Whatever we say about the Arkutino 2017 Summer School for NGOs will be insufficient to recreate our impressions of the unforgettable experiences of the people who participated. For 6 days each one of the participants took up the role of a student, teacher, observer, co-star, or organizer.
The school, as always, gathered together people both different and alike, and challenged the participants to work in small groups and in pairs.
We all have gone through wondering about and considering the personal contribution and the role of the organization in which we work; on the mission, values, activities and purposes, the small and the great, the community and personal understanding of the life of civil organizations. Because the cause is an important goal for all of us, but also a challenge for everyone who has chosen the way of creation, movement and work in the civil sector.
School as it should be
Preparing homework, active learning, solving task small and large - thus provoking participants to be active, focused on the implementation of their activities and being able to present their ideas and positions to the public. The verification of knowledge here can be related to the adjustment of a clock with the novelties in the normative requirements, the ability to express our position and to be enterprising in the initiatives we realize. And it would only be a theory if it were not the infinite sea of case studies that evoked imagination, emotion, knowledge, and skills.
School life was extremely active during the breaks between the sessions, but of course there were a few “beach breaks”. Walking to your lecturer with a question for which you were gathering the courage to ask throughout the session, even if you are a bit bolder now than a few years ago when trying to ask something, kept its unique charm. The desire to do something together conquered us, and we talked fiercely about our causes. Naturally, there was a desire to join forces and seek support, to give a hand to the man next to us and to his cause. We are happy that every year, in June, we have the opportunity to return at least for a few days and in this time to help civilly active people fight for the change they want to make more successfully.
Sunday was a great day to start
We announced the Summer Outdoor School as opened when Lyuben Panov helped participants and lecturers get to know each other, to present themselves and the organizations they work for and thus begin working together in a comfortable and familiar environment.
The first topic was devoted to the intersection between the media and non-governmental organizations. Nadya Obretenova - Program Director at BNT, Vladimir Yonchev - editor-in-chief of OFFNews and Haralan Alexandrov - social anthropologist led us оn the way to а common language and mutual understanding. The lecturers gave practical directions and tips for working with the media, and the participants asked questions for issues which they encountered in their practice. It has become clear that there is such an intersection, as good news have becoming increasingly desirable and sought after for the media, and it is up to NGOs to create them.
Going from an idea to a working organization and achieving financial sustainability were the second day’s highlights. And all this combined with exams at “no time”, which however took place just in time to examine what was learned about the right to association, everything related to the activities of non-profit legal entities and the management processes in organizations.
In the world of fairy tales or have they ever met Hitar Peter and Pinocchio?
The answer we reached at the end of the first day was definitely "yes." We know the exact place and time - a hill in Arkutino, at sunset in the third week of June 2017. We arrived there through a game created by Anna Adamova and Eyelin Yumerova from our team, where everyone gets the role of a fairy-tale character and a task in revealing a mystery. Rapunzel, Mecho, The Three Fools, Gin and Aladdin, pirates, mermaids, even Einstein conquered Arcoutino and the beach in search of pieces of the puzzle, with which the task could be solved.
Advocacy on the third day
In the session, led by Lyuben Panov from BCNL, the participants learned more about forms of civic participation and the ways in which they could be involved in the legislative process. Through a role-playing game, they learned of ways to defend their position and working persuasion strategies. The participants entered in the shoes of representatives of the government, NGOs and members of a legal committee in the Parliament and had the opportunity to put forward their arguments for "and" against the draft Law.
Verba volant, scripta manent, or how and why to express our position in writing was a natural continuation of the day. With the help of Anna Adamova, Eilin Yumerova and Pavleta Alexieva, the participants were instructed to formulate and present their views and arguments in writing. They also learned more about ways to create coalitions and why partnership is important.
On the fourth day, we asked questions related to the additional business and tax issues in the NGO activities. The participants were reflecting on case studies and inspired by examples of successful social enterprises. Leader of the session was Pavleta Alexieva.
Project writing is an integral part of the everyday life of each NGO, so the topic of humanizing the project format was particularly close to the participants. Georgi Genchev, the head of the NGO Portal, showed us in practice how to link the goals, activities and the right indicators to measure the results of our work. Ralitsa Nikolova, again from the NGO Portal, led us through the theme of the living, human language, through which we should be able to explain our causes and be understood by society, business, volunteers, the media.
Day Five was dedicated to gathering donations from individual and corporate donors. Guest lecturers on the subject were Maria Kiselova and Anelia Todorova from Museo's Fusion Team. They reminded us that attracting sponsors requires inspiration, dedication, transparency and persistence. Because fund raising is actually friends raising.
Pretty long break, but on the beach - the last night at the Summer School we sent away the day and enjoyed the sunset together.
Day sixth and last
And as the title of the session suggested ("Radini Vulneniya"), the participants presented the group tasks which they had been working on since the first day. This happened before the mayor, the municipal councilors and a deputy, where the groups presented arguments in defense of their own ideas. After presenting what they had learned all were considered winners and awarded awards and well-deserved recognition - certifications for successful crossing of the Arkutino Summer School for NGOs, so the 2017 class got the right to join the Alumni Club of the Summer School to get to meet many more interesting people in the civil sector.
Whatever happens, eventually any experience, such as the Summer School, is reflected through one’s personal experience. We share the opinion of one of the participants, posted in the facebook group of this year's participants - Mihaela Kozovska, Black Sea Network of Non-Governmental Organizations:
"Dear summer classmates,
Yesterday, when I was going around like crazy all day long through the endless Saturday life of joy, including unpacking and spreading luggage from Arkutino, I came across a button. You remember – that the one they gave us the first day and which we had to give to the person who most inspired us, impressed us, dazzled us, and so on. No, I did not forget to give it to someone. I could not choose just one of you. The other option was to break it into small pieces and give one to all participants and teachers. In fact, you just did this - you gave me a piece of yourself, and as a magic-colored kaleidoscope of invaluable pieces you arranged into my mind and my memory. And this knob will always remind me of laughter, fun, fascinating lessons, fun games, busy work, and an even more concise and merry visit to the beach bar. For a long time, I have not been in a place with so many interesting, smart, well-intentioned, strong-spirited, good-hearted, affectionate and dedicated people. Thank you!
And I know that, as in Valery Petrov's “Sleep Button”, little Oggy could not fall asleep because he worries about the worm, the locked cats and the missing kangaroo, even though they were only fairy-tale characters, so I know you also will not stop standing up for and fighting for your good thoughts and deeds.
And no one can tell you the opposite!”