I almost quitted my attempts to apply for Georgia. Online engine didn’t want to accept my application, unless I provide detailed description of my previous experience with Youth in Action programme. The problem was I didn’t have any. All I knew was that “YiA aims to inspire a sense of active European citizenship, solidarity and tolerance among young Europeans and to involve them in shaping the Union's future” – information, kindly provided at the programme website. All in all, I simply wrote that I will be happy to obtain any kind of experience, to deepen my knowledge in area of youth work and to meet lot of interesting people. And I won. These quite typical application expressions significantly changed all my life less than in 2 month.
Contact Making Seminar “Tbilisi Take Off” took place in capital of Georgia in March, 2012. It was organized by Austrian and Norwegian National Agencies of the Youth in Action Programme together with the SALTO Eastern Europe and Caucasus Resource Centre. The event was aimed to introduce YiA opportunities to people involved into youth work from Programme and Neighbour countries, and to foster international cooperation in youth field. Looking back now, I must admit it was one of the most interesting and efficient learning periods in my life.
During a week under a careful guidance of really bright trainers 40 participants from 11 countries were discussing issues of youth work and exploring ways of further cooperation. “Discussing” and “exploring” – if you only knew how much fun and true emotions were hidden behind these words! Everything began from learning about each other and our countries. Doing every day simple and genius ice-breaking exercises, participants trained to listen and to trust each other, saw each other in funny and awkward situations, learned about personal and cultural differences. This experience turned into a powerful credit of confidence later, while common work on project.
First two days of the seminar were dedicated to raising awareness of participants bout objectives and priorities of YiA Programme. We were told about Programme Actions and projects that may be implemented within these Actions. Sessions were mainly focused on Action 2, European Voluntary Service and Actions 3.1 and 3.2, Youth Exchanges and Training or Seminars for youth workers. Representatives of National Agencies provided us not only with general information on these Actions, but also told about application procedure details, gave tips on budgeting, visa and travel arrangements. For a newcomer like me it was also a huge luck to talk to people who already have experience of such kind of work, and could give advices on project practicalities.
During NGO fair we got a chance to get acquainted with organizations, represented at the seminar. Despite a big number of people, this part wasn’t tiring at all. Each participant had exactly one minute to tell about work areas and partnership priorities of his or her NGO. My initial excitement about how modest achievements of my organization are, were totally vanished in a friendly and open atmosphere. All in all, we were there not to judge, but to share best practices and to find confederates. Before this session I couldn’t even imagine how various and creative youth work can be. Thus, I talked to student leaders from different countries, met people doing street art and performances in Austria and commune youth worker from Norway, learned about youth media organization from Belarus, NGO involved into social entrepreneurship from Georgia, and about many other big and small, but still great and unique NGOs from Moldova, Armenia, Azerbajdzhan, Germany, Ireland and Slovenia.
Last two days we spent being drawn into project development. It was time to accumulate all previous knowledge, ideas and motions in order to produce new products, or, better to say, to build new bridges of further interaction. Participants were united into several working groups according to their work preferences. Some of us worked on trainings for youth workers while others planned youth exchanges with a focus on specific topics. This was an extremely interesting, but far not easy work. We had to think on core concepts of future projects, describe their aims, and design them in obedience with YiA requirements. We also had to deliver responsibilities among partners and plan further steps. Though it’s not a good sign to tell about plans, I should mention I was happy to meet people who shared my interest in work with teenagers, so that we planned several youth exchanges for year 2013. Now crossing fingers for it!
Finally, it would be unfair to omit our gorgeous hosting country in this story. You may hear thousands of times about Georgia, you may even eat shashlyk and hachapuri every day being home, but to see it is completely different thing. These mountains, and air, and exceptionally hospitable people, and their wines, of course, and wild dances we enjoyed while having dinner in a traditional restaurant, and the way Georgians taste and enjoy their life – all these, doubtless contributed to overall unforgettable impression about this trip.
I was coming back happy and inspired. Beside Georgian spices and 4 bottles of Tarragon I was taking home lot of new contacts, ideas and plans, new knowledge and a great willpower to work. And what is the most important I took memories about wonderful people who taught me a lot and now live in my heart.
Special acknowledgements to our trainers Marcus Vrecer, Giorgi Kakulia, Jan Fredrik Grøndal Henriksen and to representatives of NAs Gry Nesse and Sonja Tanzer.