In the middle of october on a forested mountainside in Euskal Herria, in the spanish state, a group of young people met. They came together in the ecovillage Lakabe to follow a training to become Youth Leaders for EU funded Erasmus+ Youth Exchanges. This training was part of the Yes to Sustainability project, which is an international programme that aims to share knowledge amongst and bring together young people at ecovillages around Europe.

In this training the main goal was to explore how we can step in at the role of Youth Leader (YL) through different activities like inner exploration and group dynamics. We arrived on the 16th of October and climbed uphill to find the village, we settled down for a bit, finding a cozy room for sleeping in a big house named Xuscal. Then we did a mini tour of the village, to know where the toilets are, the showers etc. Some of us arrived late and had to seek in the dark to find the ‘kakaleku’ (compost toilets)! Fortunately we had a warm welcome and dinner waiting for us when we were all there. After the late dinner some chose to stay up for some time to catch up with friends from previous YE’s and then it was time to sleep because all of us were tired of our journeys across Europe.

On our first day we got to know each other and created a safe space by expressing our personal needs and group needs, building the base for a group culture. It was also important for us to define our learning goals for ourselves so we can see our own progress.

We got an introduction to the content and our daily flow was depicted as in the pattern on the picture. It was strict but of course there was space so we could manage the time to fit the group needs.

“Trust the process!”

 

To get some more insight in how a YE functions through Yes to Sustainability (YTS) we got information about YTS, the Erasmus+ framework and about the work of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) that supports every day ecovillages and intentional communities world wide. Furthermore we had inputs about facilitation and graphic facilitation and the differences between formal and non-formal learning.

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Since a big part of living in an ecovillage or intentional community is community living it was important to for us to get to know the people and the place that was hosting us. Therefore we took part in a chores- rota- where we all did our part to help the community with tasks like cleaning the compost toilets, cleaning the showers or helping out in the dining room. We also did a tour of Lakabe with some of the locals where they showed us around and told us about the history of Lakabe and how everyday life is within the community.

To assist in the training we also organised ourselves into six working groups: Singing birds (communication team), Kolibris (beauty team), Colibris (caring for the group team), Viva la fiesta (celebration team), Kikiriki! (callers and gatherers) and taking notes team. As an example the beauty team was responsible for beautifying the space, keeping it clean and doing things like bringing flowers etc.

Because birds of a feather fly together.”

A good training experience we had was hosting our own sessions. We divided into groups by shared interest and then had half a day to prepare our session. We had 75 minutes to facilitate the content and do activities with the group. This experience was really helpful for us because it was the realisation of the theory about facilitation.

“Stop thinking. Listen”

But we did more, because as a YL your task is to not only help guide the participants and guide the flow of the group but also to work together with the other YL’s in designing and creating the programme for the YE. To assist us in doing so we went through the theoretical design process and then did another practise in actually creating a YE by dividing up into groups once more and taking up a possible YE project for the future.

Since almost all of the trainees have experience with participating in at least one or more YE’s we had a strong base to help us design our own. After choosing which possible project to participate in we went out in groups of about 4 people to brainstorm and come up with a programme. Some of the things we had to think about:

–         What is the main theme in your YE?

–         How will you organise yourselves as YL’s?

–         How are food, accommodation and transport arranged?

–         How long will the YE last?

–         Will you bring in external experts?

–         How much theory vs practical work?

–         Etc.

We had an afternoon, evening and early morning to finish up our work after which we had to present our progress to the rest of the group. Some really great work had been done by that time which lead to interesting ideas and presentations. It is great to see what can be done when willing, empowered and like minded people come together to create something and I’m certain some of the projects will actually come to reality the coming year.

“To get out from your comfort zone is a way to feel very uncomfortable.”

Something that also has to be held into account is the emotional process a participant can go through during a YE and how you can create a safe space within the group to help guide this process. This is very important since the YE’s organised by YTS want to help create a more sustainable world by connecting and empowering young adults. This is not only done by sharing knowledge or doing hands on work on ecology or arts and crafts but also by learning on how people interact and live together. For some people interacting in such a way with others can be very much out of their comfort zone, for others it can make them see the world or themselves in a new light and they have to find a way to incorporate the newly learned into their lives. By offering a safe space to experience and share with the group and through tools like sharing circles, checkouts, meditation, games and offering structure through the day by having a clear schedule and plenty of breaks you can help guide people in this process and give them some space to breathe.

All in all the training was a great journey and I’m glad we were able to participate in it. We learned a lot, came up with new insights, made new friends and we now feel confident enough to share our knowledge with the world as YL’s. Thank you Clara, Lara and Ena for being our hosts and thanks to all of the future YL’s for making it such an awesome group.

“Be brave-Take risks-Go for the problem- Don’t postpone- There are no shortcuts- Find your rhythm.”