Youth in Activism: The Camp (participants’ reflection)
Every year, DIH cooperates with various international organizations with which we co-create youth projects. In addition to the more well-known ESC volunteering projects, through which we host and send long-term volunteers, we also participate in a number of youth exchanges lasting 5 to 14 days and related to a specific topic. Below is an article of the participants of the last youth exchange in which we participated, and more information about the program can be found here.
YOUth in ACTivism: The Camp
YOUth in ACTivism: The Camp was an amazing, fulfilling and exceptional LGBT+ Erasmus+ project that brought together 35 youngsters from Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Latvia and Slovenia. The project took place in the Netherlands in a town called Ommen between August 25 and September 5, 2021.
Whether it is your first project or one of many, you always get to learn and experience new things in new locations. Our project began from the day we applied for it –– preparing mentally and physically for the journey ahead of us and spending weeks living with people you did not expect you are going to miss dearly. We, Zala, Asija, Ela and Kaja, began our journey separately, not knowing we would soon become best friends with 30 other strangers at the Olde Vechte Foundation in Ommen. COVID has caused us some traveling trouble, but, honestly, it made the adventure more memorable, having crossed 3 borders. Besides, this camp has been the best getaway after these long lonesome months of the pandemic. We came there with different expectations which were all exceeded in these 12 days. It is merely impossible to fully describe with words what this project gave us. We shared an enormous amount of (group) hugs, cuddles and kisses. Maybe it was COVID’s fault that all of us missed the human touch and presence of other human beings so much that we just could not let go of each other. We have never felt so close to people that we have only just met and we can firmly say that the most important outcome of this project is gaining friends from all over Europe. In this safe space we have created, we have been able to share our knowledge and ideas which we also learned how to put into action.
We always had something to do and always had a kind, understanding person to talk to in time of fun and in time of need. We have made a ton of inside jokes that put a smile on our faces by just remembering the never-ending Dutch bread and Cathy’s orange juice, the ever so persistent wasps at breakfast, the Latvians being Latvians, the daily immersion into becoming a Greek with “Ela-a-a-a!” heard from any room, and many other. The organizing team has done a tremendous job of utilizing every hour of our project, whether it’s a group exercise, a get-to-know-each-other activity, an informative learning experience, some bonding time or a “me” time. Both participants and team felt like a united family which is often hard to encounter. The queer safe space bubble is something not all of us can obtain, but it is something extremely crucial to our wellbeing, growth and simply happiness. All of us came from different backgrounds with our own stories and people were willing to listen to each other and learn from one another. 12 days seemed short and long at the same time: barely enough to connect with everyone but enough to forget how life is outside of Olde Vechte. Some of us were fast at active socializing and touch and some took our time to open up and lower our masks we have to use daily in our lives. It was eye-opening and endearing to see people having similar experiences as yourself and feeling understood.
Days at the project were filled with many magical moments. For each of us, these magical moments were different in nature, but there were important ones we shared, too. One of the special moments was the late-night snacking in the kitchen where everybody would unintentionally meet. It was also magical to have a support group with whom we could share all the beautiful parts of the project but also all the tough moments and struggles we had during it. The support group as well as all the other people in the project were an important part of the experience and a source of support. Each day was different and special in its own way and each of us was able to get something for ourselves. From the first day of meeting people and finding our support group to all the walkie-talkies, dancing and expressing ourselves through movement, making food together, camping, making something of our own and even participating in the street action.
The last days of the camp were full of hugs and crying as we started to realize we had to say goodbye to each other and return to our worlds. For the big finale, we all together created an amazing and beautiful evening just before it was time to say goodbye. But the project didn’t finish in the Netherlands. When we got back home we had to do a lot of self-evaluation. We had to think about who we really are and how to function outside of this safe queer bubble. We learned a lot about ourselves, about the LGBT+ community and grew as people. We still keep in contact and already have many reunions all around Europe. This project has been, hands down, the best project we have ever attended.
Written by volunteers Kaja, Ela, Asija in Zala
The project was created in collaboration with our partner organisations Active Rainbow, Bilits Foundation, Cassero LGBTI Center, Olde Vechte Foundation, Collipo and Roes Cooperativa, financed with the support of the National Agency of the Netherlands Erasmus+ Jeugd.
Interested in joining a youth exchange? During spring and summer 2022 we have several projects planned – keep an eye out on our Facebook and Instagram for news! Information on current international projects can also be found here.