This project brought together young people from three different countries for a 7 day international youth exchange project in Bosnia & Herzegovina. The main aim of the project was to support the young people in developing a mutual understanding and empathy towards other cultures as well as teaching the values of outdoor education and a healthy lifestyle. The project brought together young people with and without visual impairments to learn from each other about inclusion and cultural understanding.
The exchange took place in the town of Ključ in the north west of Bosnia & Herzegovina. During the exchange, young people engaged in a range of activities, presentations and games, all of which had the focus of breaking down barriers of communication, class, ability and culture.
Towards the start of the course we had an introduction to the different types of visual impairments led by Tracie Tappenden (Chief Executive at Victa Children), Tracie taught the group about impairments such as Glaucoma, Cataracts and Nystagmus. The session helped all participants get an idea of the different types of impairments there are. During the session all the participants were given the opportunity to share about the different impairments they have and explain what conditions are involved. VICTA also provided the course with a range of glasses that simulated different types of impairments which all of the participants where given the chance to wear and experience how various conditions can feel. For example, some of the glasses had black spots, some showed tunnel vision and others only allowed light through.
The exchange also focused on outdoor education and the group were involved in two activities that centered around this. The first was a game of “Blind Cricket” which is a version of cricket adapted for blind or partially sighted players. The game involved using a large ball with a bell inside to help players locate it during the game. All of the participants who were not visually impaired wore a blindfold whilst playing. This activity put everybody on an equal playing field and even local young people from the area came to join in. The game was arrange by Thomas Norton, one of the volunteers from VICTA Children who came to support the course. As a result of this exchange Thom decided to take up another challenge offered by Act Global which was signing up for one years European Voluntary Service project with TDM 2000 in Sardinia, Italy. Thom in now living in Cagliari, Sardinia.
The other outdoor activity we did was a trek in the local mountains. Our host partners in Bosnia & Herzegovina (Kosmos) arranged for guides to take us on the trek, although challenging at parts all participants enjoyed the experience that took us to the top of the mountains. We finished the trek by walking down into the valley and having a pre-arrange picnic by the river where some of the group decided to jump and swim in the river.
“The best thing about the day was getting the chance to chat to so many of the other people and find those that you wanted to spend more time with.”
Edward Bates, Participant for the UK.
To complement the learning about healthy lifestyles we also spent a day cooking a health meal together. Mark Reeve, one of the volunteers from VICTA Children, organised the activity and split the group into three to make the starter, main course and desert. All participants had a role to plan and the result was a great meal that everyone enjoyed.
During our time in Ključ, participants were able to explore the town and local surroundings. As the town is mostly inhabited by Muslims, one day we were invited to visit the local mosque where we were greeted by the local Imam. Participants were given a tour of the mosque, with explanations about all the different areas and why they were there. The tour was finished with an open questions and answer session with the Imam. After this visit the Imam very kindly took our participants to the cafe next door where he bought drinks for the whole group.
Each of the three countries involved in the program was given an opportunity to present their own culture in a presentation. The presentations involved games, music, and sharing their native food to the rest of the group. This session helped participants gain a greater understanding of each others country and culture. In addition, we also held a session discussing stereotypes of each of the nations present. Participants were encouraged to write on post-it notes all the stereotypes (positive or negative) they held of each others countries. Each nation was then presented with these preconceived ideas and answered any questions that arose, often resulting in the dispelling of myths, the breaking of stereotypes and finding out what is true.
One of the incidents many people know about Bosnia & Herzegovina is the war that took place in the 1990’s. To help our participants understand more about the war our native host Azra gave a session where she explained why it happened, who was involved and what brought it to an end. The session gave participants the opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the roots of conflict in the area. During the week, many of the participants admitted to having a preconceived notion of Bosnia & Herzegovina being a place of conflict and division caused by the war. However, at the end of the week they undoubtedly left with an altered belief of it being a place of beautiful mountainous landscapes, warm hospitality and great food. Many friendships where made during the course and tears were shed when we all had to leave.
The partners on the exchange were.
Please check out our Facebook page to see the photos from the project or contact us if you are interested to get involved in our future projects, either as a volunteer, partner organisation or participant