Before the start of summer, between the 17th and 22nd of May, 29 participants from Lithuania, the Czech Republic, and Italy gathered in the “Trinus hut” in the village of Aristava. The occasion of the meeting was the international Erasmus+ youth exchange organized by “Social Action”. The aim of the exchange is to strengthen the active and voluntary involvement of young Europeans in social, environmental, cultural, and political fields. With this project, we sought to invite young people to activities that would form a foundation for values based on tolerance, solidarity, peace and justice, human rights, equality, and the principles of diversity.

It was important not only to delve into the subject but above all to get used to the new environment and group. It consisted of 22 youngsters, 4 group leaders, 2 facilitators, and 1 accompanying person. Out of 22 youngsters, 7 of them were with fewer opportunities: 2 with disabilities and 5 experiencing social and cultural challenges. For the first days, we “warmed up” to each other with the help of experiential team games, made new acquaintances, and broke the language and internal barriers by speaking in English. During interactive, creative tasks, we began to delve deeper into the goals of Sustainable Development – we went on an experiential hike, simulated a “Survival Bunker”, researched sustainable and accessible business solutions for the city of Kaunas, created memes, organized a nature cleanup…

We are happy with the results, because:

– Younger people have come to know, understand, and realize the goals of sustainable development. Most of the young people, who were unable to name what these goals meant at the beginning, after the activities expressed that they understood and personally appreciated their significance, and demonstrated a deeper understanding of the goals and objectives during the practical tasks.
– Young people experienced intercultural learning and personal growth. Local rural communities and young people from surrounding small towns, as well as disabled, socially challenged young people who speak English with difficulty, as well as people of different ages, more and less motivated to the topic, took part in the activities. The diversity of the group reflected the challenges and needs of real society – to negotiate, find a common language, accept compromises, be patient, and help each other. Opening up to another, a stranger, who does not speak the same language, and at the same time experiencing being understood was a very sensitive experience for some participants. The young people strengthened their self-confidence and improved their English, Lithuanian, and Russian language skills by participating in joint activities and establishing friendships. For many, it was the first such intensive experience in an international group. The initial reaction of rejection, dissatisfaction, and separation was replaced by curiosity, openness, creativity, and a sense of togetherness.
– The young people learned about volunteering. The exchange participants experienced practical activities based on the principles of volunteering, cooperation, community, and non-formal education.