by Afreen Alam
From the first glance at the Animator Training (AT) manual or its description, we, as in the development scholars and activists may wonder about the efficacy of such a program. Yet, it has been the foundation of The Hunger Project’s (THP) actions and successes for years and continues to grow in participation, outreach, capacity and efficacy. People are often surprised at how a training session that is based on what seems to be the “basics” of life can have such a tremendous impact as revealed in hundreds of success stories every year. The success stories are remarkable, unique and extraordinary. They typically involve heroes who were previously marginalized and began to change their destinies with no or very little external help and expand their successes to include their surrounding communities. Finally, all the success stories are sustainable success stories.
To understand why AT is such a successful “developmental” tool, one must understand what it is that people can most benefit from when it comes to changing and improving their lives. Participants who take this training are driven by a need, an urge that the AT enables them to address strategically and with power and prudence. This is the urge to live as contributing citizens of the society, wanting to make a difference in their lives as well as their communities This is the unconscious driving force that influences the participants to take the training and in the sessions throughout the 4 days, this urge is brought to the surface. Simultaneously their potential as leaders, organizers, as doers and go-getters are identified, encouraged and unleashed. All this begins with baby steps, first by engaging in the goal of the program: “To encourage, organize and empower animators through self-questioning and self-realization in order to build a hunger-free, self-reliant Bangladesh”. The discussion gradually proceeds to focus and engage in “self realization”, that it is the “I” and only “I” who can improve ourselves and it is the collective force of the conscious and aware individuals that can take the challenge of poverty and eradication head on. A deep faith in the self and the collective force of the human spirit works as a stepping-stone.
The training unfolds through the discussion of the ten principles  and gradually delves into the dissection of the societal norms, national and international politics behind the dependency, poverty and destitution. Eventually, it loops around and returns to the individual and the community of determined individuals until the participants begin to envision their ideal villages and towns and feel “why not?”
The discussions engage and build on the common yet Powerful wisdom such as “where there is a will, there is a way”, Quranic phrases such as “Allah does not change a nations’ destiny unless it takes initiative to change its own”, Hadiths that emphasizes the significance of manual labor and self respect over begging and hand-outs, etc. Participants engage in common misconceptions and superstitions as they confront their own biases and debilitating beliefs. For example, in a recent training a 23-year-old Union Parishad chairman, a participant popular among the crowd for his youthful charm made the following comment during the session on women’s empowerment:
“….its not education but good education that is necessary for women for it is the lack of the latter that leads women to indecency and nakedness. It is the woman dressed in short sleeved shirt and jean pants who falls victim to rape and physical assault…”
It is through bringing such notions to the surface and de-constructing them that the program leads people to critically examine their own selves, the norms and the traditions and discover the linkages to the greater problems and challenges faced by the nation today. Thinking outside the box becomes second nature by the time the training is over. All of this is accomplished primarily through engaging conversations among the participants.
To conclude, there are five major reasons behind the success of the AT. They are summarized as follows:
- Targeting: The participants are actively recruited on the basis of their leadership potential and qualities. Loosely, the minimum qualification is Secondary School Certificate level (10th grade) and recruiters try to attain a healthy amount of female participants for each training group. The participants typically will have already demonstrated some leadership qualities either through forma affiliations such as local government officials, teachers and religious leaders, or through informal involvement in community work such as the case with students, youth activists, etc. Essentially, the sense of volunteerism and societal responsibility are evident in their actions and pursuits. In other words, the fire is lit by the injustices and destitution that surrounds them and is fueled by the indomitable urge to do something about it.
- Self-Empowerment: Perhaps the strongest change that occurs after going through this training in a person is the belief and faith in one’s self. The exercises emphasize on self-questioning and self-realization so that participants internalize that they are extremely capable beings and only they-can make changes happen in their own lives and their communities. The realization that they don’t need any external help to initiate these changes is a very powerful one. The confidence in the individual self as well as the collective self follows soon thereafter.
- Community spirit: Although it has been decaying in the last two decades it is traditional for people in the rural areas to work together as a community. They used to form what in the popular rhetoric we call working groups and cooperatives to execute a plan of action. This ancient communal spirit is still present among people; all it needs is a little bit of prodding. AT heavily emphasizes on ownership of the problems and their solutions. Participants are encouraged to think and work as a group and that is precisely what the animators do upon returning to their respective areas. Hence, there is legitimacy in their plans and as a result their actions are expeditious.
- Creating a vision: It is safe to say that most participants are already driven to catalyze change in their communities when they come in. What they lack is a vision, a systematic method to realize what they have already identified. The exercises of the Animator Training program help them synthesize the problems, their sources and a sustainable way to address them. They create a vision that it is possible to collectively attain their personal and community goals.
- Relationship with THP: As the training progresses it becomes clearer that The Hunger Project is not driven by any agenda of their own and it is not promoting any scheme or the ‘right’ solution. The training focuses entirely on the “self’ and the message that repeats is the one of the power and potential of the human spirit. As a result, the relationship that develops between a participant and the organization is based on trust and partnership. When and if the participants make commitments for initiatives they want to take on upon returning, they genuinely mean and act on it. Like a true partner, THP continues to inspire and remind people of their commitments and their capacities.
AT is able to succeed the same way a good therapist or a counselor succeeds—by working as a facilitator to enable the person identify the source of their problem and unleash their potential to solve it themselves.
 The ten principles are discussed in detail and repeated periodically throughout the training. These are: 1. The human spirit, 2. Interconnectedness, 3. Vision, 4. Commitment, 5. Leadership, 6. Strategy and action, 7. Self-reliance, 8. Enabling environment, 9. Empowerment of women, 10. Global responsibility