Inspiration Exchange was born in early 2014 as a group of ten young people from New Ross began to develop as the WHOT?! Group: ‘We Have Opinions Too?!’. We spent about six months developing our identity as a group and exploring our ideas about what we wanted to do and achieve. Discussions began with the following questions:
WHOT?! bothers you?
WHOT?! can we do about it?
WHOT?! would be our dream club?
WHOT?! if …….?
These discussions generated a lot of ideas, visions and material for developing a proposal for our Erasmus+ application. A strong recurring theme was that all members of the group had experienced negative stereotyping. Possible action to take could be to create events, art and performances that would promote the group in a positive way and allow them to express their opinions; a dream club which would consist of more art, making music, an exhibition, going on a trip, visiting other youth groups, a fashion show and eating pizza in Italy. From this, we developed a proposal with clear aims and objectives, an activities plan and our envisaged outcomes and results.
Our project rationale was all about creating opportunities: for the young people involved, their organisations, their communities and the public they engage with. It consisted of developing a transnational programme that creates a space for the young people involved to explore their identity, issues that are important to them and their role as global citizens. The design of the programme allowed the young people in both countries to share and exchange experiences and views, think about issues from different perspectives and develop empathy and understanding of others’ experiences. We decided we would create a series of artworks that reflected the messages we would like to share. We planned to take this artwork to the streets in both partner countries to perform a ‘street action’. This would give us an opportunity to share our opinions and creativity with the public, activate our citizenship awareness and challenge the negative stereotypes that young people often experience. Using innovative and creative methods, we proposed to create an interactive e-learning platform to exchange practice, methods, promote active citizenship with each other and also to disseminate our results and outcomes with both partner organisations and the field of youth work at a local, national and European level as well as with other networks.
Our partner for the project was Associazione Culturale Malik, on the beautiful island of Sardinia, Italy. The group of young people we worked with were in a small, quaint town in the centre of the Island called Gavoi. They were between 15 and 19 years old and were five males and five females. The Project officially began in Sept 2014. It took place over five phases. Here is how the partnership unfolded:
1. Exploratory Phase (Sept-Dec 14)
Key to this phase was our exploration of what is meant by global citizenship. It was about developing critical thinking skills and new perspectives. We used this time to connect with our partners: we sent each other quizzes to teach each other about our countries and culture. (Did you know there are more sheep in the island of Sardinia then people?). We made badges and postcards and sent them to each other and also made a little movie to share about our group identity. Claudia and Valeria from Italy came to visit us for the Advanced Planning Visit (APV). They met our group so that they would be sure to match us with the right young people in terms of age, gender mix and background. We did a lot of logistical planning together. I took them to the hostel where I was planning to host our residential to make sure they felt it would meet the needs of their young people. It was an important time for developing a good working relationship and establishing a clear sense of roles and responsibilities.
2. Creative Work Phase (Jan-May 2015)
In January, we responded to the exploratory phase by creating pieces of public artwork that represented our ideas, values and perspectives. We were interested in creating street art, murals, performances, videos and music pieces. We made a mural that was 8 ft by 20 ft long and installed it publicly in New Ross. It expressed messages of equality, friendship, creativity and more. The group in Sardinia also painted a mural that was exhibited in Gavoi.
We also linked in with Young Social Innovators as part of this phase of the programme. YSI were piloting a Youth in the Community Scheme and we became one of the four groups involved in the pilot. This greatly enhanced our work and helped us focus and stick to our timeline. We got to meet other young groups and hear about issues they were interested in pursuing and what actions they were going to take. This was an unprecedented inspiration exchange but a very valuable one.
