Was the participatory theatre truly involving youngsters?
Yes. Participatory theatre methods were engaging, and we made sure that everybody feels comfortable to participate. When first selecting participants, we asked them how they felt about doing a performance, and if they were ready to try doing something new. Naturally, we kept in mind that for some youngsters this is going to be a real challenge, so we were careful in taking them out of their comfort zone and progressing slowly towards more advanced activities through the week.
Can you talk about a few examples of the activities?
One outcome of the week was the production of a project toolbox, which brought together some best practices that participants shared. For example, the Italian group taught how ‘acrobalance’ skills and making human pyramids could be useful in team building! Through discussions with the group, we made a point of emphasising how each activity could be fun but also create a real benefit. In one activity about intercultural dialogue, participants were divided into four different (imaginary) ‘tribes’, as a way of thinking about the rules and taboos of cultures. In addition to thinking up their own special rituals using the materials they found, one group even marked their territory in the woods! When the tribes eventually met, a clash of cultures became apparent. But afterwards they reflected on their experiences and were able to discuss the causes of their behaviour. Though presenting intercultural issues to young people can be a daunting prospect, this roleplaying format made it a lot easier to connect an abstract idea to the experience of everyday life.
Is there one example that best reflects the success of the exchange?
One simple activity took place at a huge sports field. The whole group stood in a line, except for one person who was running towards them with closed eyes, trusting that the others would catch him. When we tried this activity at the beginning, many in the group refused and could not even manage the task at walking pace. But when we repeated it on the last day, each one of them ran into the group without hesitation! It was a heartwarming moment, the best evaluation ever.
What were the challenges?
The biggest challenge was to find a balance in the activities between freedom and structure. Being responsible for a huge group of youngsters meant that we needed to check the legal situation in each country regarding travelling, documentation and so on. As half of our group were leaving their home countries for the first time in their lives, we had to prepare both youngsters and parents as well! In the end we did not have any problems, but that was because we took all of our project preparations very seriously. We organised walks outside the project premises, and supervised areas where they could hang out and play board games in the evening. As other groups and events were present at the resort, they had the chance to show our results to other young people. On one occasion we arranged a talent show, for instance.
Do you have any suggestions for anyone who is considering their first project?
Choose partners you know, and don’t just search for organisations randomly on the internet. It helped a great deal that we knew our partners from previous projects, and we made sure they were involved at every step!
Do you know what impact this youth exchange has had?
Some of the participants have submitted project applications on their own, which hopefully will be realised after the pandemic. Another impact, a few weeks after the project’s completion, some of our participants met again at Storyland, another youth exchange in Sweden. Anyone who takes part in these kinds of projects knows the strong friendships they form, and these were very evident during the reunion of young people! They were also able to share their enthusiasm with the rest of the new group and what they had learned in Croatia.