“I never expected to see you here” (echo)

At the end of the workshop, the trainers from IWPR and UN Women, as well as the participants from Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Georgia, all went out to a bar called Calumet in Yerevan. Selecting Calumet was appropriate because the bar’s name means peace–people of all nationalities and all religions are welcome–and our workshop had been about conflict resolution. After I took this picture, Lena Badalyan, from CSJMM, came up to me and said, “I never expected to see you here,” and I echoed her remark. Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Playing a role in an escalating conflict

We are in a workshop called “Training in Advocacy and Reporting Strategies.” The IWPR (Institute for War and Peace Reporting) is implementing the workshop for UN Women as part of an initiative called “Women Connected for Peace—The Voice of Change.” Six participants from Georgia as well as four from the conflict zones of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have traveled to Yerevan, Armenia.

On the morning of the first day, professor Revaz Jorbenadze asks us to participate in a practical exercise in conflict escalation. We must create a conflict scenario and play different roles. Here’s our scenario—a man and his friends are drinking beer while watching a soccer match (during the workshop period, the Euro 2012 championship has been grabbing the attention of millions of soccer fans, including me). The man allows his 14-year-old son to drink beer, and when the wife/mother returns, she is upset. As the family conflict grows louder and louder, neighbors complain. Then someone suggests breaking a neighbor’s window in retaliation. Reva used the exercise to discuss conflict resolving theory and strategies of behavior in conflict situations.

Initial planning for a conflict reporting class for USC and CSJMM students

Gaby Peschiera-Carl, assistant director of Study Abroad at USC, conversing with us in Tbilisi via Skype.

One of the objectives of the “Journalism School Partnership Program” grant is to initiate student exchanges between the University of South Carolina (USC) and the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management (CSJMM). In order to fulfill this objective, we need to identify subject matter that USC students could learn in Tbilisi, Georgia, that they could not learn at USC. Ideally, USC students would be able to learn this subject matter better in Tbilisi than in any other city in the world. That’s a tall order. But we have an idea–conflict reporting. There are four conflict zones within a 1-day drive of Tbilisi: conflicts between Abkhazia and Georgia, South Ossetia and Georgia, Armenia and Turkey, as well as Armenia and Azerbaijan. Most important, students can safely approach one side of the conflicts and talk with people on that side.

The course we are imagining would differ from “standard” courses in a few ways. One, instead of studying with Americans, USC students will study with Georgian students. The opportunities for cross-cultural interaction will be high both inside and outside the classroom. Two, instead of learning from one professor, students will converse with multiple experts. The Institute of War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) and CSJMM have good connections with reporters as well as with citizen bloggers. Three, instead of studying inside a classroom most of the week and traveling on weekends, USC and CSJMM students will go on frequent field trips as part of their course.

Baadur Koplatadze, dean of CSJMM and Beka Bajelidze, region director of IWPR, will begin working on a syllabus and lesson plans. They also will begin to develop a budget. We need to provide housing and transportation for 10-16 USC students for 4-5 weeks. We also need to calculate the costs of the field trips. Meanwhile, assistant director of Study Abroad at USC, Gaby Peschiera-Carl, will guide us through the process of creating a new study abroad course.

We began with a Skype conference call. If you have any suggestions, email Keith Kenney at kkenney@sc.edu or comment on the blog.

Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR)

Giorgi Kupatadze (left) and Beka Bajelidze at IWPR; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

I’m soooooooo pleased that Beka and IWPR invited me to participate in a 3-day workshop in Yerevan, Armenia in June. We’ll be conducting a workshop for 10 women from South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Georgia. Our goal is to empower these women to become advocates for women’s issues by teaching them to create stories in words and video for social media such as blogs and Facebook. Each participant will receive a simple camcorder, and I will teach them how to use this tool to tell interesting stories. I’ll also share some blogging tips based upon my experiences this past year. I LOVE this type of scholarship, which is commonly know as “participatory action research” because members of a community participate with a researcher in order to take action.