The RESOLVE: West Youth Exchange

The RESOLVE: West Youth Exchange in Sarajevo from 27th June-1st July brought together participants from the UK and Azerbaijan, and from Bosnia. It was organised by Wings of Hope in collaboration with the RESOLVE: Network and Asfar. I was really excited to take part in this exchange and saw it as a chance to learn about Azerbaijani culture and the challenges facing young people there, as well as sharing my experiences in the UK and Bosnia.

We started on Sunday 27th with a Scavenger Hunt. We ran around Sarajevo taking photos of various landmarks. This was a really good orientation and icebreaker in a new city, and a chance to get competitive. Our team maintain that we won, but in the spirit of harmony everybody received a prize. That night we enjoyed a traditional Bosnian dinner, which allowed the Azerbaijani and British participants to learn about the joys of Bosnian cuisine.

On Monday we continued with two more serious activities, facilitated by psychotherapist Zvjezdana from Wings of Hope. We chose an area in our space to symbolise conflict, and participants came and described how they felt in that ‘conflict space’. We expressed feelings about interpersonal conflict and about war. We also got into groups to discuss the process of conflict resolution. We continued in a more personal way in the afternoon, with three chairs: red, yellow and green. Red symbolised restriction, yellow a state of uncertainty, and green no restriction. Participants sat on the chairs and described how they felt in these different modes. This offered insights into ourselves and those around us, especially as we’d only known each other a short time. This was a really intense day, but it helped the participants to feel closer to each other.

Tuesday was our third day, and it was more relaxed. We travelled to Ilidža and then to Vrelo Bosne, where we walked in nature and relaxed around the water. We had a group discussion about the things we do for ourselves, and played a team game, human knot, which involved a lot of careful listening and thinking – untangling ourselves proved difficult but we managed it. In the evening, we enjoyed Azerbaijani Paklava (their version of Baklava) and traditional breads and tea. It was a joy to be with these people and learn about their food and culture.

On Wednesday we watched a documentary about children born of wartime sexual assault in Bosnia, featuring Ajna Jusić, and then we had a Skype conversation with her. This was incredibly difficult for me and the other participants, but it was also informative about the need for a change in attitude to sexual violence worldwide, and one of the most troubling legacies of conflict in Bosnia. She stressed the importance of not picking sides, or only focusing on the past, but seeing this as a problem of violence against women which must be combated today, everywhere. In the afternoon we met Maria Saric, the director of Wings of Hope. We had a wide-ranging discussion: about her life, the importance of humour in the Western Balkans, and the work that their organisation does – therapeutic and educational.

On Thursday, we reflected on the events of the youth exchange – some joyful, some difficult, all involving growth. Then we had a more light-hearted session, sharing British comedy and tea and biscuits with the other participants. We also watched some videos about village life in Azerbaijan. This was the end of our exchange, so in the evening we had a barbeque. We talked and reflected together, and I was sad to be leaving this group of people so soon.

We had some difficulties in our group but we worked through them as a team and stayed strong for each other. I was proud of how quickly we came together as a team when situations required it. I learned a lot from this week, about Azerbaijan, Bosnia, and myself. I was really happy to work with these people for a short time, and I am grateful for this opportunity for dialogue. It was a challenging but incredibly interesting week.

Malcolm Lowe, Svitac’s (Firefly Bosnia’s) ESC volunteer



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