All of us were charmed by Armenia

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12196001 10207090606557172 2957944572737733366 nYouth unemployment is one of the most critical challenges the world is facing today: young people make up almost half of the world’s unemployed, despite accounting for only one quarter of the working population. Youth unemployment rates are historically four to five times more than the adult rates in every country in the world. In 2012, youth made up to 40% of the world unemployed. Close to 75 million youth were unemployed worldwide. The quality and relevance of education is often considered as the first root cause of youth unemployment. Yet, high education does not guarantee a decent job. One global survey found that more than 55% of employers worldwide believe there is a “skill crisis” as businesses witnesses a growing mismatch between the skills students learn in the education system and those required in the workplace.


Within the frameworks of this project we wanted to promote volunteering as an important tool for unemployment solution. Different types of volunteering – short-termed and long-termed EVS, engagement with local CSOs and charities, internships in NGOs and businesses – all these types of activities increase person’s chances for employment. Volunteering a person gets new skills and knowledge, learns useful tools, gets experience of teamwork and subordination. In many cases the experience of volunteering changes the person’s attitudes towards their life plans changing the direction of what kind of employment they are looking for. Volunteering creates new working places, develops entrepreneurship, contributes to person’s professional development and also to CV.

There are different levels of youth involvement into volunteering activities in different countries. While in Western Europe it’s quitecommon for students to take a year off studies to volunteer abroad or to be involved in number of local charities, in Eastern Europe and Caucasus and Mediterranean countries it’s still something strange and foreign. Raising awareness of volunteering opportunities in these countries may turn beneficial for students, young unemployed graduates, organisations – NGOs and developed business enterprises, society in general. Using methods of non-formal education we promoted volunteering activities and for this established a network for volunteering opportunities for the young people in different NGOs around Eastern and Western Europe, Balkans, Caucasus and Mediterranean countries. It will help to make people from these countries closer to each other, to exchange experience, project ideas and stories of success.  With the help of existing youth programs young people from Western Europe will volunteer in Eastern Europe and vice versa.

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The 7 days long TC took place October 28 - November 5, 2015 in Yerevan, Armenia. The objectives of the project were: 1. to establish good connections between the young people from participating countries; 2. to transfer good practices in the field of youth work, cultural diversity and social inclusion; 3. to promote volunteering activities and for this to establish a network of organisations involved in volunteering of the young people in different NGOs around Eastern and Western Europe, Balkans, Caucasus and Mediterranean countries.

The participating countries were: Austria, Israel, Netherlands, UK from countries with better employment situation and more developed volunteering programs and Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, FYROM, Georgia, Greece, Jordan, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine with very bad situation with youth employment and volunteering opportunities. With these partners we had a good set of representatives of Project and Partner countries (50/50) for the aims of the project and the variety of skills, experience and competences to have great discussions that allowed us to share the tools the participants and their NGOs could use in their future work with youth for the promotion of volunteering and to create new approaches for future projects and international cooperation. The group consisted of 27 participants (youth workers) plus 3 facilitators.

12314026 10207234378711386 3654987871445668 nAs we were organising this TC in Armenia, there were some visa questions and we prepared number of invitation letters for the participants from BiH, FYROM, Turkey and Israel to show on the border. We asked the participants to take responsibility and to buy insurance policies. The person responsible for this project had already implemented one project in Armenia with local partners and had all the necessary logistical experience - knew flight options, local transportation details, geography, specifics of local mentality; had knowledge of possible venues, places of interest, food specifics; had necessary linguistic skills. We helped the participants to choose the tickets, and helped them to find each other during long connections in Moscow and Kiev airports. For those arriving during the night we organized a meeting at Yerevan airport and taxies to the venue. The facebook group was created for the participants to communicate with each other and to make practical arrangements easier: We had a reliable local partner who provided the group with all the necessary logistical, technical and linguistic support, organized meetings with interesting local NGOs, youth and students associations, representatives of authorities responsible for work with youth, invited Mass Media, showed places of interest, food specifics.

Preparing the project we were doing the risk assessment considering all possible hazards including active games as part of non-formal education tools, possible intercultural, interreligious and political tensions, possible gender issues. One of our key staff has been to a special SALTO training regarding risk management, and the knowledge gained during that training helped us to provide safe surroundings for the participants of this TC.

Not all the teams could stay in the frameworks of European Commission Distance calculator. Some had to take more complicated trip, like Bosnian and Turkish 12243451 10207085701114539 4754893259995624410 nteams that were traveling by bus via Georgia. The Romanian team refused to buy tickets at all, as the prices for them started from Euro 500 when, according to the distance calculator, they could be reimbursed only Euro 275. As the result, we had to ask the existing partners from the countries with the same budget to bring one more participant to replace two missing Romanian representatives. So the Israeli and Russian teams brought three representatives each.

