17th March 2013, 4pm, Heathrow Airport. 24 young people from 5 different countries are gathered together next to a sea of suitcases and rucksacks. Some of them have travelled for many hours and thousands of miles, from Indonesia, Palestine, Israel. All morning, participants have been arriving; excited, nervous and curious about what the week will bring. Many have never left their country before, and (especially for the Indonesians) the unseasonably cold weather is a shock.
What with having to adapt to the cold, the jetlag, and the strange British food, you might expect the participants to spend the 6 hour journey to Wales in a state of anxiety and/or lethargy. Not the case. At the back of the coach a guitar is brought out, then a Palestinian drum – the participants teach each other songs from home… and the Journey of Understanding has begun!
What a fantastic week it was! Full of challenging outdoor activities (made even more so by the snow), intense discussions about tough issues: politics, morality, religion, gender, culture, ideology… and lots of laughter, dancing, talking and learning.
The staff at Plas Gwynant Outdoor Centre were brilliant (as usual) and led a wide range of outdoor activities: gorge walking, canoeing, mine exploration, mountain biking and orienteering. Participants had to support each other to overcome individual fears of heights, of water, of enclosed spaces, and even of dogs and one pesky mouse! Facing these challenges wasn’t easy, but it was a huge part of the bonding process.
For Rori, Lucy and Saf (who came on the programme in February 2012 and is now Chair of the Youth Board), the highlight of the week came when they took off their facilitator’s hats and handed over to the participants. What happened next was inspirational, as the participants led a series of workshops for each other, choosing to address issues such as nationality, evolution and plastic surgery in fantastically creative ways. These 24 young people, who came from such different backgrounds, who had such different views and in some cases, had been taught all their lives to hate (or at least, strongly distrust) each other, worked together to talk about how a better future could be forged, and what they could do to be that change. It was a privilege to be part of it.
Click on the link to read about Nicole's experience of the Journey of Understanding. There's also a report from the Slough Observer about Haleema’s participation, and a blog from Vania. All great testimony to the power of the Journey of Understanding and its effect on young people's lives.