With the introductions over and our expectations and fears clearly discussed, it was time to become a cohesive team to able to work together. The third day started with establishing group rules which included listening and respecting each other. This serious activity was followed by some very necessary teambuilding activities. We played games under the sun that tested our trust and team cooperation. The change in everyone’s attitude by the end of the morning was visible. We had finally been able to let go of our prejudices and fears regarding being surrounded by a completely unknown group of people, and the enthusiasm of what could be built together was palpable.
These exercises were followed by others that made us reflect upon ourselves and our identities. With the activity “identity molecules” we had to reflect on what we considered our identity to be defined as, and how others perceive it. This brought us to the discussion of what traits we feel most strongly about (nationality, gender, occupation, character, culture etc.), and how our personal experiences and upbringing may alter our perceptions. Many participants had contrary reactions to being “tagged” with a certain identity. It turned out to be a very interesting exercise to contrast and analyse.
The session continued after the lunch break with an exercise entitled the “Baku-London Express”. We were divided into various groups, and we had to, first individually and then in a group, choose from a list of characters the ones we would most and least want to travel with on a very long journey. Our decisions only based external characteristics of lifestyle, appearance, occupations, sexual orientation, nationality etc., leading us to reflect on how exclusion mechanisms work and how the stereotypes we all assume take part in that dynamic. Realizing how we had judged these fictional characters made many feel uneasy and question the consequences of our actions on everyday life.
To wrap a day of reflections on the meaning of identity, stereotypes and exclusion, we did the exercise of the “privilege walk”. We each had to impersonate a persona assigned to us that included details of occupation, age, social class, etc. and take a step forward every time we could respond positively to a statement read out loud regarding possibilities in life. Even though we all started at the same point, by the end of the activity the situation was very different. Not only did we realise how conditions that affect each of us have a big effect on how our lives develop and the effects of inequality, but we also went into a deeper discussion on how its easy to forget those behind you when you are privileged, and how those less fortunate feel invisible. The final reflections of the day showed a clear improvement in the trust between the whole group and everyone was pleased with the debates and reflections triggered throughout the day.
The fourth day was dedicated to discussing the issues of exclusion present in Europe and how youth is affected by it. The morning exercises consisted of expressing notions of exclusion we identified in our countries by recreating them through human sculptures. All the groups seemed to identify similar issues linked to education, migration, inequalities, unemployment and discrimination. The evening was dedicated to finding a common definition of youth and more importantly youth participation. This lead to the trainers introducing us to the RMSOS model, a very helpful tool to assess the factors that should be present in youth participation: rights, means, space, opportunity and support. With model we were grouped by our respective countries and had to analyse the situation there. The results were exposed in a “world café” setting were all participants had the opportunity to ‘visit’ the different countries and learn about their experiences with youth participation. It was very interesting to contrast the different experiences of all the participants especially when considering different segments of society. By the end of the day everyone of us was more aware of the gap existing between EU and non-EU countries, but also of how many issues identified were transversal. It is therefore that we must work together to find effective solutions applicable to all.
The fifth day revolved around participation and empowerment. We began by reflecting and sharing our own stories in the morning. We identifies differences and similarities related to our participation and the support and motivations we experienced. This was followed by a presentation of the organizations each of us represented at the seminar in an “NGO Fair”. By sharing the aims and objectives of our work; the field of work and activities undertakes; the target groups we approach; and showcasing all of this through an example of a project, we got to learn about different initiatives taking place in Europe and the Caucasus.
The session of the evening was led by one of the participants herself: Veronika. She used techniques of the “theatre of the oppressed” to engage us into understanding the dynamics of power, and how empowerment alters these positions. With as little as one table and a few chairs, we were able to create multiple and powerful settings that conveyed different ideas related to power. After this interesting exercise, we also engaged in scene were two participant were required to take the role of soldiers marching, while another one dared to dance. This resulted in the soldiers attacking the different one and making sure they joined the march. This scene reflected discrimination based on differences and how power is used to determine peoples actions and positions. The most interesting part of the exercise came when we were allowed to intervene in the scene with actions that we though could alter the result.
These exercises helped us acknowledge the important role of violence in power and the many forms it takes (physical violence, structural violence, social violence etc.). The facilitators then contextualized the activities with the notion of nonviolence as a solution to problems and conflict. The notion of “true peace” was introduced, where we have to take into account inner peace, social peace and environmental peace. It is important to emphasize on human rights, nonviolence and participation as being the core elements for there to be true peace.
The last session of the day was aimed at understanding principles of participation. A series of very basic exercises challenged our initial ways of reacting and showed us how the use of competition, avoidance and compromise may have different results when wanting to achieve an objective. We had a very insightful discussion on how we tend to be self-cantered when wanting to gain something and how we often identify more the differences instead of the commonalities that unify us.
To ensure that this challenges do not hinder youth participation, we were presented with a model based on two variables: competence and enthusiasm. There are numerous stages related to these variables that we have to watch out for and learn to overcome. The outcome of the day showed us the importance of transparency and empowerment in youth participation and gave us the tools to ensure that we engage in successful participation in our lives and work.