by Tula Necker and Georgina Smith
The YAGO (Youth Activism Generates Opportunity) Project took place in the city of Thessaloniki, Greece. From 10th - 18th January 2017 almost 50 participants took part in a youth exchange focusing on human rights and activism. Participants from organisations all around the world; France, Italy, Sweden, Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Estonia lived together in the Philippion hotel within the Seich Sou forest. The project had a difficult start due to the bad weather, with heavy snow hitting the city for the first time in many years, but that did not stop the smiles and happy memories.
The project brought together many different people from different ways of life. Some were still in school, others volunteers and some who were really interested in the topic. There were many personalities and all brought something new to the group.
The week began with name games to help get to know each other, with a variety of activities each participant had the opportunity to meet and connect with each other. There were games like human bingo and eight tasks, also a shield game where participants needed to get into pairs and create a shield which depicts their partner’s life (where they are from, what they do, their hobbies and their future) to later present to the group.
The project continued with activities based on human rights, for example listing the articles in order of importance and a short theatre performance or a still frame of the most important, with all groups choosing the Right to Life. The participants all worked together very well and produced great pieces of work. Throughout the week, photographs were taken, memes were made and video were shot, with every participant being involved in the decision-making process. There were guest speakers during the project to talk about the no hate speech movement and digital media as resources for activism. On Sunday night, the group sat together to watch a movie by Konstantinos Maragkos, a participant in the YAGO project who runs the H-Ug help Uganda project. An inspiring video on how every person can help the world a better place.
By the end of the project all the participants were so close and connected that the goodbyes were tough, there were many tears and many hugs, the mood in the hotel had changed to one of sadness knowing the group was to separate soon. The project helped inspire all those involved and impacted every single person who participated. The YAGO project was a once in a lifetime opportunity and one that will never be forgotten.
Tula Necker, 20 from Germany:
When I arrived with two of our other EVSers from USB in the Philippion Hotel, I didn't really know what to expect from the project, that was described as a youth exchange. We had some problems with the weather because many flights were cancelled and so we were only 8 of 50 participants in the beginning. But from time to time everybody arrived. We were in mixed rooms, with other participants from other countries, different ages. My roommates were from Cyprus and Romania and in the beginning I was a bit afraid of sharing a room for eight days with girls I never saw before. When everybody had finally arrived, the two girls turned out to be very nice and interesting persons. The girl from Cyprus was learning German, my mother language, so I had the chance to teach her some words and she taught me some Greek.
The first games that we played were more about getting to know each other than about our topic which was Youth Activism. But I really enjoyed the games and I already guessed, that I will meet fantastic people after I have had the first short chats with them. The time passed by very quickly and after two days, when our tasks changed into more serious topics, we already knew another well. The Italian group and the group from Cyprus developed to be the loudest and most motivating group from the participants, and even though we worked from the morning until 8 in the evening, they still had the power to convince us all to dance together. The days were full of activities and new experiences and ideas to think about. I loved the tasks that we were given.
When we had to produce a short movie with the help of our phone only, we all created great movies about human rights, which I was very proud of. I learned a lot about online and offline activism and the many possibilities that each of us has to become active and creative. We taught another about different kinds of activism in our counties and the projects of the different activists that participated. It gave me a lot of impact and I really enjoyed all the tasks. We had some participants that didn't talk much in the beginning of the project, but in the end we all talked all night long and nobody was really excluded. I felt like home and even though we only knew the group for one week, it felt like I knew them for ages. There was so much positive energy in our hotel, it was amazing. I also noticed some changes about myself. When we went to a Club, close to Kamara, called Minoui I sat down and planned to go home soon and just finish my glass of wine. But the Italians and Cypriots wouldn't let me sit and invited me several times until I finally agreed. We all started dancing, also the more shy and introverted persons of our group. Suddenly it was four o'clock in the morning and we were all wet because we danced so passionately. We were one big group and the night made me feel what happiness and a powerful community feels like.
When the Italians had to leave, many of us cried a lot and it was very hard to accept that the days in our new community had come to an end. All the exercises we worked on in groups, all the things we knew about another in such a short time, made it very hard to let them go back to their country. We were working all day long, in the city centre to do social experiments or in the hotel, discussing, dancing and singing in the night. I felt very tired and happily satisfied about the last week when I came home. The week had huge impact on me and changed my life. I never met so many open-minded and friendly people, that created such a great atmosphere of power and hopefulness. I will never forget the week and the wonderful people that I met.
Georgina Smith, 21 from England:
The entire project was incredible. The people I met during those eight short days were some of the most caring and genuine people I have ever met in my life. I instantly clicked with several people, especially the Italian and French group, but over time I got the chance to speak to everyone and get to know them a little. At first I thought I would have nothing in common to talk with these people about but over time they proved me wrong. I found fellow law students, volunteers, people with similar tastes and even a few who was the complete opposite to me but we still spoke like we had known each other our entire lives. I have met some lifelong friends and created magical memories that I could never forget.
We laughed, we sang, we danced, but most importantly we came together to do something useful in the world. I am so glad I decided to participate in the project, as my decision was very last minute I was unsure whether the youth exchange was something I would be interested in.
I learned valuable skills surrounding activism and human rights, and the use of online resources and media. We were lucky enough to have guest speakers to come and speak with us about the no hate speech movement, which is something I am really interested in as I started my own research into the organisation and I am in the process of producing a booklet from USB.
We got to create images in the form of photographs and memes in order to inspire and provoke the audience, we created videos focusing on human rights which were all great. This type of activity was interesting for me as I had never looked into media resources and it will be useful in the future.
I would just like to thank those who ran the project – Aris, Electra and Luiza for their enthusiasm which made each activity enjoyable! But also to each and every participant that made those few days memorable. I will never forget my time in the YAGO project.
If you want to find out more - https://ginamarie95.wordpress.com/2017/01/19/the-yago-experience/
Written by Tula Necker and Georgina Smith,
participants in the YAGO project and EVS volunteers in USB.
Photos by Luiza Tsikala