This November, 13 young women and 12 young men from 5 different countries and all walks of life, ranging in age from 17-27, embarked on the Encompass Journey of Understanding. What did they all have in common? Nothing, save that they are all aspiring community leaders, active in their universities, youth centres, and local communities.
For many of the group, this was their first time to leave their home country and to meet their peers from across the world. The excitement – and nervousness – was tangible when we met at Heathrow on Sunday 11th November. Then one of the participants pulled a football out of his bag, and soon the group were bonding and laughing together – and of course, arguing over Premiere League!
Though we arrived at our destination (Plas Gwyant Outdoor Centre in Snowdonia, Wales) at 1am, exhausted, jet-lagged and disorientated, the group were up early the next day, getting to know each other and embarking on challenging activities in the great (well, wet and windy) outdoors.
And from that very first day, the tone was set for the week: one of honesty and courage, as (in one of the very first workshops, called “Scenes from Your Life”) participants shared with each other the moments that had made them who they are. Some of these scenes were not easy to share, but this forged the way and laid the foundations for the difficult discussions that were to come.
On the 3rd day of the programme, an escalation in violence took place in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, leaving the Israeli and Palestinian participants concerned for loved ones at home. As the week progressed there was an inevitable rise in tensions and in the face of this, the respect, dignity, and strength shown by the entire group was beyond impressive.
Though participants’ perspectives do change over the week, the Journey of Understanding is not about getting people to agree with each other. It’s about respecting each other, and recognising that we share a common humanity, even when we disagree.
As always, there were floods of tears at the end of the programme, as participants bid each other farewell and reflected on what had been a difficult, emotional, amazing, inspiring and life-changing experience. In the words of one participant: “This programme has opened my eyes to things I never thought they’d be opened to. The people I met, and the things I learned are amazing. I can’t express enough how awesome this week has been. This has brought me hope for the future.”