This TC was facilitated by three trainers: Maria Kopelyan from the Netherlands, Laura Xhaxhiu from Austria and Maksim Zhilyaev from Russia with expertise in the fields of intercultural learning and project management who were qualified to pass the information and attract the audience. Some sessions were facilitated by the experts Geert Ates from the Netherlands, Stephan Richter from Austria and Ruta Kuzminskaite from UK.

The working methods were discussions, work in pairs, trios, small and big groups, interactive role-playing games, icebreakers, team-building, simulations, intercultural and other parties, energizers, evaluations etc. Informal communications and meetings with local NGOs, authorities, media, press-conference were also on agenda.

12243135 10207133317504919 939571599784366519 nDuring this project we had an amazing group of people really experienced and motivated to participate, to contribute, to meet new people, to learn about new cultures, to gain new experience. We had experts in voluntary work (Stephan Richter from Austria and Ruta Kuzminskaite from UK with huge experience of volunteering in different countries, plus Geert Ates, the director of big European network receiving big number of volunteers from different countries every year – about 200 in total). They shared their experience in the meeting in the University and during the session “What is volunteering”, plus contributed every day with their expertise, knowledge, energy. Anoush Apstok from the Netherlands contributed with the cooking blog, Haris Pajalic from BiH with photography, Michalis Tsapas from Greece with filming and editing skills. During the TC we gave the participants space for the development of their future projects dedicated to volunteering, so they could use their creativity to develop new approaches to volunteering, to establish informal contacts necessary for this task. During the project the blog was started by the participants:

Right after the end of the project the participants took responsibility to make a Google list of contacts (Stephan Richter from Austria), Cloud folder for pictures (Yuval Shtalrid from Israel), some videos from pictures were made to represent a project and distributed via facebook group (Michalis Tsapas and Ruta Kuzminskaite).

As it appeared, 12 of 30 participants had never participated in Erasmus+ activities before, but almost everybody had some volunteering experience. They shared 12311244 10207234377391353 5395869779199393167 ntheir experience during the training: “In my university i am a volunteer at a student club about environmental issues” – Damla Akkaya, Turkey; “I volunteered in a clean earth in one day project, done some voluntary work for people in need etc” – Haris Pajalic, BiH; “My volunteering experience has local nature. Nowadays we are holding educational volunteering project, trying to share with local youngsters main European principles of active citizenship, human rights, tolerance, sustainable development. The name of the project is Social Worker 1.0. It is based on the volunteering work of the activists of our local organization” – Dmytro Remezov, Ukraine; “I worked with children in boarding-school. I helped to organize discussions, debates and games with children and helped in finding sponsors for them. Also I took part in charity actions “Heart to Heart”, “Autumn week of Goodness” and “Spring week of Goodness”. As for the last one, there we (me and other volunteers) had searched money to buy medical equipment for children’s treatment. Social Worker 1.0. project that we are working in is fully organized on the volunteering principles” – Kateryna Silman, Ukraine; “I volunteered for a member of the City Hall in her election campaign, 12196251 10207090692799328 2111695172219529609 nI established an NGO where students teach Senior Citizens to use a computer and helped to establish an NGO where students, along with mentors from consulting groups help struggling businesses to improve. Through my organization (Rothschild Ambassadors) I also volunteered in a community center in Jerusalem and in a social ventures accelerator” – Ziv Tetruk, Israel; “A year ago I initiated a project called "educated". The project is bringing together young girls at-risk that living in hostel and students from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. During the meetings we discus different topics from the academia: psychology, economics, political science, law, etc. thus exposing the girls to different fields of knowledge, Empower them and encourage them to integrate into academia” – Tzlil Renassia, Israel; “I did one year volunteer before I crew to the army. This year was part from the scouts Israeli movement volunteer programs. In this year, I was coordinator of the scout tribe in the north of israel, and work with many kind of population: especially immigrant and Marginal youth.  This year was very challenging year which gave me a lot, and I'd like to share all the details in the TC” – Yuval Shtalrid, Israel; “I am currently an EVS volunteer at Xchange Scotland in Glasgow. My role here can be titled as European Activities Coordinator. I am mostly involved in promoting European opportunities for young people in Scotland. Within my EVS stay I also got a chance to be a camp leader for an international group of volunteers coming to volunteer in a local festival in Scotland, Stirling, in August.  Before coming to UK I have been involved in a Czech NGO called Tamjdem which offers various volunteering opportunities (work camps, volunteer action weekends), my main role was a leader of volunteers and I have been also occasionally involved in PR activities. Another NGO I volunteered 12208306 10207085852238317 597186487787595189 nwith was AEGEE-Brno, European Youth Forum, which is a youth organization focused on empowering young people in Europe to take an active role in a society and promoting socially, politically and economically integrated Europe” – Michaela Martincova, UK; “We have volunteered in different local Ngo and Public Institutions. Every experience brings new skills and knowledge. UNASM trade union, Public hospital, Local Red Cross” – Zharko Gjiorgjievski, FYROM; “I gave free courses for general topics for the Syrian  refueges in Jordan” – Yazed Farajat, Jordan; “I have volunteered many times in different refugee camps in Jordan, most of my volunteering work was within Jordan specially after the Arab spring political movements that causes waves of refugees in Jordan” – Motasem Salameen, Jordan; “I’ve participated in charity events organized by Charitable squad and I still actively participate in those events” – Grisha Hovsepyan, Armenia; some of participants are planning EVS after they graduate from their studies.

