human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Advocacy in Practice

Sharing best practices across the Caritas network

No matter how motivated and how inspired you are to initiate a great project for your organisation, professional development  support from your employer can take you a step further. Caritas’ Advocacy Learning Path, which took place between April 8th and 11th in Lisbon, equipped its participants with targeted training, and a sharing opportunity, that will help us progress with our advocacy initiatives.

Caritas is the kind of family that not only cares for those in need, but also provides a pool of invaluable opportunities for its employees to sustain them in their marathon towards social justice. This robust investment process works as a fertile ground upon which staff engagement flourishes, and allows members to delve deeper into the process of transforming policies, plans and objectives into tangible results.

My participation in the Advocacy Learning Path is one of those indispensable opportunities provided by Caritas Europa which created a space to enhance my skills, to share knowledge with International colleagues and transfer competences. The added value of this learning path is that theory is complemented by practice. By bringing together Advocacy experts from member organisations all around Europe, we had the chance to share best practices, techniques, tools and tactics that are already working well in certain circumstances and scope putting potential linkages between the strategies which create real change.

This module of the Advocacy Learning Path helped me to sharpen my way of thinking, to see and shape assumptions, and to perceive concepts through a wider and more structured lens. The workshop also facilitated the formulation of a handful of questions which will help me define what kind of goals are attainable, and in where there is still room to heighten aspirations. The learning path was an interesting experience which clearly revealed the links between work carried out in the field and the possibility to project this diverse grassroots-level expertise into our advocacy work.

Photo: Armenian Caritas / Christine Mkhitaryan

I hope to bring the skills and mindset I have gained through the Learning Path back to Armenian Caritas. For years, Armenian Caritas has been implementing projects aimed at fostering the integration of children and youth with multiple disabilities, and their families, into society; improving their social and life skills, and preparing them to become independent.

At a certain point during this process of support, we started to reflect on the necessity of creating a model through which our ideas of inclusiveness could be implemented in practice. We decided to extend our work beyond promoting public awareness for inclusion of children with disabilities, and to include another aspect: to build the resilience of young people with disabilities. This would involve providing them with opportunities to become competitive in the labour market since employment is a key element of integration and could help evolve public attitude towards inclusive principles.

Thus, Armenian Caritas and its Emili Aregak Center brought to life the idea of the First Inclusive & Barrier-Free Bakery and Coffee Shop in Gyumri with the aim of increasing awareness  about the employability of people with disabilities (PWD). Now, four young people with disabilities and four mothers of young people with disabilities are employed in Aregak Bakery & Cafe and it serves as a best practice example of inclusive employment and accessibility in Gyumri.

By providing a place for the community to interact with PWD Aregak is changing mindsets. Another step is engaging and advocating towards cultural institutions including the media, schools, businesses and the government. This would help to galvanise the process of building partnerships with vocational schools, colleges and relevant organisations in order to empower young people with training opportunities which can serve as pathways for their integration into the labour market.

Along with the everyday work of the Bakery, Emili Aregak leads advocacy campaigns in which youth with disabilities, stakeholders, and the general public participate. One such event was Emili Aregak Disability Awareness Walk which gathered more than 100 people walking in solidarity with PWD and carrying banners/signs. Under the motto EmployOurAbility, Emili Aregak has been conducting trainings on various skills and competences for about 50 young people with disabilities to improve their competitiveness in the labour market.

While theories may have wide applicability, they very often lack tangible and explicit approaches. By learning from implicit renderings of applied practices, such as those presented during the Learning Path, real changes can be achieved by identifying key points in one’s own project which can be further developed.

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Christine Mkhitaryan

Advocacy Officer
Project Manager “Parish Social Ministries”
Armenian Caritas

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