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Bild: Bettina Ausserhofer| IJAB

Unity in diversity

The international #InclusionBarCamp

The ingredients: 30 young people from France, Germany, Belgium, Albania, Lithuania, Latvia, Cyprus, Spain and Hungary; two days with brief inputs from experts; and lots of time and space for dialogue and debate. The outcome: Valuable ideas for more inclusivity in international youth work.

Friday night was arrival night, with participants descending on the youth hostel in Berlin-Ostkreuz with its pretty Christmas decorations. The group was as colourful and diverse as Europe itself - no surprise, given that people had travelled from all corners of the continent to work together for more inclusion. To assist participants in finding their feet (“Where do I need to go?” “Who are all these people?”) as well as settling in (“Help! My English isn’t great!”), the international youth BarCamp kicked off with a fun-filled game of get-to-know-you bingo, followed by a treasure hunt through the youth hostel. By the end of the evening, everyone had worked out where their meeting rooms were and which of the participants had already taken part in an international youth activity. Yet probably the most valuable insight of the evening was the awareness that every single participant has something to say, can share their thoughts without fear, and will be taken seriously. Everyone felt accepted just the way they were.

Work started for real on Saturday morning. The group began by creating a common understanding of what the two concepts - “inclusion” and “BarCamp” meant to everyone, whether they were familiar with them or not.

 

So what is a BarCamp?

BarCamps are different from classic meetings or conferences in that there is no distinction between participants and speakers. Everyone is called upon to contribute questions, ideas and positions that relate to the chosen BarCamp theme(s) in discussion rounds or “sessions”. In the case of the Berlin BarCamp, guidance came from the BarCamp rules that participants were asked to observe as they developed their session ideas:

  1. Talk about BarCamp! Share the news via your blog, Twitter, Instagram and others.
  2. There is no audience, everyone contributes. Don’t just lean back and listen - engage in the conversation!
  3. Everyone has equal rights - anyone can identify a theme and contribute to the discussion. All opinions are equally valid.
  4. Never fear failure. Even undeveloped ideas and concepts can be worth as session.
  5. Planned chaos - there’s no such thing as a fixed agenda. The participants decide what they want to talk about. If your idea is not on the list, write it down!

 

And what is inclusion?

In her interactive session, Elżbieta Kosek from Kreisau Initiative didn’t just explain what inclusion is, she also allowed the young participants to explore and experience it first-hand. She staged a brief drama workshop based on the method developed by Augusto Boal, a Brazilian theatre practitioner, and his Theatre of the Oppressed. Again, the rule was: There is no audience, everyone contributes.

Following a brief warm-up exercise, the participants split into smaller groups to discuss what “inclusion” means to them. Each group then acted out their definition in a short dramatic scene and gave their performance an informative title. The other participants then briefly outlined their interpretation of what they had seen, and were invited to join the scene if they wanted. For instance, one of the scenes was entitled “Unity in diversity”, with observers recognising elements representing diversity, love, support, connection, trust, help, and acceptance - but also inequality, exclusion, ignorance, shyness and sadness. Another scene by another group called to mind concepts such as freedom, strength, happiness, fun, loyalty, peace and participation for all. The concept of “unity”, which was presented in the form of a circle, may help people to feel strong – but, as Elżbieta Kosek pointed out, even though a large circle may signify unity and strength, it is difficult for outsiders to become part of it. After all, a circle has no entry point – and so it is important for a circle to always remain open.

To help participants experience inclusion not just in emotional terms but also intellectually, during Elżbieta’s presentation she used various models to explain how different societies approach inclusion and how it has been dealt with over time. For instance, in “exclusive” societies individuals with impairments are not part of social life; instead, they are hidden from sight. Separation, which was increasingly practised from the 1960s onwards, did consider education to be a universal right, but preferred to segregate individuals with disabilities and place them in special schools. In the 1970s and 80s followed integration, during which mainstream education systems were opened up to people with impairments. However, the system itself was never changed to accommodate their needs; instead, the individuals themselves were expected to adapt. The concept of inclusion, by contrast, involves adapting the system, not the individual. Diversity is considered the norm. For this to work, approaches and attitudes need to undergo profound change, because the greatest barriers to inclusion are mental. Inclusion assumes that it is not people who are disabled; it is the system that disables them.

