From 14 to 23 January 2020 twenty four youngsters and six group leaders from UK, Spain, Lithuania, Italy, Turkey and Norway gathered together in Isle of Wight to enlighten and empower themselves and others to become Responsible citizens, who think out of the box, as part of the Erasmus+ youth exchange I am responsible.
This is what we created out of a joint collaboration, but there is much more than that.
Through informal learning methods, we tried to educate ourselves on issues occurring in our own diverse societies regarding discrimination, the environment and mental health. We practiced exercises focused on developing empathy, self-reflection and critical thinking skills, with the aim of taking steps towards acting responsibly.
“Most people feel anxious about walking into a room of 30 people who they don’t know and having to introduce themselves while trying but usually failing at remembering names. Being in a circle and listening to a stranger compliment you while not able to reply instantly creates a connection that can’t be broken. We became a group within a few hours and built trust so we felt at ease openly sharing our thoughts and feelings.” Joe, from Spain
“I felt out of control, as I needed to be spontaneous and not think through what I am saying.”
Anja, from Norway
We focused on introspection and perspective. We had to imagine how other people saw us: What would be your positive qualities, negative qualities, and your neutral qualities? How do your closest friends and relatives see you, compared to how you see yourself and how colleagues/classmates see you?
We gathered into pairs and were asked to stare into each other’s eyes for five full minutes without breaking eye contact. It was an extremely intimate experience shared with someone who was still largely a stranger. There were quite a lot of tears that day.
“I felt like a blank canvas imagining what colours my friends, family and colleagues would use to describe me”
Ester, from Italy
Talking about discrimination in different contexts made us reflect and being in the same shoes of the ones that are discriminated. Each of us reminded and talked about experiences where have felt discriminated and how we felt and how it hurts. Discrimination is on everyone’s life and it’s important to make people aware of this problem that only can be solved with love and empathy. We discussed about it in a World Cafè workshop and then we jumped to a Creativity workshop to express our feelings about discrimination in a creative and enjoying way, using newspapers and experiencing visual arts, sounds and poems.
“Thinking about our creativity is challenging and funny at the same time. After these activities, creating stories with pictures, and then only using sounds from newspapers and no talking we realised that we are all creative in our own unique ways.”
Maria, from Spain
“Creating stories and poems that we share with others isn’t anything that I have done since school nor it is anything that most people do nowadays. This allowed me to provoke carefree thoughts using my mind in a way that I have not done for so long”
Joe, from Spain
“This really allowed me to step out of my comfort zone which lead to an unforgettable experience”
Bilal, from UK
We prepared for a day hike in the territory around Totland and Alum Bay, in the Isle of Wight, with communication exercises where one person in a couple lead each other blindly around in the room to create trust. We felt anxious in the beginning, but then calm and relaxed while being led.
The hike started by creating couples and walking along the road. When we reached a field we stopped and did a competitive exercise where teams of 3 people had one person blind, one deaf and one mute. We experienced a sense of cooperating with different strengths and weaknesses and fitting roles. After a lunch break by the light house in the pier, we walked into the sunset and did another exercise where we had to react fast. This made us see how important it is to react and act straight away in a good way to let the next person continue the teamwork. This is a lesson we can use in everyday life as well.
Coming back, some participants volunteered to be blindfolded and led by the others through the path. They experienced living in the moment and having the other senses sharpened while trusting their friends. As the darkness came and we led the blind people we reached a tree where we did a rope-exercise which goal was to cross a rope hung between two trees from above, not being able to cross it from under or from the sides.
After hearing the instructions we thought of how to solve the problem, and then realized that that idea had been expressed but not heard and accepted by the whole group. This really made us realize how important it is to lead with an attitude of listening and not that your own idea is the best idea and your power is the right power. We finished the hike in complete silence. For the introverts this was calming and a chance to reflect on what we learnt during the hike. For someone it was a frustrating experience to walk together but not speak.
One day we introduced improvisation and Forum Theatre. We talked a lot about social and political issues in our countries, but we presented in a very different way. Six groups brought a theatre performance each, showing problems in their countries, and the spectators could join the play, replacing one of the people in the scene and acting in a way to solve the problem presented. The play only finished when the problems were solved.
Discussions were about Brexit, xenophobia, bullying and also things beyond our control but that still happens, such a mafia in Italy and abuse of power in Turkey. All the participants found hard to deal with these issues, since we would need government support but we discussed what we, as active citizens, could do in order to help the scenario presented to get better.
“It was very enlightening to see problems in different countries and imagining how we can try to solve them in our own way”
Stacey, from UK
One day we had this competitive game between 3 teams, with three jury members giving the games. The rules were simple and the main goal of the game was to have fun and to play fair. However as the games went on, the team started to notice unfair rules and points that were distributed in a very weird way. One of the teams had 56 points, one other just 3.
By the end of the game the losing team was on fire, asking questions about unfairness and expecting to understand what was happening. The goal of the game was to show us how privileges are present in our society, how injustice is so frequent and how some people have much so many more possibilities than others. The jury members were as the government – instilling the rules and the idea everything was fair and good for all. The winning team was the high society and was getting all the privileges (points) without questioning. The middle group represented the labours, where we were given some points but not enough to have the same results, and the losing group represented the poor people, without any advantage and having things constantly taken from them.
“This activity made me aware and responsible for what’s happening in our society” Emilja, from Lithuania
During the last day of the project, the feelings were a mixture of good and sad. There was hope for a conclusion and also it was touching and heart breaking for us participants to say goodbye.
“We have a family here”
Egle, from Italy
Have you ever asked yourself how to say goodbye? Goodbyes are always heavy and, maybe, it could look not that hard because we only spent one week together. But one week is more than enough when you live so closely with a group of people that you can call “family”.
Many thanks to the organisations behind the planning and gathering of us all:
- Abroadship.org (UK)
- Associazione Ottovolante (Italy)
- Inovatyvi Karta/ Innovation Generation (Lithuania)
- AC Amics de la Biblioteca de la Fonteta (Spain)
- Creativity Rocks (Norway)
- Organisation Time (Turkey)
What is next?
Did you like how the youth exchange evolved and would be curious to participate in the Phase #2 of I am responsible – apply here.
The results of the second youth exchange are visible in the story: Are we responsible?