Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Preparing Youth Exchange - Susie's story

The camp was really easy to get to, with at least one train each hour from Fiumicino airport train station. The train cost €11 and took about 1.5hours. It is a nice journey through the centre of Rome and they are large trains so there is no problem with getting a seat.

The camp is about 20 minutes’ walk from the station, most of which is off of the main road so it is a pleasant walk. The camp is held in a farm which some of the buildings have been converted to accommodate activity camps. The accommodation is really comfortable with 4 main dorm rooms; two holding 4 people, and two larger dorm rooms holding 12 people.  There are 3 shower rooms and, although it wasn’t plentiful, there was usually hot water available.

The scenery is completely beautiful and it is easy to distance yourself from the rest of the world and just focus on camp living, particularly because there is no Wi-Fi available to participants, so it was easy to focus on just spending a week within the camp.

The other participants were lovely and everyone was enthusiastic throughout the camp. The trainers seemed to have endless energy and were really good trainers. The activities were a good mix of discussion based and activity/physical based and always had a debrief session so we were aware of the purpose behind the activity. The activities were designed to be varied and to take us steadily out of our comfort zone and we were frequently reminded that this camp was the time to try things with no fear of consequences. It did always feel a safe environment among like-minded people where we could try new things and test skills without fear of ridicule ‘doing something wrong’.

The exercises were based around teamwork on the first day and a half. We then moved onto discussions and group working based on the concept of gender, stereotypes and following onto prejudices. The third day explored more discussions on gender and then involved role plays on managing conflict. The fourth day centred on the team working, leadership and trust and then in the afternoon, we went into groups based on which camp we would be leading and found out more details about the teen camp plans and Erasmus +. On the fifth day, we were separated into groups of six people and were given the morning to start planning an hour-long activity. We had the morning to prepare this and then each group led their activity with the rest of the group. We led activities on the afternoon of the fifth and morning of the sixth day. We then had a debrief, evaluation and wrap-up session on the afternoon of the sixth day.

Overall, the exercises were varied and I believe that everyone learnt new skills and also learnt more about themselves. As we all lived together for a week with no contact with the outside world, we bonded as a group really well and part of the experience was the communal living. As is the nature of communal living, there were peaks and troughs in energy levels and there were times where some people were easier to work with than others. However, because we were all living in such close proximity, it was an excellent opportunity to work with different people and challenge our own beliefs and behaviours. Everyone on the camp was really lovely and we have kept in touch through Facebook since returning home.

One evening we had an international food night where we all made food from our countries. Adam and I made a chicken casserole and cheesecake – both which are easy dishes to make as the ingredients are easy to source. I just took over a Colman's chicken casserole sachet which was light and small to pack. The food at the camp was amazing and most days we were able to eat outside. Everyone was put into teams to do the mealtime prep and washing up, and general cleaning duties. There was also a bar where we were able to buy beer and wine. We were all over 18 and everyone drank in moderation (although the wine is homemade wine and deceptively strong!)

Overall, it was an excellent camp and I learned new skills, exercises and icebreakers. It was a challenging but thoroughly rewarding and enjoyable week. I look forward to returning in May.

Susie Death

PRISM - training the trainers on breaking down gender stereotypes

What a fantastic privilege to have joined a funded training course in Italy, meeting so many amazing people and having been supported by such a great training team.  The training was set up to support people’s learning around teenagers, gender stereotyping and group facilitation skills so that in the summer we might lead a group of international teenagers to complete their own international volunteering project around gender stereotyping.  

A beautiful week’s weather (even though in February) twinned with an amazing setting saw our group spend lots of time outdoors.  A mix of fun icebreakers, energisers and team building games were coupled with some time to discuss issues around gender and theory to do with non-formal education processes.  As mentioned, the training team were extremely knowledgeable and various facilitation methods meant that we quickly got to performing as a group.

The dormitories were in nice buildings but with 10 to a room and a couple of strong snorers involved it is fair to say that I’ve had better sleep…  But when you wake up to this, you’re not so fussed (see picture above). The food was supreme! I was stuffed each day and still lost weight!  Evening entertainment was a real laugh and an on-site bar seemed to help things along ;-)

So looking forward to seeing everyone again this summer and a huge thank you to Lunaria in Italy for hosting and to Concordia here in the UK for co-ordinating on our end!