3. First Transnational Meeting: Ireland host Italy for seven days.
This was our first meeting; we stayed in a hostel on Carne Beach in Wexford. A lot of learning took place this week, including lots of highlights and lots of challenges. Overcoming these challenges meant we began to make sense of what acceptance and diversity really means. We began to recognise each other’s strengths and friendships were formed. You can see more of our activities on our blog and view highlights of the week in our mini movie here: https://inspirationexchangewexford.tumblr.com
4. Second Transnational Meeting: Italy hosting Ireland for seven days.
Our week in Gavoi was amazing. They were excellent hosts and it was so lovely to be in glorious sunshine and warm weather. The town, the country-side and the coast were just beautiful. We were there to learn about and experience a sense of citizenship and inclusion, and to promote positivity. It was about engaging with members of the local community to promote ourselves in a positive way and share our project using our creativity. We also learned about kindness, generosity, beauty, understanding, acceptance and more. Check out details of what we did on our blog and highlights of the week captured in our Inspiration Exchange Sardinia mini movie; https://inspirationexchangegavoi.tumblr.com
5. Dissemination, Youth Pass, Evaluation, Close and Completion of Training Resource
By this stage we had experienced and learned so much and there was a lot to share; a natural starting point for the “WHOT?! Group” was writing and recording music. This culminated with the release of our song ‘How you gonna live your life?’. Have a listen to it on Soundcloud:
We spent the rest of this time harvesting our experiences and capturing the impact it had on us. We created and designed a resource pack for youth workers that will be downloadable from our website. This resource pack documents our journey, experiences and reflections as part of “Inspiration Exchange”. It will be of interest to youth workers/leaders/organisations interested in:
developing more global perspectives in their youth work practice
the benefits of engaging in international youth work
developing a proposal for similar Erasmus+ projects.
All in all, the project exceeded our initial aims and objectives. It gave us the opportunity to learn a lot about ourselves and our role as global citizens. It also gave us a platform to connect to our local community and beyond, using our creativity to challenge negative stereotypes that young people often face. Friendships were formed and memories were made. Most importantly, I think it had a massive impact on the next steps for the young people involved and the shape their lives will take and how they will impact on the lives of others.
From an organisational point of view there has been a significant impact on FDYS. Our manager Sean Cooke believes that:
“The Inspiration Exchange programme has acted as a significant catalyst for our organisation to develop a multi-programme strategy to maximise the potential of Erasmus+. The opportunities to further develop best practice in our youth work has also been highlighted by the programme and has directed the development of our strategy towards a development education model based on equality and justice principals. We see the integration of this work as a major cornerstone towards our future growth as an organisation and look forward to developing strong and sustainable relationships in the pursuit of this objective”.
We leave the last words to some of the young people themselves:
“The programme has benefited me hugely as I now look at situations and different things from a different perspective and it has taught me that no matter how small your voice can be, it can be heard. We can make a difference!” – Kelly
“It was a good experience that helped me connect with a different culture. This experience has changed me. We have made new connections, not only the usual ones” – Pietro
“From taking part in this project I have learned what youth groups and youth work is about. I had an amazing experience achieving certificates. I am more positive about art and learning new values. I met people the same age from different countries. I learned about travelling, making art, making music, and I got to meet different youth groups from across Ireland. It helped me decide that I would like to have the same career in the future” – Rian
“The project helped us to know another culture and connect with people different to us. It also helped us to develop good relations with other Gavoi inhabitants. Integration with the rest of the world makes us feel not only Gavoi citizens but global citizens” – Anna Giada Sanna
“I’ve learned so much about life in general. I’ve learned the effects of social injustice. It is important for us all to play a part and make a difference to the world. It has given me a positive attitude to see new things in a new light. My favourite part was when there was something to do we always got it done but also had an amazing experience as well as having the craic. I made new friends, new memories, and got myself a lot of confidence … I always felt good and proud of what I achieved” – Keri
“It was the only group in Ross where you learned about different cultures and things that affect us every day that we don’t notice. We got to know everyone else’s opinions on things that affect us daily. It made us more aware of challenging negative stereotypes and seeing things in a new light. We did lots of art as a way of putting positive messages into our group and our community. We matured a lot from the group and now we are all best friends. Thanks for the good craic for the last two years” – Laura