12 Oct

Starlit nights and peace-filled days in the Caucasus

One of the camp’s key messages was that if we all work together we can truly become bigger than ourselves.  Photo: Laura-Marja Lazepka, Katri Nyyssönen and Muhammad Saqlain

 

In July-August delegations from seven different nations spent over a week in Northern Armenia. While the programme concentrated on learning about humanitarian activities, there were also multiple opportunities to get to know the Caucasus region a little.

 

ON the flight to Yerevan we had one major concern on our minds: the +35॰C temperature! In Finland the weather had been nice and cool with a temperature of about +22॰C, and we weren’t fully prepared for the heat in Armenia. When we landed we were greeted by Anna, a very welcoming and soft-spoken volunteer from the Armenian National Society who saw the look on our faces when we left the air-conditioned airport. It was like we were in a sauna that we couldn’t turn off, but soon the intrigue of being in a new place replaced our perturbation.

We drove through the city center at a pretty rash pace without seat belts. It felt like a fun roller-coaster ride (for me, that is – it was terrifying for others!) especially for someone coming from law-abiding, calm roads of Finland. Finally we arrived to a resort some 65 kilometers away from the city of Aghervan. At nine o’clock in the evening it was already dark which was quite different from what we were used to. The bright side was  that it meant  we were going to have many nights with beautiful clear skies, along with moon and stars to look at and marvel!

Each of the three representatives from every delegation was assigned to a group:  Stay Safe and Cute (SSC), Media and Youth Declaration. The SSC group was responsible for maintaining the Code of Conduct and the desired behavior within the camp as well as proactively dealing with any conflicts or health concerns of the participants. The Media group was responsible for publishing daily blogs about the camp activities and posting the day’s pictures on Facebook. They were also responsible for preparing the Game Booklet as well as a movie that revisited various key moments of the camp. The Youth Declaration group was responsible for creating a document to express the purpose of the youth camp throughout various national societies and the Erasmus+ network.

 

THE bread and butter of the camp were the workshops. One workshop was about a game-based role-playing program “Youth on the Run”, tailored towards children, youth and young adults. Many different Red Cross societies have already adopted it and it has spread throughout the Red Cross Movement. The scenario involved two families in a refugee camp who faced different problems. The workshop participants were assigned to different roles such as doctor, policeman, camp leader and  the refugee family. Normally one game takes around 24 hours but in the workshop we played a short 20-minute adaptation.

Another workshop was about how to give psycho-social support and psychological first aid to others in response to crisis or stress. The participants got to know both theoretical and practical tips about how to provide such support both in the Red Cross context but also in their daily lives. At the end the participants role-played situations about providing psycho-social support to people in various situations.

There was also a workshop about volunteer management. We got to know the different types of people engaged in the Red Cross and how to involve them in our social work based on their abilities and needs. The workshop also helped us explore what type of a volunteers we are and which roles might fit each of us best.

A later part of that workshop discussed conflict management. We had two groups participating in role-play games about how to handle conflicts correctly and how conflicts can escalate. Afterwards we debriefed the role-plays together and extracted better practices on how to successfully resolve, de-escalate or defuse a conflict.

 

BEYOND the workshops, we had several activities aimed at socializing and connecting with each other. On the first night we had Cultural Night upon which we shared our cultural knowledge, our country’s traditions and our national cuisines. There was also a talent show where the delegations performed their unique numbers. Our delegation performed traditional Finnish dance Letkajenkka with the whole audience. The jury liked it so much that we won the 3rd place.

During the afternoons we often participated in sport activities or games. It was quite fun and everybody had their workout for the day. To enhance the intercultural exchange the lunch and dinner tables were mixed so that participants from different Red Cross societies would sit together. Because of mixer activities like this, the extended intercultural exchange was not limited to the workshops and special occasions: it took place during every minute of the camp.  On the fourth day we had a photo shoot during which everyone could pose wearing national costumes from different countries in a colorful mixture. Many spectacular photos were taken and some of the participants even mixed up the gender of the dress.

 

ON the seventh day we were introduced to Vardavar, an Armenian water festival which is celebrated 98 days after Easter. We got to experience a replicated version of the festival where people poured water on each other and had a great fun.

One of the highlights of the camp was the trip to Yerevan. Every delegation got an Armenian guide who told us many things about the Armenian capital. We visited famous monuments and landmarks like the Haghtanak Victory Park, the Alley of Russian Militaries and Yerevan’s central district culminating in a picnic  in Lover’s Park. In the evening we went to the Republic Square and watched fountains give an incredible show of music and light.

On the last day every delegation had a chance to make suggestions and comments on the Youth Declaration and the day culminated in  a presentation of the final version. Its key message was that if we all work together we can truly become bigger than ourselves. We all promised to continue promoting youth empowerment.

The camp finally (and sadly) came to an end on the 9th day with a closing ceremony. After hearing the words of organizers, delegation leaders and group leaders, every participant received their certificate and gift from the Armenian Red Cross.

Overall the camp was a priceless and inspiring experience for us.

 

Text: Laura-Marja Lazepka, Katri Nyyssönen and Muhammad Saqlain

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