Volunteers organise Chapter Exchange in Iceland

On 24 September to 2 October the local chapters of AFS Iceland hosted the project “Changes through action: Seeing beyond our national identity and exploring the multicultural Europe.” The project is this first part of four in a bigger scheme called Chapter Exchange. The project is a grassroots initiative, organised by volunteers, for volunteers. Jenný Lárentsínusdóttir, a volunteer of AFS Iceland and one of the organisers of the event, told EFILife about the experience.

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What is this Chapter exchange?

The Chapter Exchange project is a Youth Exchange between local chapters of four different AFS Organisations in Europe, funded by the Erasmus+ scheme of the European Commission. Projects like this have been organised by different AFS local chapters for a few years now. The aim is to create a platform where important topics and problems of the European community are discussed in order to build greater knowledge and understanding concerning the topic, to contemplate a solution and find ways to bring that knowledge back into the community. This Chapter Exchange is a two year project with four participating countries, Iceland, Germany, Portugal and Slovakia, where local chapters in each country will host one Youth Exchange with approximately six-month intervals.

Changes through action: Seeing beyond our national identity and exploring the multicultural Europe.

The headline for this Chapter Exchange is “Changes Through Action” and links all four projects together. Now only one of the four exchanges has been realised and it took place in Iceland with the title “Changes through action: Seeing beyond our national identity and exploring the multicultural Europe”. The context of the exchange reflects in the title where participants are asked to put their national identity aside and matters of immigration and refugees are observed and the multicultural Europe explored.

The objectives were:

-To bring together young participants from different corners of Europe and creating a common understanding and shared responsibility for the challenges of the multicultural Europe

-That participants will develop intercultural skills through working in an international group.

-Promote European citizenship by opening up a platform to discuss matter important to all of Europe.

-Activate young people in their volunteer work in their own countries by giving them an opportunity to construct a creative project related to the topic that they can implement at home.

-Inspire participants to use the knowledge that they will gain after the week, encourage them to continue with the projects they started and to create new projects related to the topic in the future.

This project is a great opportunity to unite different cultures with the objective to create a joint view of topics that are related to the diverse society that Europe is today. By hosting this project we create a network of individuals that acquire knowledge and skills that can be beneficial to their volunteer work, personal and professional life. We hope to have empowered people to take action and be active citizens on local, national and European level and by doing so move further towards the goal of creating a more just and peaceful world.

Eramsus +

When the decision to proceed with the Chapter Exchange was final we immediately started the funding process. The grant received to make this project a reality is from the Erasmus+ funding program of the European Union focused on cultural, youth and sport actions.

Having received the grant for not only the first exchange, taking place in Iceland, but also the second exchange, taking place in Portugal, we went ahead with preparations in order to make this project an amazing experience!

How did this cycle start?

To begin with, AFS Iceland has participated in two Chapter Exchange cycles before and that is where the idea comes from. Both cycles were very successful and left behind greater knowledge, memories, friends and left participants inspired.

The discussion of beginning a new cycle had been in the air for a while and when AFS Slovakia and AFS Konstanz chapter of AFS Germany contacted AFS Iceland showing interest in starting a new cycle, we decided to go for it and start the process. At the same time the discussion about immigrants and refugees was a hot topic which gave an opportunity to create a field where these matters could be discussed and hopefully create a common understanding that would be useful in creating a more just and peaceful world

January and February 2016 were spent finding the fourth partner organisation and as AFS Iceland already had experience working with AFS Portugal in the first Chapter Exchange cycle, they were contacted and agreed to work with us on this project.

By now we had all four organisations and the difficult part was coming up: The application for the grant. There was literally blood, tears and sweat during this period, but 26 April we managed to send in the application. And guess what!? 23 June we were informed that we received the funding for the project!

Now it was getting very real and it was time to start looking beyond our national identity and explore the multicultural Europe!

Preparation

The preparation of the Chapter Exchange in Iceland was definitely a challenging task! But what made it way easier was the team of amazing individuals that formed the Icelandic team and made this become reality as well as the partner organisation and of course the AFS Iceland office that stood behind us during the whole process. From finding accommodation, organising activities, finding experts, handling logistics and everything that touched the exchange, I think that the members of the team gained experience in organising event such as this one, the competence to work in a team, the opportunity to explore their creativity and abilities and so much more.

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Chapex!

The Chapter Exchange started 24 September as mentioned before, in rural Iceland, only 40 minute drive from Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. The excitement of participant for the week to come was extremely visible but you could also see from their eyes the exhaustion from travelling from their home places, Portugal, Germany and Slovakia.

The day after the program started. Over the week we had experts, workshops and the time and space to create our own projects. The northern lights were with us the whole time in the rural area and even showed the Icelanders more beauty that they had ever seen. The second part of the week was in Reykjavík. Apart from the experts, workshops and creative session, we also explored Iceland’s touristic attractions as well as the “big city life” of Reykjavik.

During the event we met with 3 external parties. First we met Ása Dagmar Jónsdóttir from the Directorate of Immigration of Iceland, who gave a lecture titled Extremism; Victims or villains, secondly we met with two volunteers from the Icelandic Red Cross that went over the process of refugees in Iceland and thirdly we met Magdalena Maria Poslednik, a Polish woman who immigrated to Iceland some years ago and told us about her experience.

Participants of each represented country gave a workshop to the other participants and this was a great addition to the programme. Participants from Portugal focused on concepts such as multiculturalism and interculturalism.  Participants from Germany conducted a simulation of a refugee camp which without a doubt left participants with a lot of emotions to reflect on. I think it made us see that we can do better! The third workshop was delivered by the participants from Slovakia where we reflected on stereotypes and it made us think about we can do about them in everyday life, and in the end we all set our personal goals based on the discussions.

The participants got the chance to create their own projects related to the topic. The projects varied from small to large. Some were workshops that were delivered on the Intercultural Dialogue Day in Iceland where everyone was free to attend. Others started project such as board games, videos, articles in a newsletter and a library dedicated to intercultural learning and intercultural meetings.

In the end, what most of us took away from this experience was perhaps that we can do better when it comes to immigrants. We can help them to adapt better to our communities as well as helping the people within our society to understand and reflect on their own prejudices towards people of different origins and instead of being afraid of diversity, to celebrate it in order for more people to be able to live in such a privileged society as most of us do.

We thank the amazing people that made this experience a reality; it’s not the event itself that makes it great but the people! This youth exchange left us inspired by all the amazing individuals that came together as well as motivated to fight for each and every citizen of the world. In the end everyone should be happy and that is what AFS is about, humanity living together in peace on this beautiful planet that we call earth.

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For more information contact: tinna.sveinsdottir@afs.org

Photos: ©AFS Iceland