On the way to 2020: Sara Turra

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Sara Turra intended to spend 3 years as international coordinator of SCI – in the end she stayed more than 6 years. Her previous experiences within SCI ‘helped’ her in carrying out her job. An interview about her time in SCI, the level of ambition within SCI and of course 2020. “I didn’t leave SCI; I just don’t have a job there anymore”.


What was your first workcamp like?

It was an amazing experience. I was only 17, thus too young to go abroad. I chose instead for an archeological workcamp in Tuscany (Italy). It was like I started a new life there. I was born in a small village in the Dolomites. At the workcamp I met people with similar motivation to work and willing to make some impact in the world. I was impressed by the local organizer (SCI-Italy local partner), as well as the British leader of the workcamp. He encouraged me to do more workcamps and said that I could be a good co-leader myself.

Despite his words I never made it to workcamp coordinator. But I continued my SCI journey by participating in several workcamps. My third was coincidentally in Belgium, close to Antwerp. As I studied international relations and cooperation, I was eager to go outside of Europe. And at the age of 21 I was able to go to for a workcamp in Guatemala, after earning money for the trip the year before.

After staying for 6 months as volunteer in Palestine, I joined the SCI staff team in Rome, first as trainer, then later as coordinator.  The experience I gained there was important for my job later as International Coordinator. It ‘helped’ me to operate with a branch perspective in mind and for a coherent understanding of the movement as such.  


Can you describe your past role as International Coordinator. And how do you look back on this period?

As international coordinator one needs to perform different tasks at the same time. First of all, I was the connection between the IEC (international board) and the movement and the International Secretariat.  I was ex-officio member of the IEC, helped preparing their meetings and joined them with an advisory role. Next to that I was coordinating the International Secretariat, the staff and the volunteers. Far way from the role of a boss, I must say, as at the International Secretariat we rather use a peer-approach, I supported in taking decisions and setting priorities.  Another task I worked on is the relation between SCI International Secretariat and the branches, encouraging cooperation between branches by developing international projects, writing applications and project management. And finally a bit of networking and external representation.

 I was actually hesitant in the beginning to apply as International Coordinator.  I just had experienced an intense period as coordinator of SCI Italy and rather looking forward to a break. But friends and colleagues encouraged me to apply.

At the final interview I Indicated I would perform the job for three years.  It became at the end more than six years. The period was really rewarding for me, I enjoyed the good teamwork. I emphasised the importance of common projects as a movement, a crucial part of cooperation between branches. I am looking back positively in this respect - we did achieve something! Some examples are the Climate for Peace and the Building Bridges campaign. Of course there are also the challenges in the job, problems in project management or new circumstances. For instance there is the crisis in Syria and the ‘refugee crisis’ in Europe, where SCI had to decide which role it could take and how to eventually implement any action.  And of course one of the main challenge was how do you combine the grassroots working on the ground with keeping alive the current structure of SCI.

In spring 2018 I felt I could not contribute anymore the best and I also felt personally it was time for a change. It was a gradual process, and obtaining a structural grant as SCI helped me in the process of this decision - it was somehow the last indication for me the time was right.

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What are the strengths of SCI?

I would mention the diversity of the movement as first strength, branches which work quite autonomous, but still united in one movement. Then there is the long experience of SCI, the history of SCI. Last but not least the strong motivation of people within SCI. Volunteers who are giving the best can make a difference. 


What are the challenges of SCI?

I miss somehow ambition in SCI nowadays.  Recently while preparing  a project application I was reading  documents from our archives, on the first steps of east/west cooperation.  The documents prove ambition; those people wanted to change the world and actually made concrete steps in that direction.  Maybe we got stuck in SCI in a mostly ‘survival’ mode. Some branches have actually to do a lot in that respect, constantly struggling for keeping alive. But where would we like to see the change in the world? We lost a bit the belief in our capacity of changing the world.  It does not only reflect world issues. Also in ‘small’ matters: we should be able to explain why we organize workcamps, what are the deeper reasons behind it.  Actually we should engage more again.


What does the year 2020 mean to you?

Externally it is an opportunity for visibility for the whole movement: SCI and beyond. Internally it should be a moment for reflection: how would we nowadays work together for a brighter future? What did we manage achieving up to now? The year 2020 will be the starting point for a new strategic plan for SCI as well, and I think this is very positive. 

Of course we are also celebrating the centenary. I was happy in the last year to explore ideas in that direction and writing applications for supporting 2020 anniversary. And there should be action (projects, campaigns), as deeds are very important for SCI, possibly going beyond 2020. 

So the three keywords are (critical) reflection, celebration, action.


How do you personally want to celebrate 2020?

I did not think about it yet, let alone prepare!  At the moment I am reflecting on my role in SCI as such. I gave up my job, but that does not mean I will leave SCI.

I would like to attend some of the planned actions for 2020 for sure.  It depends mainly how I will fill in my future involvement within SCI.

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Written by Wilbert Helsloot


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