by OYW Ambassador Juliane Hoss
Connecting young leaders from the Global South & North
This year, Bridging Gaps e.V. organised its second youth exchange, hosting 20 teenagers from South Africa and Germany as part of the African-German Youth Initiative. The programme receives funding from Engagement Global on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development. Since 2013, this team of students and young professionals has sponsored workshops, trainings, and youth camps to raise awareness of everyday racism and reduce social inequalities.
"It was an out-of-this-world experience that provided me with the opportunity to broaden my view on certain social issues societies are faced with, and explore a different culture. It also gave me the opportunity to travel outside our borders.” - Rethagan, 18.
The project is committed to including alumni in its implementation, so they may receive a chance to grow their skills and share their experience with a new crop of young leaders. After completing the youth exchange programme, many become supervisors. They lead youth groups, prepare and facilitate own workshops and run the youth camps.
Building cross-cultural connection and solidarity
The project commenced in October 2018 with its preparation phase, which helped acclimate the teenagers to the project. Their first video chat meeting with their exchange partners set off their excitement to meet youngsters raised in vastly different backgrounds.
The first encounter phase took place in South Africa after Christmas 2018. The result was an unforgettable learning experience. The participants discovered different perspectives, challenged their own assumptions, and developed new and broader worldviews. Most importantly, they built lasting friendships with young people they otherwise would never have met.
“We became one family, even though we faced challenges, we got the opportunity to be a big family and grow with each other, trust one another and bridge the gaps.” - Rose, 18.
Examining injustice and promoting equity
Venturing beyond one’s comfort zone is the first and most challenging step in any journey to developing one’s understanding of the world. This leap of faith–encountering the world from a new vantage point–also reveals its prevailing inequalities and injustices. In the interim phase between January and March 2019, the participants gathered in their respective countries for multiple workshops to reflect and make sense of this experience. Becoming aware of their own privileges and understanding their challenges motivated them to change their own perspective.
“It’s really a bad thing that there are such big differences when it comes to privilege. But what for me is even worse is that there is so little conscience. Personally, I recognised this difference just recently, when I was in South Africa and experienced it with my own body and mind. Because I, as a German, had never had to really think about privilege before.” – Johannes, 17.
Raising awareness of privilege and inequality
During the second encounter phase in Germany in April 2019, the participants came together to evaluate and compare their own lived experiences. With these challenging dialogues, they expanded their consciousness of societal injustices based on race, gender, ableism, and a host of other factors.
One of the core topics the students explored was gender inequality. The group discussed how females and males still experience society very differently–a perception shared among all the participants. They explored issues from mansplaining and manspreading to the need for women to own their voice and opinions. Also tackled were challenges boys experience growing up in societies with clear expectations of how a man behaves.
"The world is greater than we think and there are ways in which we can empower both men and women equally. By allowing women to boldly express their views and be themselves, you are giving them a voice, not silencing them.” - Olivia, 16.
Empowering the next generation of changemakers
During the youth exchange, the participants practiced how to share their experiences and insights with their peers clearly and respectfully. In the closing phase, they jump-started their own efforts to reduce inequalities in their own communities.
They raised their voices on social media; hosted workshops on topics such as racism, gender inequality, and global injustice; volunteered in other organisations that promote equality; and developed their personal vision and short-term plans of action.
Their journey through the phases of the exchange energized the teenagers to stand up against social injustice, change their environments for the better, and ensure that the project has a sustainable impact.
“I don’t accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to this cycle. Racism on its own is simply a word but racism a social construct is so much more powerful. But I believe not all is lost and there is hope as long as there is life. And this hope is created by the most powerful force in existence – us.” – Rethagan, 18.
The project is sponsored by Engagement Global GmbH on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation, the Jugendstiftung as well as the Stiftung Entwicklungszusammenarbeit Baden-Württemberg.