After a good night’s sleep and hearty breakfast, we were looking forward to starting day six as it involved an afternoon trip to Ganja. As the trip was only scheduled for towards the end of the afternoon, we had a morning session devoted to “the ladder of participation.” First the facilitators introduced us to the tool by explaining the different levels of participation youth workers could experience, we started at the bottom of the ladder with the worst levels namely, manipulation, decoration and tokenism. Then we climbed up the ladder to the more positive levels which were young people assigned and informed, young people consulted and informed, shared decision-making but adult initiated, young people lead and initiate, and finally, shared decision making.
Following the explanation of this tool, we were asked to position ourselves along the ladder.. This was a very useful tool as it allowed us to analyze, compare and contrast the level of participation we each felt in our own organizations. As there were five UNPO staff members present, we tried to decide as a group where to position ourselves along the ladder. Interestingly, we were unable to come to an agreement, as several people felt very differently about the level of youth participation within UNPO. The UNPO staff members positioned themselves from “young people assigned and informed” to “shared-decision making but adult initiated”. Most of the participants agreed that all the organizations cover more than one step of the ladder.
After this very productive morning session, it was time to get on the bus to Ganja for the meeting with the representatives of the European Youth Capital Committee. When we arrived at the offices of Bridge to the Future, we met one representative of the “Committee of European Youth Capital 2016 Ganja” and another one from the youth department of the municipality. After a brief introduction about the city of Ganja, our hosts explained to us the long and arduous journey of achieving their successful bid, the first time that a non-European country will be European Youth Capital. During the presentation, six key areas were identified that would be developed in preparation by 2016, that is to say, youth employment, active participation, IT technologies, volunteering, social cohesion and education. After the presentation, we had the opportunity to ask some questions. One UNPO staff member asked to see the campaign video. Although it was a nice video, the majority of the UNPO staff members felt that it did not represent youth that we had seen in the city, and saw it instead as what they hoped to achieve by being the European Youth Capital.
After the presentation we had free time to discover the city. Most of us decided to go to the park, and have some tea in a traditional tea house, the bazaar, was also popular with many participants in order to buy gifts for friends and family. After the visit to Ganja, we went to Göygöl, a traditional German village, where we were treated to a traditional Azerbaijani meal. We returned that evening to Togana sleepy, with our bellies full, ready for the next day.
On day seven we focused on cooperation and started the initial phase of our project development, something most of the participants were very excited about. The morning started by the facilitators testing our cooperation skills. The group was divided into four smaller groups, and we were not allowed to communicate with each other. The aim of the game was to get the highest number of points possible, but it did not specify if this was for each individual group or for the group as a whole. Three groups decided to gain as many points possible for the whole group, whereas one group tried to gain as many possible points for their own group. Eventually the last group understood that the aim of the game was to achieve as many points possible for the whole group. After the game it was interesting to see how the other groups decided upon their strategies.
After this game, it was time to get started with our project development. We were asked to write down the problems we had identified during the sculpture game, and to add any we felt were missing. We were able to choose the issue we felt strongly about in order to develop a project around it. The facilitators gave us three practical tools that would be essential for the project development, namely, the problem tree, the leadership pyramid and the ABC triangle. After implementing these tools for our own projects we presented our findings to the others groups. This concluded the day’s activities, all that was left were the daily reflection groups. During this reflection time, the majority of the participants reflected on the importance of solidarity and cooperation, we also felt that we had gained practical tools for activists.
The last day of the seminar was met with a few bleary eyed participants, exhausted from the week’s activities but all extremely keen to finalize our projects, the culmination of the seminar. During the morning session we reached the final stage of out project development. During this time we finalized the different elements of the project. This was a very exciting time as it allowed us to see how much progress we had made, and how much we had already achieved in just two days by using these three simple yet effective tools, as well as using the knowledge every participant in the group brought to the table. Most groups had an equal number of EU and non-EU country participants.
After lunch it was time for our pitches. In order to make the presentation more creative and interactive the facilitators only allowed two minutes for every presentation, in addition to this, we were required to present our projects to a specific character such as Angela Merkel, Bill Gates or the Mayor of a town. There were several interesting projects such as, the pitch on corruption in education which aimed to hold a capacity building seminar and awareness raising campaign to tackle the issues. The pitch on gender discrimination wanted to hold a campaign in secondary schools using positive role models for students and teachers. The Urban Spaces pitch wanted to reclaim public space by holding a series of festivals that would move around the city, resulting in increasing people’s experience of public spaces and therefore fostering social cohesion.
After the pitches, the facilitators gave us a brief presentation of the Erasmus + program of the European Commission. We covered, the priorities of the program, opportunities it offers for youth and youth workers, and the differences in the application and implementations of projects. After this, it was time for the evaluation of the seminar, on the whole, the seminar was positively received, the methodology and structure of the programme amongst others, were praised. Now it was time for the farewell party, we enjoyed good food and drink in the company of new friends. The next day, at sparrows, we left the land of fire, eager and optimistic to implement the skills we had learnt.
All in all, it was a great learning experience allowing us to gain a valuable insight into social exclusion is different countries and I would like to thank the facilitators for all their hard work and encouragement during the week.