The session concluded with a screening of the film Building Bridges: Thassos, which was shot in 2019 during an inclusive youth activity run by Kreisau Initiative in Greece. The film is an impressive demonstration of the benefits of inclusive international youth work.

 

Begin of the sessions

And that was all in terms of input from the outside. Now it was time for the young participants to take over and determine the themes of their own sessions, each lasting 60 minutes, that would take them into the evening. They included:

  • We are all amazing! How to appear confident, supported and empowered.
  • How can formal education and career options be equally accessible to everyone, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, religious beliefs, physical ability etc.? (inclusion and society/inclusion in the workplace)
  • How is inclusion being practiced in other countries? How can we combat exclusion? How can we organise inclusive projects?
  • Getting to know people from other cultures - How to interact with others via Instagram and Facebook - How to create more accessibility and lower barriers
  • A year spent in the USA
  • Inclusion in sports
  • Music as a communication tool - Including people with intellectual disabilities in musical activities - Creative expression through art
  • Diversity as an asset - Inclusion for individuals with invisible impairments or disabilities
  • Preventing bullying

It was interesting to see how the various groups developed their themes, as well as to observe how open the participants were, especially when it came to sharing their often very personal and not always positive experiences.

For instance, Florian, who is deaf, announced that he was happy to take questions from the group. After a short period of silence, suddenly the questions rained down on him. Why can’t you hear? Are there different sign languages? What’s it like when deaf people have children? Can the parents hear their baby cry? How much can you understand when you lip-read? How can you go to university when you’re deaf? Are there laws that ban deaf people from working in certain jobs? And the inevitable question: how do you sign “I love you”?

 

The world through a VR headset

Sunday started off with a session led by Michel and Hannes Roever with their VIP (Visually Impaired Person) Simulator (https://www.startnext.com/vipsim), a headset that simulates a variety of visual impairments. Michel and Hannes hope that by experiencing what it is like to have a visual impairment, people can better understand the problems and barriers faced by “VIPs” and also their behaviours. Most BarCampers agreed to try out the headset and open up to this unusual experience.

 

Experts thanks to personal experience

The participants were asked to split into working groups so they could reconcile their personal experience with what they had heard and observed during the #InclusionBarCamp - and to express in words what they thought was relevant when planning, running and debriefing an inclusive youth activity. This output will provide valuable input for the continued development of the inclusion strategy for international youth work, which is the ultimate objective of the VISION:INCLUSiON project.

For instance, participants felt it was important to ensure the provision of assistance and translation for participants who needed it. They also pointed out that it was important to clarify the exact interpretation of “inclusion” and what its consequences are for the activity and for society in general. Organisation teams should include young people, too, they added.

The importance of social media was mentioned, as was the creation of a space in which young people can find empowerment and inspiration and where there is opportunity for people to share alternative opinions and engage in open debate.

After returning from a project, continued efforts should be made to raise awareness of inclusion, for instance by sharing one’s story among friends, relatives and neighbours, or by organising local workshops on inclusion. One’s personal network should be strengthened and new partners invited to join, for instance by engaging in a dialogue and reaching out to policymakers.

 

And what now?

As the BarCamp drew to a close, the project representatives thanked the young participants for their valuable contributions. Their input and ideas will be very helpful as the project team continues to design concepts and tools for putting the inclusion strategy into practice. Everyone was warmly invited to stay in touch via the Facebook group and the VISION:INCLUSiON website. Maybe there will be a reunion at the major final conference in 2021.

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