“It’s all about raising expectations”

 In the Museu Estorial in Cascais (close to Lisbon in Portugal), the eighth OpenForum “Daily Europeans – Avant Garde or dreamers?” was opened with a panel discussion moderated by Rui Montez, who is an active member of both Citizens of Europe and the hosting Portuguese organisation Rota Jovem. The idea of this evening was to take youth exchanges as an example for international contacts and to explore their possible effects on the people involved.Carlos Gaspar from the youth department of Cascais municipality explained the activities in Adroana, an immigrant quarter of the city. Adroana offers a strong contrast to the rest of the city, as Cascais is in terms of income per capita and education level far above Portuguese average. With a group of 25 youngsters of African origin he travelled to Antwerp and Brussels in order to show them „that Portugal is only a small piece of their new home Europe and that a lot of decisions determining their lifes are actually taken far away and together with many other countries.“ As a main challenge he described “to widen people’s horizon and to make them ‚want more’ in terms of experience and qualification.” Further he said: „We wanted to show them that there is more than doing some simple jobs, that it is worth learning languages, to want to become doctors, lawyers or astronauts, that the world offers more to them.“ Carlos Gaspar claimed that especially disadvantaged people can benefit a lot of such an experience. Money invested for them might have more impact than on ‚average youngsters’. 

Patricia, Daniela, Madonna, Guigas and Ze Maria, who participated in the exchange with Belgium, explained how being part of this project changed themselves: Patricia said: “In the beginning there were doubts, but in the end we saw what we can do and that we really achieved our aims. This created a great group feeling.” Guigas added: “We got money from the Europe Union, but we needed to contribute more. We raised additional money by a doing HipHop project and by organising workshops with children. In the end it was ‘us’ who did something, not others who did something for us – although we would not have managed without a little support.” Using different examples, they explained how the project helped them to develop personally and as a group. An important aspect was also that they had agreed with the organisers to speak English or Portuguese only throughout the whole project. This forced people to help each other and integrated also those who arrived in Portugal only recently. “This way the international project even lead to integration in a national context” the participants explained. Claudia Fernandez presented Rota Jovem, an orgaisation which originated from a Youth Exchange sixteen years ago. The NGO is driven by the ideas and wishes of the people becoming active.

“Whatever follows our basic idea of taking things into the own hands, of showing responsibility and of realising own ideas, fits into our framework” she explained. In her point of view, international experience means a tremendous benefit especially for youngsters: “Youth projects bring the vague project of European Union down to the ground, to average people. They are very valid in terms of building a common concept of what is Europe, what is us. It also means a unique approach to challenge people and to make them discover potentials and also limitations which they would like to overcome in their personal development.” Catalin is a volunteer from Romania currently doing a voluntary service at Rota Jovem. He confirmed the strong impact being abroad has on his way of thinking and living. He explained that this is what he actually was looking for: An opportunity to get to know other kinds of people. And he summed up: “I actually learned that people look differently, speak differently, behave differently. But that the basic and important things are the same once you really try to understand them.” Joe Claeys works in local and international youth projects as a trainer and is part of a duo of clowns. He also has been involved in the “ACTIVacting’ trainings initiated by Citizens of Europe. He did a questionnaire for organisers of youth exchanges . He approached trainers who he knew to be interested in quality projects. Even from among them, a majority stated that they did not involve participants to the maximum, that the organisations involved where not equally participating and that participants had not contributed to the report and to evaluation to the extend possible. As main dangers for the quality of projects he identified that “projects often become an aim in themselves, they are not seen as a tool to achieve something. Projects are nice, but in the end you don’t travel somewhere because of the trip but because what you can get of it. And in youth projects it is essential, that things are not done for the participants but by the participants.” Carlos Gaspar summed up the purpose of exchange projects in an unconventional way: “Important is, that you manage achieve higher individual expectations, that people afterwards want more than they wanted before, just because they learned that there is more to be wanted!”