IMG_1252Forty-four alumni and three Alumni Coordinators from FLEX countries in the South Caucasus attended a trainings of trainers workshop to develop training plans for projects in their community at the fifth annual FLEX-Ability South Caucasus Workshop 2015 on September 3-6 in Bazaleti, Georgia.  Alumni learned how to create a project and implement the project in their community through project management trainings and developed their skills in targeted training on the subtopics of career skills, English language instruction, or social media and video skills. Alumni worked collaboratively in regional teams on their project ideas that they will implement upon returning home.  Alumni also led sessions to share their culture and encourage regional cooperation among alumni of the South Caucasus.

Alumni worked in their subtopic groups based on their interest and experience. Each subgroup was led by a Peace Corps volunteer and senior FLEX alumni trainers, including Sona Nahapetyan ’06 (Yerevan, Armenia/Haiku, HI), Farid Musabayov ‘11 (Baku, Azerbaijan/Pleasant Plains, IL), Hasmik Tonapetyan ‘09 (Gyumri, Armenia/San Antonio, TX) and FLEX/Workshop for Youth Leaders in Teaching English (WYLTE) alumna Ketevan Chapiashvili ‘14 (Dedoplistskaro, Georgia/Oswego, NY).  All workshop participants attended site visits related to their theme trainings to take a first-hand look at the projects local and regional organizations are conducting and to learn about organizations that they can partner with in the future.  Alumni groups visited Liberty Bank Headquarters, the American Corner in Tbilisi, and Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management of Georgian Institute for Public Affairs (GIPA). In addition to the subtopic and project design trainings, alumni were offered career development sessions on the topics of facilitation skills, communication across differences, personal growth and leadership, and presentation skills.

IMG_1620A central theme of the workshop was regional cooperation and understanding.  Alumni participated in teambuilding activities where they worked as regional teams to represent their U.S. regions and host communities from the FLEX exchange program.  The country teams also prepared videos and presentations to highlight the wider alumni community in their country and the activities that alumni organize. Participants also shared their country’s traditional dances, an activity that highlighted shared cultural aspects of all of the South Caucasus countries.

Public Affairs Officer and Acting U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Courtney E. Austrian and Educational and Professional Programs Coordinator Giorgi Gabunia from the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi joined the opening of the workshop.   Through their speeches and a panel session on opportunities, alumni also learned about funding opportunities to develop their project ideas including the FLEX Alumni and Global Youth Service Day grant programs, which are funded through the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Rinet Isajyan, grants officer from the U.S. Embassy in Armenia also attended the workshop.

IMG_1269During the project design and management trainings, alumni split into small teams to create projects that they can implement in communities across the South Caucasus.  Alumni designed 15 project initiatives and will return to their home communities to further develop the project plans with their local alumni, partner organizations, and schools.  The project initiatives reflected the subthemes that alumni were trained on at the conference and feature ideas of free English language classes for at risk communities, seminars on social media safety, and career skills trainings for college students. On the last day of the workshop alumni practiced teaching their sessions and facilitating activities in peer evaluation sessions with their peers from the workshop.

Upon the completion of the workshop the FLEX Alumni Program opened a call for proposals to support participants of the FLEX-Ability South Caucasus workshop with follow-on project support.  All alumni are required to implement two or more trainings through the end of November 2015, sharing the knowledge and skills learned at the workshop with youth in their community and in the region.

The workshop was made possible by funding from the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs with generous support from U.S. Embassies in the South Caucasus. Social Media specialists, participants, staff, and trainers posted live updates and pictures from the conference using the hashtags #SCFLEXAbility2015.

Participant anonymous feedback:

“This was the most awesome four days I have ever experienced and I will be forever thankful to FLEX for changing my life. This is the best thing that has ever happened to me”

“I learned that no matter from where you are from there is one thing that unites us all. That thing is FLEX program. We are part of one big family, and this workshop made me realize what can we accomplish if we work together and support each other.”

“How people can get together and brainstorm ideas even though they are from different countries. And I learned that we have lots of similarities with our two neighbor countries no matter where are you from.”

“I saw how similar we are and how with cooperating we can make our world a better place.”