British Council Iraq,  in cooperation with Ethar Humanitarian Foundation,  has launched the second round of the Active Citizens programme after a series of successes achieved in year one. This week, 28 young activists gathered in Erbil to start their journey as “active citizens” and to share their thoughts  and experiences of voluntary work. The participants were  groups of activists who have been arranging a number of voluntary campaigns to tackle the current society problems in Iraq, in particular in those places to which they were displaced  after ISIS took over Anbar province . Their search for a safe haven  resulted  in the loss of all their possessions. Nevertheless, despite being  IDPs themselves, they have forged ahead with  initiatives designed to alleviate the sufferings of their fellow IDPs . After completing the Active Citizens journey, they felt that the Active Citizens programme had united them as a family. They realise that by combining  their efforts and synergy  they can achieve a greater impact on  their communities.. One of them said:

“I have learned that dialogue and listening to others can solve any problems rather than engaging in endless arguments that make things worse. Also, communication with larger groups within the community helps the community itself  to identify and solve its own  problems”

Among the attendees, a group of 10 deaf activists (also displaced from Anbar province) joined the workshop as active citizens. They were very well received by others; they participated actively, and their inputs added value both to the workshop and to the participants themselves. It was the first time for  deaf activists to be included in such a workshop and participate inclusively  rather than separately. They  were able to communicate easily with others using  sign language and make  new friendships,  which motivated them and made them feel  part of this community, unlike before. One of them commented:

“On the first day I thought people would not accept us because of our disability and we felt embarrassed when they looked at our way of communicating by  using signs only, but when we joined  the others and started the activities together we saw how well  we could  get along and that made us feel more comfortable and now we have speaking friends”

A speaking participant said: “Since having this opportunity to meet educated deaf people I have  learned not to judge people by appearances. I now realise that they  can  enter into a dialogue, discuss, and convince others  in exactly the same way as  we do, which is very impressive. While they may  have their own separate world,  it is up to us to bring them on board and break  down any  barriers”.

The active citizens suggested a number of ideas to be considered as social action projects such as: 

Ø  - Promoting the Active Citizens programme within  the deaf community and expanding  the network.

Ø  - Encouraging people to learn sign language to communicate easily with deaf people in order  to achieve social solidarity and  help  integrate deaf people into society.

Ø  - Providing vocational training for IDPs to give them better job opportunities.

These ideas will be discussed in detail with the active citizens and the partner organisation for implementation starting in August 2016.