Adam Muirhead


Monday, March 13, 2017

Being a volunteer with Concordia

Trying to put into words how much enjoyment I get from volunteering with Concordia is hard, but I'll try…so here goes!

I’ve been volunteering with Concordia for over 5 years now. I started out by wanting to do an extended trip overseas and to see more than the backpacker trail. I was lucky enough to spend three years living overseas in my 20’s on various working holiday visas so 10 years on from these adventures I found myself wanting to have a trip where I would feel like I had lived and experienced a different culture even though I just had the gift of being able to take 6 weeks off work. I came across Concordia on an internet search and then went on the North-South training in Brighton. The training was great and I met like-minded people who wanted to visit and experience different cultures too which just made me more excited about my upcoming trip. For my first volunteering trip, I went to Nepal and lived in an orphanage at the foot of the Himalayas for 2 weeks. Sounds all very rustic and romantic right? Rustic, beautiful, and amazing it was but not sure that romantic can be a description particularly when our ‘shower’ was using the only communal tap for over a mile and had chickens around our feet! I shared the camp with 5 other volunteers from Japan, Hong Kong and France and can honestly say that it was some of the most incredible weeks of my life. On the project we mainly did manual labour such as building a dam for the flood season, creating a vegetable garden and creating a new room by using pickaxes against a cliff face. We also spent our evenings playing with the children and teaching them English. Our hosts were amazing and took us to lots of different places including a local viewpoint to watch the sunrise over the Annapurna range and to local shops and coffee shops. Following the workcamp, I spent about 3 weeks backpacking which was also incredible, but also made me realise that the two weeks I had spent volunteering gave me a rare insight into the ‘real Nepal’ which you rarely get backpacking.

When I got back to the UK I started helping with the overseas volunteer training as a volunteer and then came across the opportunity to be a coordinator for overseas volunteers coming to the UK to do a project. Again, I went on the weekend training for this and met more like minded fabulous people, many of which I am still friends with. So, in 2013 I was one of two coordinators for a project in East Sussex to renovate a school for children from developing countries to come to the UK and do their baccalaureate through winning scholarships. I was joined by fabulous volunteers from all over the world; Taiwan, Ukraine, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Holland and Germany. We spent two weeks renovating the school; painting, gardening, demolishing walls and sheds and building furniture and in our spare time ate amazing food and visited various places in the local area. It was my first experience of leading a group and was quite nervous beforehand but being able to share the leaders’ responsibilities with another UK volunteer helped and all the training and support that Concordia gave us meant that we never felt on our own.

After that project, I started assisting with the coordinator training as well as the overseas volunteer training. Through Concordia’s partnership with Girlguiding, I have been a Concordia leader in two-week trips to the Republic of Korea in 2015 and Vietnam in 2016 with Girlguiding groups. Acting as a Concordia leader is both rewarding and challenging and on both trips, I have seen fellow volunteers grow in confidence and blossom as a result.

This year I have participated in a turtle conservation project on the west coast of Mexico and also just got back from a week long Erasmus funded project in Italy where along with fellow volunteers from all over Europe we are going to lead an activity camp for teenagers in the summer which will also encourage discussion and debate on gender stereotypes.

Volunteering is now a major part of my life and makes me feel alive, proud and happy to be me! I can’t recommend it enough!  

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Only a joke? Learning about online cyber-bullying and Hate Speech on a Concordia hosted workshop

The Council of Europe's 'No Hate Speech' campaign aims to raise awareness of the problem of online bullying and Hate Speech. Concordia France recently ran an international workshop in Le Mans, France aimed at training educators and youth workers in methods to teach about this growing problem.

Have you ever been the subject of a 'joke' comment which instead of making you laugh maybe revealed more about the senders prejudices? Have you ever read a Facebook post which you thought was a little close to the bone? Most of us have. Cyberbullying and Hate Speech are new names for old problems. Traditionally intolerance and bullying involved comments thrown across the street or the playground, but today our increasingly online social lives offer new avenues for such comments.

'No Hate Speech' was the topic of a recent workshop organised by Concordia France in Le Mans for educators and youth workers from across Europe. The 'No Hate Speech' movements aims to raise awareness of this growing problem through education and publicity. It was established in 2012 by the Council of Europe. The workshop aimed at giving educators the tools to use with young people to make them aware of their online actions.

