How can we encourage grassroots initiatives while taking into account development priorities of a specific region and local problems related to implementation of EU-funded projects? A training course to promote development of local initiatives in the region and implementation of projects on the basis of a territorially-oriented development (TOD) approach was held in Gomel within the framework of the Clearing House programme of ODB Brussels (Belgium). The event was part of the EU-UNDP project "Support to Local Development in the Republic of Belarus".
Yuliya Stankevich and Antanina Yelistratava, Clearing House programme consultants, organized a skills session on identifying specific local problems and searching for innovative solutions on the basis of European approaches. These skills are required for implementation of local initiatives: both by using independent resources and within the framework of EU-funded projects.
Antanina Yelistratava (on the left), Yuliya Stankevich (on the right), Clearing House programme consultants
Natallia Adamchyk, coordinator of contests of local initiatives, EU-UNDP project "Support to Local Development in the Republic of Belarus"
"The goal of the seminar is to help the participants learn to identify and formulate needs of local communities, build their capacity in implementing local initiatives aimed at sustainable development of their districts, their territories, as well as learn to cooperate with local authorities", says Natallia Adamchyk, coordinator of contests of local initiatives, EU-UNDP project "Support to Local Development in the Republic of Belarus". "Local communities independently identify priority areas where efforts and resources should be focused and where we can improve the quality of life".
The 1st Contest of Local Initiatives has already been held within the framework of the EU-UNDP project "Support to Local Development in the Republic of Belarus", its budget totaling 1,042,609 euro. In Gomel region only, 199,466 euro was allocated to implement winning proposals. In the 1st Contest of Local Initiatives, 5 pilot districts were selected in Gomel region, where the territorially oriented development approach will be taken into account (Bragin, Buda-Kashalyova, Vetka, Korma and Chechersk). In each of these five pilot districts, best proposals to implement grassroots initiatives taking into account priorities of their territorial development will be selected on a competition basis. It is planned that 87.5 thousand euro will be allocated to support the grassroots proposals for each of the pilot districts of Gomel region.
Participants of the training in Gomel
Discussion in small groups
About 30 participants of the training in Gomel, all representing different organizations of the region, voiced their ideas and proposals on how to resolve local problems and implement local initiatives. For instance, Vitaly Karpinsky, arts and crafts educator of Uvarovichi City House of Culture, has independently started working to revive local weaving traditions in order to preserve the historic and cultural heritage of Buda-Kashalyova district.
The craftsman has been collecting ancient rushniks (embroidered towels), as well as other items, and has already created a museum room; he has been studying ornaments on charms and charm craftsmanship techniques, as well as restoring the long-lost technologies of nabozhnik (towels for icons) weaving traditional for Buda-Kashalyova. Ancient technologies can be of interest even for modern schoolchildren, says Vitaly Karpinsky: taking up weaving is not difficult, so even children can easily learn to weave and even go on to become craftsmen. The learning process can be inclusive and accessible, European style: "The loom, which I restored from my childhood memories, is a table top one, not a foot pedal one, so it can be used by wheelchair users who can only work with their hands", explains Vitaly Karpinsky.
Vitaly Karpinsky, arts and crafts educator of Uvarovichi City House of Culture (Buda-Kashalyova district, Gomel region, Belarus)
Participants of the training in Gomel studies best cases of grassroots initiatives that have already been implemented. The coordinator for contests of the local initiatives, EU-UNDP project "Support to Local Development in the Republic of Belarus", cited a social entrepreneurship initiative by Kletsk Territorial Centre for Social Services as a successful example for Gomel region. The Centre constructed a stationary greenhouse to grow oyster mushrooms, employing three persons in a difficult life situation. Implementation of this initiative took into account not only the socio-economic but also the environmental approach (the latter is especially relevant for Gomel region, which suffered greatly from the Chernobyl disaster and where many mushroom-growing territories became dangerous for human health).
Participants of the training in Gomel
Participants of the Gomel meeting were also introduced to the international practice of implementing local initiatives, one such example being a leisure and sports development project in rural Latgale territories. In Kalupa district of Daugavpils region, Latvia, for instance, local authorities, a local school and NGOs joined effort and equipped a winter sports ground for hockey, figure skating, etc. This local initiative received 7,109 euro in funding. Other examples of grassroots initiatives include revival of historical memories by erecting monuments to the former political prisoners and creating collections of memories, restoration of a historic organ in Kalupa catholic church, awareness-raising activities among the general population on recycling, training the unemployed in computer skills, etc.
Iryna Zhorava, Chief Specialist of the Department of International Cooperation of the Committee of Economics of Gomel Regional Executive Committee
Iryna Zhorava, Chief Specialist of the Department of International Cooperation of the Committee of Economics of Gomel Regional Executive Committee, noted that the process of implementing the EU-UNDP project "Support to Local Development in the Republic of Belarus" helped many districts of the Gomel region assess their potential: "They could see the potential for implementation of their ideas, and that is why they became so actively involved. We are now trying to engage all our organizations in this process, and explain to them what opportunities the European Union and the UNDP can currently provide".