While rivers can be bridged, they can also separate. In this case, different ethnic groups with very different world views have historically been separated by the river. And if they were ever brought together, the tensions between the two groups were unmistakable.
Our Skills Training Empowerment and Practice project (STEP) was somewhat caught in the middle. Our trainers had been from the south side of the river and were Macedonians with business insight and abilities to teach. The north side of the river was an area of impoverishment that could benefit from some training in starting businesses. But those from the south side were not always very welcomed by those on the north side.
Our primary trainer from the previous year was Ana*. She was from the south side of the river but had been able to establish wonderful connections with the ladies on the north side. Somehow, they had sensed that she valued them and saw great potential in them. But it was looking like Ana might not be available to help this year. After lots of negotiations, it became obvious that Ana just couldn’t join our efforts this year. We changed course and brought on Sonja*. She had the right credentials, having an MBA, but the ladies on the north side of the river were often high school graduates at best. Being very aware of the gap between the south and north sides of the river, we encouraged Sonja to be mentally prepared for the difficult cross-cultural journey she would be taking. We wanted her to empathize with the ladies, with where they were starting from in their education and experience and how they’ve been impacted by a lack of resources.
We also reminded Sonja that optimal outcome might include the women starting informal businesses from their homes which is a far cry from the registered business that Sonja was used to working with. In addition, we wanted her to be aware that for many of the ladies on the north side, starting a business would almost be pure fantasy and something that only other people do.
It turns out that Sonja simply amazed us all. She was able to clearly communicate and provide quality training in a way that was understandable. She took her MBA training on investments and applied them to make investments in the lives of the participants.
The comments from participants substantiate that two ethnic rival groups are working together for hope and a better future: One participant said “The Macedonians are helping us.”
Another said “Today was a day I cannot describe. Special thanks to all of you who made it possible for us to be part of your organization, I love you forever, I wish success to everyone."
A third said "Thanks so much to you, what a contribution you are making. We are very satisfied. May God help you. We are strong together. I love all of you.”
The training demonstrated how one ethnic group was reaching into the world of another. In a place where people are more likely to merely co-exist, relationships are being built. Our Macedonian support staff are helping and facilitating small groups and non-Macedonian staff are offering translation and feedback to the trainer. The two groups had even stood together for a minute's silence in remembering a terrible accident which had recently killed many from this municipality. A prayer was read that included the words “Lord, let me be an instrument of your peace.”