Values, practice, learning, inclusion, joy. These are some of the words which the three Bulgarian participants – Dari, Krisi and Valia – use in order to describe their experience at the “Joyful Leadership” training course that took place in Northern Ireland between 19-25 September, and which Smokinya Foundation was a partner organisation to. This training focused on a new methodology for transformational leadership developed by the trainers, and aimed to give participants both theoretical and experiential opportunities to grow their leadership skills and to advance their personal development.
Read more about the experience of the girls here.
Hi Kristina, Valia and Darina, you just came back from the Joyful Leadership Training course. It was held in Holywood, Northern Ireland, and organised by Camphill Community Glencraig and OAZA. Did the training meet your expectations?
Kristina:I must admit that I had high expectations from the training course and fortunately, it managed to exceed my expectations! In order to apply for the training, I had to take part in an online course which already showed me that the organising team consists of very committed, serious, and reliable professionals. For sure I didn’t imagine spending a whole week in a beautiful mansion (we all were calling it a little castle) being spoiled with some of the best trainers from Croatia and Hungary and an amazing vegan chef! On top of that, I was part of a group of amazing young leaders from around 15 countries, all curious and eager to learn and improve their leadership skills. We were enjoying a bonfire every evening, kirtan and movie evenings, TEDx talk evening, as well as additional workshops. The visit to the Camphill Community Glencraig was among the biggest highlights for me. I am also grateful to the hospitable and welcoming locals that made the experience unforgettable.
Darina:It was a few days before my birthday when I received an email that I’ve been selected to participate in the Joyful Leadership Training in Northern Ireland. Being extremely happy, I organised my travel, put my enthusiasm, courage, curiosity and a couple of clothes in my luggage and left for Northern Ireland with the mindset that I will attend a leadership training.
A week after I came back home, writing this article and thinking of the things that happened in beautiful Northern Ireland during the training, I would say that this experience is once in a lifetime experience. It wasn’t another typical training with long boring lectures and theory. It was a collaboration between all of us, it was games, sharing, outdoor activities, music and dances, learning from each other and many more things. It was JOY and now I can say that this opportunity was the best birthday gift for me. The training not only met my expectations but exceeded them!
Valia:The training surprised me in some aspects, and far exceeded my expectations in others. I was assuming we would be engulfed in the local Camphill community a lot more, but instead we focused on working on our personal development as leaders very intensely, under the guidance of our trainers, which is definitely more beneficial for our leadership skills in the long run. We still got to learn about the Camphill model from other participants in our free time, and we also dedicated half a day to visiting Camphill Glencraig, so at the end we got a great balance between both. The generosity which we received from both the trainers and the team far received my expectation and very positively contributed to our learning process and to having an overall amazing experience.
What are the 3 main takeaways from the training?
Kristina:This is a very tough question since the training was very intense and full of valuable information and experience.
Here are my top 3 takeaways:
(1) You need not only the teachers that will give you knowledge, but you also need your mentors. They can give you great advice, inspire you with their experience, and support you when you do your own mistakes;
(2) You need to be assertive (not aggressive or passive) in order to achieve your goals and respect the needs and feelings both of yourself and others;
(3) Practice makes perfect! If you are really passionate about something, try again and again no matter how many times you fall or fail. Finally, you will manage to succeed!
Darina:The training was very intense, our program was full of activities and I tried to find something helpful from each activity. If I have to summarize it, it looks like this:
(1) Always number one – never forget your values!
(2) Practice, practice, practice! Persistence and perseverance are the key to success and self-mastery!
(3) The third takeaway is related to our relationship with others. Through the games we played, I’ve learned how important is to actively listen to others, to always ask when important details are missing and to respect different points of view as the majority is not always right! I’ve also learned about the types of personalities and how to communicate between different types.
Valia:It is difficult to summarise such a rich experience into just 3 takeaways, but here are the ones that stand out the brightest in my mind:
(1) Challenge your leader: this is an important lesson that was emphasised by one of our trainers again and again. Just as it improves one’s leadership skills to be a proactive, engaged and contributing follower whenever they are lead by somebody else, so it is also the characteristic of a good leader to accept feedback, criticism and to be able to collaborate with the people whom they are leading, in an open and constant back-and-forth exchange.
(2) A great part of what makes a good leader boils down to their relationship to themselves, and their personal journey of self-growth. Much of what we did during this training revolved around personal development and self-optimisation – not connected to the topic of leadership at first glance, however absolutely crucial, since, as the saying goes, “You cannot pour from an empty cup”.
(3) Leadership exists in ever single situation between two or more people – I was reflecting a lot on this lesson throughout the whole training. Like Kristina shares below, in each of our interactions we experience dynamics of leading and following all of the time – therefore all of life represents an opportunity to improve our leadership skills, and vice versa – improving them can positively benefit all of our interactions, even if we don’t occupy the formal status of a leader in our work or personal life.