Prevention is better than cure.
Could we define key terms like Hate Speech, gender, discrimination, LGBT+, migrant, and refugee? These are words we use everyday but for which tying down a concrete definition is surprisingly difficult without a dictionary. Heated group discussion ensured. What were our personal experiences of discrimination? We identified instances where we had either been perpetrator, witness or victim of Hate comments. Sharing experiences and feeling made us aware of the impact of the problem.

We learnt methods to break down hateful comments to examine their origin and effect. One activity 'the tree of Hate' centred on one example of Hate and in groups we identified the root causes of the comment and what effects it later had. Our group choose the infamous 'Breaking Point' UKIP poster. Was this the result of fear of immigration, loss of border controls, a lack of knowledge of migrants and other faiths, a consequence of welfare cuts? Had it resulted in the EU 'no' vote? Topics for endless discussion.

Had we personally been discriminated against because of our looks, faith, sexuality, origins or even dress? Together we stood in a line, and stepped forward if we could answer no to each statement. It was surprising how many of us were left behind.

Towards the end of the week a workshop was organised for local youths from Le Mans to allow some of us to put our skills into action. A publicity event was organised in Le Mans to engage the local population; this involved handing out compliments from a bucket to passers by, asking people to cite things they loved, and aimed at educating about the project. Another group learnt how to make a video about online bullying.

Taking it forward
The international nature of the week greatly contributed to its success. Attendees from Austria, Albania, Greece and Great Britain all looked at problems with a different perspective. Attitudes to problems like the European migrant crisis are different depending on whether you are a transit country or potential host.

By actually taking part in activities you really learnt how these topics could be taught back in your host country. But perhaps as valuable as the actual training was the chance to engage with others with different background and different ideas. The ultimate take home message was maybe, we are all different but we all have the same feelings. 

Participant in the No Hate Speech Training & International Volunteer with Concordia


No Hate Speech

The day after I turned 30, I hopped on a train to London, made my way to St Pancras International station and boarded the Eurostar – destination, Le Mans! The reason for my journey was to attend a training course, funded by Erasmus+ (yes, the same people who run the university exchange) and open to participants from across Europe.
The topic of the week focused around the No Hate Speech Movement, set up by the Council of Europe, which aims to educate people on the forms of hate speech, where it is found and what actions you can take to combat it.
On a personal level, this training course woke me up to the reality of hate speech. As a white, British, straight female, I’ve not come across much hate speech directed at me personally. I glossed over what I saw online, inwardly condemning the people who wrote it, but not thinking about the causes or the effects that it can have on the victims. I wasn’t an ally, I was a bystander. I came away from this training much more aware of the damage that hate speech can cause, and the ways in which it has crept into our daily lives through social media, sensationalist tabloid headlines and online comments.
Considering the year we have had in the UK (*cough* Brexit *cough*) and the fact that the US elections happened during the week-long course, this training could not have come at a more relevant time. It’s no secret that there has been a rise in reports of hate crimes in the UK since June, and the US seems to be following the same trend since the election. But now, rather than sitting and feeling helpless about what I am witnessing online, this course has made me consider the actions that I can actually take to combat Hate Speech when I encounter it. From reporting hate speech online to running workshops on hate speech to the young people I work with, I now have practical actions which I can take to stem the tide of hate and anger which I see in our society.
But the week wasn’t all doom and gloom!
I don’t think I have ever been on a course or volunteering project where I felt so immediately at home and comfortable with the people I was sharing my time with. Participants from UK, France, Slovakia, Albania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia and Greece came together with one thing in common – huge hearts and a desire to be part of a happier, more inclusive world. We explored the beautiful city of Le Mans together, we exchanged our food and customs from across Europe, we shared the similarities and differences of language and had fun making fun of ourselves! Of course, being in France, I consumed much more bread, cheese and red wine than is required in one person’s diet, and had a lovely time doing it!

For anyone thinking of attending a training in Europe, I say do it. I have had great experiences, met wonderful people and had my eyes opened to new ideas and discussion which have benefited me both in my work and personal life. All this was provided for free, and even my travel costs were covered (well, most of it) Fingers crossed the next training course won’t be far away!


No Hate Speech participant and

longtime volunteer with Concordia Volunteers