Several UNPO staff members, from both the Brussels and the The Hague offices, recently traveled to Azerbaijan to take part in a Youth in Action Seminar entitled “On the Edge – Inclusion Across Borders”.
As we arrived some two days prior to the start of the seminar in Ganja, the second biggest city of Azerbaijan, we had some time to prepare and explore the city before meeting up with the rest of the participants. Our host in the city, an EVS volunteer working with the Azeri host organization of the seminar: “Bridge to the Future – Youth Union”, had been there for a while, and thus for the first two days we got a taste of the real life in Ganja and saw more of the local way of life.
These days spent acclimatizing to the Azeri way of life and getting over our jetlag, also meant that on the starting date of the seminar we were fresh and ready to participate fully, in contrast to some of the sleepy faces of our fellow participants. Because the organizers had anticipated most participants to be slightly weary from traveling, our first day started off light and at a leisurely pace.
We met the rest of the participants in the afternoon at the offices of Bridge to the Future, and after exchanging some initial pleasantries, we all piled into two mini-busses, which would take us to the location of the actual seminar, the tiny mountain village of Togana. Here we were divided into our cottages, and had a little free time before we were supposed to meet up for our first meal together.
After the meal, the first of many typical Azeri meals we would have during these nine days, the evening programme consisted of the well-known and proven activity for so many first-days during events like these: ice-breakers. They worked well for introducing the participants to one another, and to the staff-members, as well as to illustrate the very diverse group that had gathered in this small village, with participants from Azerbaijan, Belgium, Georgia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Spain, and the Ukraine.These ice-breakers and name-games also concluded the day and everyone returned to their cottages for a well-deserved night’s rest.
The second day started off with an introduction of the rest of the programme, as some changes had been made since the latest draft had been sent out, and a thorough explanation of the theories and methodology that would underlie the rest of the sessions during the week. As adherents of a very holistic approach, the leaders had chosen to go for a heart, head and hand approach, which offered a unique uptake on the concepts and exercises devised for the rest of the week. This was illustrated by the second part of the day, in which the participants were asked to go to the local village. This was supposed to both introduce the participants to their direct surroundings and the Azeri way of life, but also to get Azeri input on the topics the seminar covered. This somewhat sudden and drastic change of pace was a bit peculiar for some participants, and meant that the methodology was subject to intense scrutiny during the session following this exercise. After everyone had a chance to have their say, the session concluded with a discussion of every group’s findings, as well as smaller reflection groups, where the participants had a chance to discuss the events of the day amongst themselves, so they could make their opinion known to the trainers on paper.
The day concluded with an intercultural evening, in which the participants were invited to present their countries to the rest of the group, and to introduce them to some delicacies from the countries on which they were presenting.