150 children, aged 12–17, from 30 communities in Moldova, learned how to prevent and combat violence in school and in their community this summer. The trainings by the children rights organization Terre des hommes Moldova, within the summer school ALEG (Adolescent Leaders for Gender Equality), took place throughout July. Topics included bullying, tolerance, diversity, and gender equality. Children also learned strategies for resilience and emotional management, self-awareness, stress management, and how to resolve conflicts peacefully and effectively.
Anatol Oprea, child protection specialist at Tdh Moldova and the project coordinator, pointed out that children studied these topics through a non-formal approach: ‘We taught them how to do peer-to-peer activities, how to stage social theatre performances and how to develop a community initiative in order to solve the problems they identify’.
The trainings particularly focused on bullying. Although this phenomenon is widespread in local society and culture, not only among children, it often goes unnoticed and is normalized – explaining why children who face this form of aggression usually do not have the support and protection of adults.
Psychologist Daniela Terzi-Barbăroșie says that while bullying is part of the violent behaviours spectrum, it has several distinctive elements which separate it from ‘classic’ aggression, and that adults working with children should know and be aware of these. ‘First of all, this behaviour is intentional. The person, who uses such a type of social interaction, really wants to cause discomfort, humiliation or pain. Then, this behaviour tends to be repetitive, never manifests in a single episode, as opposed to acts of spontaneous violence between children. Bullying acts will be repeated over and over again and will never stop by itself without intervention. Another feature is that bullying, unlike conflicts, is never between the victim and the aggressor; it is a group phenomenon, because the person who commits an act of bullying needs the so-called "fan group" and the act of aggression he or she commits is for the sake of this support group, to be validated by it, to be popular.’ And last, but not least, explains the psychologist, ‘a person who constantly bullies start to get pleasure from this act’.
‘One method we used to raise awareness among children was the Forum Theatre. They had to stage real-life situations of bullying they or their colleagues experienced, putting themselves in the shoes of the aggressor, his supporters and the victim’, says Teodora Rebeja, program manager at Tdh Moldova and trainer at ALEG summer school. ‘Some of the situations exposed by the children were extremely harsh, for example the case of a girl who was thrown out of a window by her colleagues. Other simulated situations reflected cases when teachers become victims of bullying done by children or, on the contrary, when the teacher is the aggressor. Children had very intense experiences and reactions during these simulations, some of them reliving painful moments and situations, admitting that they also went through bullying situations. Even children, who were initially convinced that there is no bullying in their schools, were affected during the simulations and realized that this phenomenon is present in their schools as well, but the cases of bullying are not recognized and nobody is aware of them and, thus, are omitted.’
Teodora Rebeja stressed that children are affected and experience such cases very intensely, the most painful being, however, the feeling of helplessness; they cannot find solutions to the bullying situations they are exposed to. The consequences – especially if they have no one to support them, adults or children – can be very serious, such as the child leaving school, somatization and even attempted suicide.
Vasile Stoler, a student from a gymnasium in the village of Tocuz, in the district of Causeni, says that during the trainings he ‘discovered how to overcome bullying, what methods to use and how to intervene if one sees cases of bullying in school. I was exposed myself to this phenomenon, but I also intervened in bullying situations’.
Each school from the 30 project communities sent five students to the ALEG summer school. Starting this autumn, these children will create initiative groups and will act as agents of change in their schools in order to reduce violence. The initiative groups will implement their new knowledge over the summer and carry out activities in their schools, engaging other colleagues, identifying problems and difficult situations in school together. They will stage social theatre performances, will carry out peer-to-peer education, and will develop community initiatives to involve the community in finding reliable solutions.
Tamara Balamatiuc, a student in the 11th grade at the Theoretical High School in Sculeni, says that all the information she obtained at the summer school will continue to be useful, and that she is looking forward to passing it on to her colleagues. ‘Practically everything I learned in the trainings was new to me, and I want to pass it on to the children in my school. In particular, I want to do peer-to-peer lessons with my peers and talk about violence and bullying. I want to gather as many children as possible in my group and carry out as many activities as possible’, Tamara decided.
In order to hold their meetings and activities, the initiative groups will set up ALEG clubs in their schools. This classroom where students could meet, according to their own ideas, would be designed with the knowledge they gained at a graffiti workshop with artist Izzy Izvne. Terre des hommes will help to equip them.
In parallel with the trainings for children, Terre des hommes Moldova also conducted a series of trainings for adults, which were attended by 60 teachers from the 30 project communities, and 30 school directors and representatives from 17 educational districts. More information about these trainings is available here.
ALEG Summer School took place within the project ‘Preventing Violence Against Children through Community Engagement’, implemented by Terre des hommes Moldova, between 2018 and 2021, in 30 communities around the country, with the support of Oak Foundation and UNICEF Moldova.