måndag 27 maj 2013

Giving back, paying it forward and getting lots in return

I spent two very formative years of my late teens in Norway at the UWC Red Cross Nordic. I made friends from all over the world. All those late night conversations, sharing shoulders to cry on and jokes to laugh at, lamenting over IB exams and going together to Ukranian dance, that really shaped who I am as a person today, 16 years later. Since it is the end of May right now, that means it’s graduation time and lots of UWC students at the 12 campuses across the world are, as I write, going their separate ways, parting from the 200 people with whom they’ve shared their lives for the past two years. That separation can be really tough. I know it was for me. I remember gathering a group of about 10 of us at my parents’ house the week after graduation, as a second chance for celebration and goodbye’s. 

I am grateful for my UWC-experience, and for the role that this movement of peace education continues to play in my life. When I moved to Brussels three years ago it didn’t take long before I reconnected with some UWC’ers. One of my old room mates lives here, so I got to meet him again after all those years. After a while I was also introduced to some of the activities of the National Committee in Belgium. As a recently arrived expat, that gave me a sense of a network and belonging. 

Since 2011 I’ve been involved in the effort to organize a UWC Short Course in Belgium. The first one ever to be hosted here. Already during the first planning meetings I went to I felt that this was something I really wanted to contribute to. The idea behind the Short Course was to use the Belgian government crisis as a starting point for conversations about differences and how we can overcome them democratically and live together in society dispite our differences. Again, we’re going back to the classic UWC questions of ”How can there be peace if we don’t understand each other? An how can we understand each other if we don’t get to know each other?”

Now the Short Course is really happening. The interviews with Belgian candidates were held this weekend, and they were very impressive. Our project was approved for funding by the EU Youth in Action program and we received a corporate sponsorship from GDF SUEZ, so now we are counting down, less than two months to go before we welcome 30 young people from across Europe to Louvain-la-Neuve under the theme of ”Building Bridges - leading and collaborating across differences”. 

The program is promising to be an intensive 10 day experience for the participants. Non-formal education, intercultural learning, workshops, bus trips, seminars, community service, creativity, sports and some free time, will be combined by the 7-volunteer facilitator team to create the program. My role in all of this has been the enabler - I’ve been involved in planning the project, securing the funding, recruiting the facilitators, communiticating with candidates and designing a framework for the program, but I won’t be there for the actual program. That’s a bit unfortunate, but it ended up falling right in the middle of my move back to Stockholm, so now I get to hand over the project in good standing to the other UWC alumni in Belgium who will make it happen.

Working with the UWC Short Course in Belgium has really proved to me both the potential in the UWC movement and the possibility of alumni to really give back and to help strengthen the movement and its mission. I am looking forward to seeing everything that comes out of the project this summer and I am now looking ahead, to when I move back to Sweden, and how I can continue to help in giving back and paying forward to the movement that has given me so much over and over again.