking Belgium on the issue of child soldiers. In order to face the crisis, they have worked on the creation of a digital version of the educational tool.
Teachers will now be able to access the material (visuals, comic books, press articles, stories, videos, photos), following the course of the activities to get the pupils to react and think about possible solutions and actions on the theme.
For example, thanks to the tool “My Dignity is…”, students are invited to reflect on what makes them dignified citizens, by building the wall of dignity: each brick of the wall represents a key element of dignity such as access to health, education, having a home, feeling physically safe, or even having internet for some…. These different notions will be reused later in the workshop to talk about the importance of protecting children in armed conflict and IHL (International Humanitarian Law).
WAPA and the Red Cross also offer teachers a direct exchange between students and Red Cross and WAPA facilitators via videoconference (Zoom, Skype,…) so that students can ask any questions they wish and facilitators can share field experiences. We hope that the same magic will work!
Zoom on WAPA’s Art therapy tutorials in Colombia
Maintaining art therapy sessions during full lockdown in Colombia also quickly proved to be a major challenge. Indeed, during the lockdown period, the children welcomed in the rehabilitation centres do not have the possibility to see people from the outside. It is therefore impossible for the art therapy facilitators to go and give the workshops. In Cali, the project coordinator, Edna, and the artist, Juan Camillo, have launched remote sessions via Skype, in addition to tutorials for the artistic parts. They also made calls to their students to check up on them, share their feelings and the difficulties of confinement. Deprived of all other activities, the young people felt isolated and began to get bored. They saw, thanks to these artistic meetings, an opportunity to escape psychologically.
However, whether for the team work at WAPA, for the meetings with local partners, the awareness workshops here in Belgium or the art therapy workshops in Colombia, nothing will ever replace human contact and “live” human exchange.
Nevertheless, during exceptional periods, WAPA tried to find temporary or medium-term solutions to be able to maintain its activities. As soon as other options are possible, the team will analyse best practices in terms of digitalisation and will get back on the road to its partners, programme participants, students… as soon as possible.
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