After more than a year of preparation and enthusiastic fundraising, the Findhorn–Kitezh Youth Exchange has happened. In July 2009 twelve excited members of the Findhorn Youth Project arrived in Russia followed by a reciprocal visit to Findhorn by twelve young Russians in October, to undertake a life-changing journey in friendship and cultural understanding.
This is the first youth exchange that Ecologia Youth Trust has organised since the momentous exchange in 1997, which was also Kitezh founder Dmitry Morozov’s first visit to Findhorn and the beginning of a long, fruitful relationship between Kitezh and Ecologia.
The exchange is funded by Youth In Action, an EU programme that encourages young people to participate actively in society, to shape their own future and to contribute to the development of the European Union. Youth In Action aims to inspire a sense of active citizenship, solidarity and tolerance among young Europeans and neighbouring countries. It promotes non-formal learning and intercultural dialogue, and encourages the inclusion of all young people, regardless of their educational, social and cultural background to ensure that young people with fewer opportunities can take part. Respect for people’s cultural origins is at the heart of the Youth in Action programme, as is the desire to fight against racism and xenophobia – forces that undermine European values and people’s solidarity.
During their 2 weeks in Russia in July, the Scottish youngsters took part in an exciting Role Play Game on the theme of Ancient Russia that explored the historic relationship between Europe and Russia. The tribes in ancient Russia were invaded from the East, Vikings from the North brought in a Celtic influence, and Christianity was introduced through Constantinople. Our Scottish youth joined the ‘tribes’ and together they wrestled with issues of politics, morality, unity and peace making. Dance, music and art brought cultural diversity into the theme. The ultimate aim of the Role Play Game was for all the teams to come to a common agreement on how to make peace between all groups and how to take the best from each side.
In October 2009, the Russian youngsters had a treat in store in return: they visited Scotland to live with their new Scottish friends and their families, and took part in a special youth empowerment programme at Findhorn followed by a week on the island of Erraid on the Scottish West Coast. None has ever travelled outside Russia before.
This youth exchange has changed lives and created friendships across the cultures that will last a lifetime. “We started as people from different countries, and now we are just people, and we will always be friends.”
An important part of the preparation for these exchanges was to engage the Scottish youth in fundraising activities to raise a further £12,000 for both Exchanges to supplement the 70% covered by Youth In Action. Our Scottish youngsters and their parents enthusiastically created fundraising events: they organised a Talent Show, a Valentine’s night dinner, a Circus event and many other activities, including delivering pizzas and manure (not at the same time!).
A huge thank you to all those who made it possible: to Youth In Action, the Youth Project and their parents for raising the extra funds, and to the Findhorn and Kitezh communities for hosting a fantastic adventure for all!