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Community Leadership and Advocacy (CLA) : A Reflection

Yikealo, an asylum seeker from Eritrea, first joined ARDC as a student in the CLA class. Later he formally joined our staff and became the teacher for this important course. Below is a reflection he wrote on his experience as both a participant and as a teacher.

The Community Leadership and Advocacy (CLA) course is a good example of empowering marginalized communities by giving practical skills that can be used to deal with the complex environment they live in. The main approach endorses non-violent struggle for change, and helps community leaders strategically build power and organize their community for non-violent action in order to achieve that change.

The importance of the course for asylum seekers in Israel was profound, timely and relevant. There were a number of large demonstrations and other non-violent actions (such as the Rabin Square demonstration and ‘March for Freedom’ march from Holot to Jerusalem), which were initiated and managed by asylum seekers with the support of some NGOs and human rights activists in Israel. Nevertheless, no matter how big the demonstration or the march was, they yielded no specific outcomes. They rather left the asylum seeker community in despair and frustration. But why did the beautiful and technically “successful” actions bear no tangible outcomes? In the CLA course we tried to answer.

Although the course has a theoretical foundation, it was tailored to the needs of community leaders, and the needs of the community in general. Prospect participants were asked what skills they would like acquire to become better leaders. The first CLA course was developed and facilitated by Shatil, and two different groups were facilitated simultaneously - one in Tel Aviv and one in Holot, with each group having about ten participants.

I was one of the participants in Tel Aviv, and I attended every session. It did not just affect me, but it transformed me to the wider world of the social justice movement. It confirmed my often intuitive ideas about the subject, and the course boldened me to see there are people who truly believe in these ideals. But most of all, the knowledge I gained on strategic activism and community organizing was eye-opening. I had taken leadership courses during my college studies but not at the community level. I knew that I would give the knowledge back to the community.

Then, I was offered the position in ARDC to coordinate and facilitate the course as part of my job as community organizer. I wanted to tailor it better to the community members. I conducted around 17 personal meetings with community leaders to map the needs. Based on the skills list I gathered, I developed a revised curriculum with permission from Yael, my teacher who agreed and volunteered to mentor me. I first held the course in English but then used Tigrigna to encourage deeper understanding and engagement with the students.

A strong group of 8 people met every Thursday evening for four months; some of them would come from as far as Hod Hasharon and Petah Tikva to attend the meetings. It was experiential; participants told stories and life experiences, discussed current issues and shared personal issues. We had guest lecturers, who enriched the course from their personal stories and professional domains.

However, there were two challenges: time and Holot summons. Although we outlined the ground rules together, some participants were not punctual and we always half hour late. The second challenge was more difficult to deal with. Towards the end of the basic course, three of the participants were summoned to Holot. Although, they managed to finish the course, they were distracted and discouraged. Others were not sure if they would stay for the advanced course, which was planned for another two-month period.

The participants found the course to be “crucial.” They all suggested that it should be given to more people in the community. I saw that the notion of activism and advocacy was not something new to them because they are involved in many activities in the community. However, the idea of doing it strategically was eye-opening. They said that they could use the knowledge not only in Israel but also in their home country. The structure of the course was built in a way that showed how strategic and nonviolent activism could address discriminatory actions in Israel as well as support the greater fight against dictatorship in their native countries.

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