From Non-formal Learning Until After Parties

“All these emotions and feelings, which have now gathered in the hall, could fill up all the laptops and cameras here” said a Ukrainian participant, on the last day of the Media in Volunteering youth exchange project. Simulation games, international contacts, media-engaged youngsters, crossing borders – this happened during eight days in Lithuania.

Daugirdiškės, the most popular training centre of Lithuania is located 40 km from the capital, Vilnius, among lakes and forests, far away from civilization. Between February 16-25, 25 youngsters from Hungary, Lithuania, Ukraine and Germany gathered here. And what was it all about? An Erasmus+ youth exchange program, in which the youth organizations of the Order of Malta participated. The project’s topic was media in volunteering: the youngsters during 8 days got acquainted with each other while strengthening international cooperation, analyzing articles and videos on volunteering that appear in the media, participating in situation games, and creating their own media oeuvres (videos, articles, Facebook pages) on the subject of volunteering.

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The Hungarian team sang Beatrice’s song, 8 hours of work, 8 hours of rest, 8 hours of fun, for the international karaoke night. This trichotomy often varied, the 8 hours melting together into a medley of enjoyable and useful work, but it’s worth separating the parts.

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The intense, hard work of the program began with more relaxed get-to-know-you games and team building on the first day. The participants were able to learn about each other with the help of different games and a wide variety of settings: there was a forest, leaves, a blanket, and even toilet paper. The youngsters listened to a brief introduction detailing the Erasmus+ program’s opportunities, and after this, the organizers screened a video about the Order of Malta’s international activities. After this, the participating countries presented their local activities in modern and creative ways. On the second day, the subject of volunteering was in focus. The portraits of “super-volunteers” were created with all the important and essential facets, and later on the participants could elaborate and talk about the role and place of volunteers in society.

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In the following days, along with volunteering, the topic of media also appeared in the program, and from this point the two sides were inseparable. In the short introduction, the various forms of media and its different genres were discussed, and after it, the youngsters were able to witness these manifestations and out their new knowledge into practice. Smaller groups were organized to create media coverage for an imaginary food distribution at the south of Spain. Taken from factual details they had to apply the text in magazine or newspaper format, posters, radio interviews, and in videos or TV broadcasts. This subsequently opened a discussion in all three groups on the homework they completed and presented in mixed-media: the youngsters analyzed negative and positive examples of the representation of volunteering in the media. In the “new news” exercise, the participants time-travelled to 2050: the journalists make up 50% of the society, they can’t find enough new information, thus they need to form articles based on given photos and words with creative reporting, and also they are invited to invent a futuristic media.

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Photo: Csaba Babus

The workflow progressed from small group activities to simulation games. The team’s favorite was the live tv show, in which each youngster received his/her own role that he/she had to maintain for the entirety of the show. The theme for the talk show: is it worth being a good person in today’s society? The guests expressed their views on the subject with serious and light-hearted arguments: among the talk show host’s invitees featured a politician, a nun, a popstar, a materialist, as well as a volunteer with good experiences contrasted with one of negative experiences. Among the audience members, there was the one with the cold, who’s continuous cough disturbed the broadcast, there was the annoying person shouting and answering her phone during the show, the politician-attacking activist, and many other distractions, which the security guard had to keep under control. To ensure the broadcast’s credibility, there were two commercial breaks and a news briefing, during which the host continued the broadcast. The cameramen recorded the show with three cameras.

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Photo: Anastasia Tiushka

On the next day, the groups produced radio interviews, which were followed by a press conference. According to the frame story, journalists were invited for the reason that several trucks went missing. The vehicles were transporting the collected goods of a fundraising campaign to the imaginary war-torn country of Satiia.

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Photo: Flóra Szakszon

Among all this work, of course sleep and rest had a place, but in this case, sleep time was transformed. In the one week, 8 hours of sleep rarely occurred – with some exceptions. The youngsters tried to make up for the loss during the day, during a coffee break or free time.

There was certainly no shortage of fun though: relaxing time and free time was spent in a more creative manner. The second evening came at a good time, with a unique program for the youngsters: on this day they celebrated Užgavėnės, a pagan tradition of Lithuanians. Each created their own mask, and around the fire, they danced as devils, gypsies, doctors and goats, chasing away the winter and welcoming the spring.

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Photo: Anastasia Tiushka

The following evenings the youngsters watched movies, sang karaoke, danced at the disco, and relaxed in the sauna. The typical cultural nights of youth exchanges were not left out, wherein the countries presented their own customs with games, quizzes, videos, songs, dances and food.

The youngsters lived for approximately more than one week enclosed in the training centre’s world, working, evolving, discussing, enjoying themselves and getting to know one another. They only went out once from their roost: on a visit to Vilnius, for sightseeing and dinner. This confinement only enforced and strengthened the cohesiveness of the big family of volunteers. Based on the reviews, feedback and personal opinions detailed in the questionnaire from the last day, participants highlighted the feelings of respect, friendship, love, that enriched their experience.

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The group in Vilnius

Was this project worth the money and time spent on it? If we consider the final media oeuvres, the profound positive feelings, the developing international friendships, the discussions about volunteer experiences and the emerging long-run cooperation, the answer is obvious. For a large number of the youngsters, this was their first opportunity to engage in such an international program: in the feedback rounds, the majority responded that this was the beginning of a long journey that will lead them to cross borders and involve them in greater international and foreign experiences.

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Cultural night selfie of the Hungarian group (Photo: Anastasia Tiushka)

The final task for the participants was to develop a more detailed project, built from the experiences of the last few days and their own respective backgrounds. One of the outcomes was an article highlighting the experiences of the particular youth exchange, drawing attention to the personal commitment of the different people taking part. As another approach, a new Facebook page was created, entitled Humans of Volunteering in which the administrators will gather and present portraits and experiences of volunteers. The Ukrainians came up with a campaign wherein posters and humorous videos draw in new volunteers to the Malteser youth group and activities. One part of the Hungarian group started to develop a local project, focusing on immigrants, and they presented their findings and goals in a creative way. The three other Hungarian participants, with the technical help of a Ukrainian volunteer, combining serious teamwork with high energy, produced a stop-motion video in the closing of which they left us with the following message: “It’s not a goodbye, but a see you again!”

Translated by: Tiffany Kovacs