By Iraqi Social Forum and ICSSI Secretariats – August 15, 2017

On 4-5 August 2017, the Iraqi Social Forum (ISF), in cooperation with the Democratic Cultural Forum in Kut, organized a training to prepare youth volunteers to become facilitators in nonviolence; the training involved a group of 11 young activists in Kut, and was held at the National Center for the Care of Talent in Wasit. This past year, the city of Kut has witnessed an increase in volunteer work within civil society; many new groups and teams have come together to organize events and activities dedicated to addressing social issues and working for positive change.

The training was led by Ghailan al-Jubouri, an activist working within the nonviolence masar (path) of the ISF. During the training, participants learned about the general principles of nonviolence, how to organize nonviolent campaigns, and the tools and techniques needed to establish an organized and effective nonviolent struggle. Yasmin Falah, member of the ISF secretariat, introduced the group to the work of the ISF and its various masar (paths), each aimed at creating a more peaceful coexistence and a better reality for Iraq. She explained how the ISF coordinates the efforts of activists and volunteer groups to achieve its goals.

The participants reacted very positively to the training. They presented a number of practical examples of their own nonviolent activities, perhaps the most prominent was the contribution by some to the establishment of a cultural street in Kut, similar to al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad. For those who are unfamiliar, al-Mutanabbi Street is the heart of Baghdad’s literary district, for centuries known for its booksellers and flourishing intellectual community. Since its opening in September 2016, people have referred to this new street as “the cultural street of the Tigris”. The idea behind ​​its organization was to encourage the citizens of Wasit to read and purchase books and other publications, after a significant drop in reading was observed due to increasing dependence on the internet and social networks. Thus, the street is dedicated to selling books of all kinds; literary, cultural and scientific. It also acts as a venue for events highlighting the work of writers, artists and media journalists. Other campaigns worked to clean up a number of streets in Kut which had been previously closed due to waste and pollution, thus opening the city up to residents and visitors.

The trainees agreed to work within the framework of the Social Forum in Wasit, drawing on the values ​​and objectives of the Iraqi Social Forum as a basis for their activities in Kut. They agreed to organize a campaign promoting freedom of expression, as the city now struggles against attempts to suppress such freedoms and violate basic rights.

Many of the young activists who attended the training are already members of teams  working within civil society. These include the Democratic Cultural Forum in Wasit, a group that supports cultural, intellectual, artistic and scientific movements, and tries to strengthen links between its members and all those interested in cultural activities. It also promotes diversity in Iraq. Its members were key contributors to the establishment of the ‘cultural street of the Tigris’ in Kut (mentioned above).

Other participants in the training were members of the Developers Organization for Training and Human Rights, a registered organization established in 2016, which is concerned with sustainable development, education and the promotion and protections of human rights. They contributed to the organization of number of events, including a New Year’s celebration called “Wasit my Love.” They have also helped to form an Iraqi team for blogging, launched a campaign called “I am developer for language learning”, and created a library where people can study works dedicated to human rights.

Still other participants in the training contribute to the Friends of the Environment team, which was established in 2013, and works on a number of campaigns in the field of water conservation and hygiene in cooperation with UNICEF. They launched a campaign to plant community gardens throughout the city of Kut, and another campaign to renovate a number of schools. They also organized an annual spring festival in the city.

This training comes within the framework of an integrated program in which the ISF seeks to establish voluntary teams in cities located on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. These groups are concerned with the consolidation of social peace, nonviolence, raising awareness about civil society issues, the promotion of active citizenship, and the acceptance of ‘the other’ as one’s equal. The program is implemented by the Iraqi Social Forum with the support of the Swiss Fondation Assistance Internationale (FAI), in cooperation with the Information Center for Research and Development, the Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI) and the Italian organization Un Ponte Per…