Newry.ie

Thomas Hanna one of the members of a recent youth exchange programme between here and Bavaria in Germany has been speaking on his experiences.

Fourteen young people from a cross community group in Newry & Mourne (Education Authority, Southern Region) and 15 young people from Bavaria in Germany developed a partnership to manage a youth exchange programme where the theme was how your culture shapes your identity. The programme was funded by ERASMUS + co-funded by the European Union.

The exchange group.
The exchange group.

Thomas commented “I have had an amazing experience during the past few weeks but also over the past two years where we have been organising and planning our exchange. The programme has been so much more than the time we spent in Rostrevor and Bavaria. The programme has ran from April 2014 and we have accomplished so much as a group. We completed our OCN level 2 in Prejudice and Discrimination where we learnt more about different cultures and communities in our country. We completed workshops with the Eastern European, Irish Traveller and LGBT communities which have helped develop a better understanding of people different from myself. Much of our work focused on breaking down and understanding sectarianism in our country. I think I speak on behalf of the whole group when I say we’ve gained a new insight into both the protestant and catholic communities and we have made good friends from both sides. 

 "My personal perspective is that work like this is so important as it starts conversations that don’t happen in our homes. It brings together people with different opinions and sparks dynamic conversation that will only help out communities to move forward. This happened within our own group and then again when combined with our partnering German group. I feel this type of youth work is invaluable in terms of promoting understanding.

"Our programme in Northern Ireland was carefully planned to give our partner German group a good balance of fun and learning. We did Team building games during the first few days to help the 2 groups get to know each other. They were carried out by the Northern Irish young people which helped promote organisation and leadership skills in our team members.

"Between the 1st-9th August we did so much as a group. We explored many aspects of politics and culture in Northern Ireland visiting Stormont, Belfast for a political tour, Downpatrick band parade, Crumlin Road Jail  and Newry, Mourne and Down District Council. This helped give me personally a better insight to our political system and I learnt so much from this week in terms of Politics and how it affects us on a daily basis. This project gave us the opportunity to talk and listen to the opinions of Unionist Politicians which was a new experience coming from a predominantly nationalist area. This is something that was interesting for our group as a whole. This project is helping to promote the voice of young people in politics, something the community needs and has been highlighted as an issue numerous times. We also had much leisure time to bond with our partnering German group including scenic walks, shopping, bowling & laser quest. This was great fun for the whole group and definitely some of the highlights of the trip.

"Both groups enjoyed exploring questions surrounding our troubled past and both groups valued the chance to learn about how another country deals with their past and aims to move forward to a more peaceful future, something relatively unique to doing an exchange between Northern Ireland and Germany."

Thomas continued "In Germany we had a fantastic trip which will be remembered by the group for a long time. We explored Bavarian culture in terms of food, visiting their famous castle, touring Burghausen and Munich and visiting a concentration camp. The area was beautiful and made the experience even better to be hosted in such a pretty town. This trip helped us see the differences in two cultures that I thought would be more similar as they are also a developed nation. It was simple things like architecture, food and the differences in use of social media that highlighted cultural differences and made us think more closely about our lives and how our culture has an impact. The concentration camp was an incredibly humbling experience and taught us more about one of the greatest tragedies in history. It was so much more interesting and thought provoking than reading about it in any textbook and it provoked feeling that I won’t forget. It raised bigger questions in myself and among the group such as ‘how could such a thing happen?’ and ‘could it ever happen again?’. It created conversations among young people that are valuable to creating a peaceful future. Among these learning experiences we had so much fun with the German group organising a treasure hunt, trips to the Erding water park, jam session, shopping in Munich and many boat trips."

Concluding he added "I can honestly say the exchange was an unforgettable experience which taught me a lot about myself, my own culture and another while having so much fun! It only helped to increase my confidence and it created friendship with people both in my own group and the German group. It’s an opportunity that if the chance arose I would do another exchange and highly recommend to friends and family. The work that was done through this exchange made a strong positive impact on each member and that’s something money cannot buy”

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