How do you intend to use the gained knowledge?
Kristina:It is interesting that even sometimes unconsciously, every one of us gets into the role of a leader or a follower on a daily basis. That’s why it is so important to know what are the traits of a leader, to get to know yourself better, and to realize that everyone is different and this is beautiful. I wouldn’t only use the gained knowledge in my work but also in my everyday communication. During the training, I gained a lot of knowledge that is very practical and I can try it in my everyday life, like e.g. how to organize my tasks more effectively, how to improve my stage performance, how to recognize different types of people and their needs.
Darina:The knowledge I gained will be useful for both my personal and professional development. As a recently promoted Lead Project Manager, the whole training was very beneficial for me and I will try to apply the knowledge I gained in order to improve the processes at work as well as the communication and motivation between the team I work with.
Valia:The training was very exhaustive in terms of covering topics for both personal and professional development, therefore what I learned there will bleed into every aspect of my life. One particular example of how I will use the learnings is that recently I have been working on expanding my leadership and facilitation skills so as to feel confident enough to begin facilitating weekly youth group meetings in my city, using non-formal educational tools. The simulations and group work processes which we did during the training further helped me understand in which areas of my leadership practice I’m already accumulated good progress, and in which I need to work further in order to hold spaces which are inclusive for people of all learning and personality types.
What made the Joyful Leadership training an unforgettable experience for you?
Kristina:Everything in this training course will be unforgettable but as I already mentioned one of the biggest highlights for me was the visit to the Camphill Community Glencraig. On the territory of 100 hectares, people with disabilities and people without special needs are living together in a beautiful community, growing their own fruits and vegetables, celebrating together big festivals, and having their own school and chapel. All this is based on the anthroposophical theory of the famous Austrian philosopher and esoteric Rudolf Steiner. I was fascinated by the beauty and spirit of the community where everyone is contributing and lives according to the natural cycles. We had a walk in the community and heard the stories of how it was created by some of the oldest members. In the evening we shared a meal together and learned some of the Irish folk dances. I wouldn’t forget this experience for a long time!
Darina:The training was organized in great detail, from the place we stayed in, the program of the training, the people – both participants and trainers. There were lots of emotional moments, we were all very open to each other and this helped us to create an environment where we felt safe and understood with no judging and I personally I felt at home.
Visiting the Glencraig Community on one of our afternoons was impressive and very inspiring for me. All these people living together, sharing their values, helping each other and most importantly – helping the people with special needs, is incredible! I wish there were more places like this!
Valia:One of the most memorable aspects of this training for me was the overall culture of warmth and inclusion that was created between the whole group. I felt cared for all throughout – the trainers were there to serve us and to give us whatever knowledge they had, while the team were looking out for any little practical details which arose and for our comfort. I also appreciated that housekeeping tasks were distributed amongst us, participants as well – the shared responsibility to all care for each other was very valuable and created wonderful cohesion and a supportive atmosphere. I felt the embodiment of joy, inspiration and generosity in everything we did throughout our days together, so much so that when we had to finish and say goodbye to each other, so many of us shared that this had been a deeply transformative experience.
And finally, just like the other girls, the opportunity to visit Camphill Community Glencraig was incredibly precious for me – seeing what is possible in the realm of social care, inclusion, community life and what I would call humanistically sustainable living gives me a high-standard example to come back to whenever I think about these topics from now on.
Would you recommend the Erasmus+ Program to a friend and why?
Kristina:This is not the first Erasmus+ training course that I took part in and hopefully not the last one. Every time I take part in such projects, I am hopeful that more and more young people will learn about such opportunities. You can spend a week long in a European country learning about a favorite topic of yours in a playful way together with around 20 young people like yourself and all expenses to be covered by the European Union! That actually sounds too good to be true, right? It is true and it’s called the Erasmus+ Program of the European Union and it is wonderful! I recommend to everyone that supports lifelong learning, that is curious about other cultures, wants to get out of their comfort zone and constantly grow!
Darina:I would recommend the Erasmus + program for sure! This experience helps you to gain new knowledge in the areas you are interested, to meet great people and create friendships. Participating in Erasmus+ project is an opportunity to get to know new cultures and also to improve your social skills and language skills.
Valia:Yes, I’m always recommending the programme to whoever will listen! The projects offered through this programme represent a wonderful opportunity to learn about a variety of topics, meet new friends from other cultures, develop your personal and professional skills and travel. I see these projects as a way to spread knowledge beyond the formal educational institutions and to promote a learning and growth mindset throughout a person’s adulthood, therefore I definitely recommend them to those eligible to participate (EU citizens; youth exchanges – 13 to 30 years old; training courses – 18+ years old).
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This program is co-funded by the Erasmus+ program of the European Union.
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