From Jerusalem to Dublin, via Mürren
27 youth organizers, from Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Croatia, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Israel and Palestine, as well as the host country Switzerland, met in the picturesque village of Mürren, in the Bernese Oberland. The meeting was an opportunity for the participants to draw inspiration by sharing their experiences and generate ideas for new projects back in their home countries.
Supported by the programme Youth in Action and the Infoklick association, the course was intended for people running youth activities in multi-cultural situations, in countries where the plurality of languages, religions and ethnic groups leads to conflict and discrimination. With the intention of developing new intercultural strategies for young people, the enterprising Oliver Schneitter (from Solothurn) – assisted by warm and friendly Viv Sadd and smiling Yael Gidanian – brought together representatives from ten different countries at the foot of the Schilthorn: "I liked the idea of getting people together in neutral Switzerland from countries where there are social tensions." Thanks to creative, interactive learning strategies – dramatic sketches, cultural windows, outdoor pursuits and singing – a pleasant atmosphere of solidarity and good humour was soon established. Everyone was able to attend and take an active part in a Muslim ceremony and a Shabbat. The relaxed atmosphere undoubtedly created the ideal framework for formulating new project ideas.
Ayman, an Arab from Israel, active in the Interfaith Encounter Association, an organization devoted to promoting peace in the Middle East, is planning a Language Exchange project. The idea is to teach Arab and Hebrew to young people from both communities, so that the language barrier ceases to be a reason for misunderstanding and friction. Maggie, a 23-year-old Irish woman, works for the NGO Pavee Point. Connecting Cultures has given her the idea of setting up a structure to receive groups of immigrant women, where they can learn how the Irish political and social system works. This will put them in a position to independently seek funding for their own projects, in turn helping other minorities and so creating a virtuous circle. From Flanders, Leentje, aged 24, would like to set up a project entitled "Music, therapy for everyone", also involving people with disabilities. "The idea is to bring together people from different countries, each with its own musical tradition", explains Leentje, "because everyone is sensitive to music, even the deaf." Moshe, an Israeli, believes that tensions between Israelis and Palestinians can be defused by fostering mutual understanding. He would like to bring together youth leaders from the different religious communities and help them to establish fruitful relationships, so they can better understand one another. The aim of the project favoured by Dardan, a 26-year old Kosovan, is to promote the image of Kosovo abroad through a cultural exchange programme for young people.
A successful venture, worth repeating
The primary objective of this interesting course has been achieved: new projects have been formulated. The next stage for each participant will be to to find ways of putting them into practice back home. "This has been a good training course", concludes Oliver Schneitter, "so much so that we intend to run it again, with a few changes, in Ireland and Israel." Those who work with young people undoubtedly exercise a powerful influence over them, and therefore first need to be freed of their own prejudices towards other cultures. Connecting Cultures has enabled them to do so, as Sivan, aged 27, from Israel, points out: "I have realized that in all countries there are the same sort of difficulties in working with young people. It is amazing to discover to what extent, despite our diversity, the problems are exactly the same."