12227128 10207085659833507 4487250939617924844 nThe Intercultural party and the Armenian night were organized for the participants to get acquainted with the cultures of other participating countries (food, drinks, music, dances, traditional games, costumes, etc.) and the hosting country. We also visited two places of world culture heritage - Garni and Geghard and had a traditional meal there. These monuments to different religions helped the participants to understand the Armenian culture better and to see the cultural and religious diversity of the hosting country.

Given tasks from the trainers, the participants created and played role-play games, showing the problems migrants and refugees face searching for job in Europe. These role-plays attracted a lot of interest and started an exciting discussion.

First of all one of the most unique result of our project is a great teamwork of the participants disregarding cultural, historical and religious backgrounds. During the sessions we were forming groups in such a way that the representatives of conflict parties would work together sharing problems and looking for solutions. As the result we get great relations between representatives of Ukraine and Russia, Greece and Macedonia, Turkey and Armenia, Israel and Jordan.

During the brainstorming on the promotion of volunteering, the participants suggested to organize a cleaning action in Yerevan city center. We helped them to 12241684 10207133320624997 8181214464349110949 nimplement it, providing plastic garbage bags, gloves, tags “volunteer” in English and Armenian, a bus from the venue to the place of action. Some of the passers-by saw the beginning of the action and called for the local TV. The action received a TV coverage with interviews of some of the participants, including a girl from Turkey, which was double important for complicated Turkish-Armenian relationships. The link to this video in Armenian:

12310607 10207234381111446 7062535472080458316 nDuring one of the sessions the Anthem of Volunteering was created, and we would like this particular result to be disseminated.

One of the tasks for the participants was to create videos promoting volunteering in Armenia. The participants were interviewing local youth in the streets of Yerevan, asking what do they think about volunteering and what is their experience. The research showed that Armenian youth look very positive towards volunteering, but very few had any volunteering experience. Some of them tried to become volunteers in EU countries, but their attempts have failed. Some of the resulting videos look really professional. After the training these videos were disseminated by the participants in their countries.

During the project we had meeting with the representative of EU Delegation to Armenia, mr.  Jose Medina. He talked about the strategy of EU-Armenia cooperation, about the Eastern partnership programme, answered lots of questions the participants asked, watched some role-plays the participants performed. Another very interesting meeting took place in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia with the Head of European Department Paruyr Hovhannisyan. He informed the participants that during its thousands years long history, Armenia more than once 12241575 10207085824437622 7330074234003392424 nfound itself facing the choice of superpowerful friends competing each other. For example, two thousands years ago superpowers were represented by Rome and Persia. Now it is Russia and the Western world represented by USA and EU. According to mr. Hovhannisyan, the Armenian government tries to cooperate with all parties, disregarding the hardships of this task.

Our local partner Caucasus Research Resource Center-Armenia organized a meeting with youth and volunteering organizations of Armenia in Yerevan State University. The meeting was moderated by Dr. Heghine Manasyan, Chief Executive Officer Caucasus Research Resource Center-Armenia. The participants of the training shared the experience of their countries in volunteering movement. The most interesting for the locals was a presentation of Geert Ates – for more than ten years the main staff of European Network for Intercultural Dialogue were volunteers from different European countries. The information about this meeting in Armenian language can be found on University website.

12311295 10207234384711536 8705548795340311225 noth in mid-term and final evaluations the participants rated the training quality very high. They gave the highest rates for the hotel, food, program, trainers’ team, participants, activities. And – what’s most important - all of us were charmed by Armenia. Both in the hotel, at the streets of the city, in cafes and restaurants the participants were warmly greeted by locals. Not due to education or tolerance, but due to the traditional Caucasian hospitality. People were also kind and warmhearted in Batumi. For the participants who visited Caucasus for the first time, it was a real discovery.

The Respect International West-East Bridges Foundation team has created a 23 minutes long video about our Erasmus+ trainings in Batumi and in Yerevan. This video was shown to the participants of 7th EaP CSF Annual Assembly that was held in Kyiv, November 19-21, 2015.