A worldwide increase in crises and violent conflicts can be seen.Countries in the Middle East, Asia and the African continent are affected by conflicts, but more recently so are neighbouring European countries such as Belarus and, with the outbreak of war in February 2022, of course Ukraine. It is not unusual for the Institute for International Cooperation (DVV International) to work in crisis regions. However, work in conflict-affected countries has recently become exceptionally intense and requires a high level of crisis response capacity. In addition, there is a need for up-to-date teaching and learning approaches in order to be able to make important contributions to crisis management through youth and adult education.
DVV International works in over 30 countries worldwide, for the most part with its own local offices. Even though in the past only a few locations were in countries with increased security risks, there were always local, internal conflicts and conflicts between countries to which it was necessary to respond. As for security-related risks, DVV International has tried-and-tested approaches, security guidelines and experience from its work in crisis-prone countries. The offices abroad are in close contact with the German diplomatic missions and are integrated into their security architecture.
However, the past year has now also clearly shown that major crises and, as in Ukraine, even a state of war can quickly arise. In such cases, it is important to react rapidly and ensure the safety of the staff. If framework conditions allow, new approaches to our work are sought in order to be able to continue education and training programmes. In this context, both transnational and virtual formats come into play, such as those already used during the Corona pandemic. In the very recent past, special attention has been paid to project activities in Afghanistan and Belarus, and by no means least of all, in Ukraine.
In this respect, the most drastic example in 2021 was certainly Afghanistan. DVV has no office of its own there, but is involved through a local partner organisation. Over the past 20 years, the Afghan National Association for Adult Education (ANAFAE) was developed through a large number of affiliated learning centres in order to address massive educational backlogs among youth and adults. The Taliban’s seizure of power presented ANAFAE and DVV International with major challenges. Because the work in Afghanistan is aimed in particular at improving educational opportunities for girls and women, it is potentially at risk under the new regime. DVV International is now endeavouring to continue the work in Afghanistan to the extent that at least the core of the structures that have been built up over many years can be maintained.
In the summer of 2021, state authorities in Belarus did not renew a permit for the operation of an office in the country. Unfortunately therefore, DVV had to close its Minsk office at very short notice, dismiss the staff and reformulate its funding plans. Contact with Belarusian partners and experts in the country and in the diaspora had been planned to continue at the end of 2021 through a regional project managed from Kiev. This is currently extremely difficult due to the war in Ukraine since most of the local staff are currently no longer based in Kiev, have to work digitally, and cross-border measures can at the moment no longer take place in Ukraine.
Until the outbreak of war in Ukraine, DVV worked with eleven civil society providers of non-formal adult education at eight locations (Sumy, Poltava, Melitopol, Nikopol, Mykolaiv, Kyiv, Vinnytsia and Lviv), piloting innovative educational programmes and inspiring and accompanying numerous local civil society initiatives. Since the beginning of the war in February 2022, eight local partners are still active in education work. However, these partners are also involved in helping refugees and providing for those in need, organising shelters and soup kitchens, and sewing protective equipment for the soldiers, as well as being involved in civil defence measures. They quickly reorganised their course offerings and now mainly offer first aid courses, educate people about disinformation and train them in critical thinking in order to be able to cope with the flood of information. New courses, or courses adapted to the war situation such as art therapy and other forms of coping with stress and trauma, are also offered. Working in cooperation with selected Volkshochschulen (adult education centres), the Ukrainian adult education centres also provide advice in virtual formats on how to design and expand the range of educational opportunities for Ukrainian refugees in Germany.
Apart from Afghanistan, Belarus and Ukraine, there are other crisis- and conflict-ridden project countries in which DVV International is active – but so far with less dramatic effects. In Mali, the conflicts are mainly concentrated in the north of the country, and in other countries as well, it is individual parts of the country that are usually affected, such as in Georgia, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Colombia.
One may ask why DVV with its international institute is active at all in crisis regions and their neighbouring states. The work has its justification in terms of both development and education policy. The new German government coalition agreement, in the chapter on development cooperation, provides for further strengthening of civil society actors, whose scope for action is increasingly limited (“shrinking spaces”). The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) is increasingly focusing on the least developed countries, which are potentially more vulnerable to conflict. In addition to Ukraine, Africa and the countries of the Middle East continue to receive considerable attention in the context of flight and migration.
With the 2030 Agenda, the United Nations has set itself the goal of “leaving no one behind” and, with the education goal (SDG 4), the focus is on promoting lifelong learning for everyone. In poor and fragile countries, literacy rates are often extremely low. Education systems are poorly developed, chronically underfunded and of low quality, especially in remote areas and rural regions. A large number of people suffer from precarious living conditions, poverty and instability. This is where the work of the Institute enters the picture, with the fostering of sustainable youth and adult education structures and demand-driven approaches that strengthen the community, that include income-generating measures, that prevent or seek to deal with conflicts, enable reconciliation, strengthen participation and promote transitions into formal education systems.
How the work of DVV International looks in concrete terms can be illustrated by a few examples. In Mali, we support extensive literacy programmes with our local partners. These are linked via integrated approaches and in so-called REFLECT circles with income-generating measures and the strengthening of the community in rural areas. In Colombia, Education for Sustainable Development(ESD) is used as a peace-building strategy.
In Central Asia, a number of projects work within the context of the prevention of extremism in order to strengthen the resilience of vulnerable populations who are at risk of being radicalised.
These examples should make it clear that DVV International does not just react to crises. After all, the fostering of youth and adult education offers relevant and effective approaches – precisely tailored and designed with local partners – to proactively confront conflicts, provide support through continuing education and strengthen social cohesion, in Germany and around the world.