Through workshops and programmes focusing on inclusivity in the public sphere as well as the local community, Bridging Gaps e.V gives youth the skills to become leaders of the future.
This exchange bridges the gap between perceptions & reality of the Global South & North.
"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 as well as explore a different culture while giving me the opportunity to travel outside our borders.” Rethagan (18 years) returned full of excitement and inspiration from the second encounter phase of the Bridging Gaps youth exchange, which took place from the 5th to the 21st of April 2019 in Germany.
As part of the youth exchange project, 19 teenagers participate in two encounter phases in South Africa and Germany. The whole project lasts 9 months and consists of workshops to prepare the teenagers for the trips and reflect on their personal growth. It has four main objectives:
Firstly, the exchange gives participants an opportunity to share their knowledge and opinions with teenagers from a completely different country and background.
The weeks the group spent together were a very special and formative time in their lives, as Rose (18 years) describes. “We became one family, even though we faced challenges, we got the opportunity to become a big family and grow with each other, trust one another and bridge the gaps.”
Secondly, in the workshops the participants learn about the UN Sustainable Development Goal and develop an in-depth understanding of the 10th Goal “Reduced Inequalities”.
Travelling to a new country is an important moment in a youngster’s journey of understanding the world they live in. They get a chance to encounter more of its beauty while opening their eyes to existing inequality and injustice. Johannes (17 years) explains how this experience made him aware of his own privileges and motivated him to change his 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.”
Thirdly, the participants develop a critical consciousness of societal injustices based on race, gender, disability and other categories on the spectrum of intersectionality. In this process, they reflect on their individual position in society, including their privileges.
One of the big topics in the second encounter phase was gender inequality and according to David (16 years) it’s a “big problem which could be changed so easily. The world would be a better place If everybody could see that it isn’t important if someone chooses to identify as a boy or a girl.”
The group discussed how females and males still have very different experiences in society. Interestingly, this was a shared perception among all participants from both countries. For example, general societal norms were often portrayed in theatre performances. Characters such as parents of newborn babies would have gender specific dreams of their sons becoming successful soccer players and their daughters growing into a lovely lady who takes care of the family or pursues a career in the social sector.
The example of men not being allowed to cry at a loved one’s funerals reminds us that these perceptions do not only oppress women but also restrict men and as Khutso (15 years) described: “Limitations, limitations, I just can’t come up with an explanation. What is a man? A person who is not supposed to cry? Trust me, I have done that before and who I turned into was nothing like a man. Keeping my emotions turned me into a person who doesn’t care about anything at all.”
The teenagers also talked about more complicted issues, such as manspreading or mansplaining and had to realise that it was even happening in the youth exchange group. However, after the sessions, everyone agreed to call each other out to stop perpetuating gender inequality as they began to agree with Patience (15), who shared with the whole group, “where there is equality, there is prosperity. Equality needs both genders and real men fight for women’s rights.”
The theatre workshop was a highlight where the group unpacked the concept of “space and voice”. As we all know, every group seems to have unwritten rules on who is supposed to talk and make decisions and who listens. As a group, it is very difficult to speak about equality in society if it cannot even be achieved in our own set-up. The teenagers reflected on their role in the team and came up with ideas on how to be more inclusive by allowing the quieter ones more space to speak out.
According to Olivia (16 years), having a voice not only makes it able to say something or share an opinion, it also means to be heard, which makes it a two-way street.
However, she is convinced that, “surely there should be a cure for this, surely we should be able to hear the voices of the silenced. The world is greater than what we think and there are ways in which we can empower both men and women equivalently. For instance, allowing women to boldly express and be themselves, you are giving them a voice, not silencing them.”
Fourthly, the programme prepares the participants to become multipliers and make a positive contribution to reduce inequalities in their communities and globally.
During the youth exchange, the participants receive a lot of training on how to share their insights with their peers. In Germany, they practiced their role at the youth centre in Reutlingen, where they facilitated games and activities for other teenagers. Back in their communities, they are now offering workshops to discuss topics such as racism, gender inequality and global injustice.
Making sure the project has a sustainable impact is one of the key success criteria for the youth exchange project. In the final workshop, the supervisors will guide the teenagers to develop their personal vision and plan specific actions they want to take in the next three months.
Through the exchange, Rethagan developed a consciousness for societal injustices but she refuses “to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to this cycle. Racism on its own is simply a word but racism as a social construct is 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.”
About Bridging Gaps e.V.
This year Bridging gaps e.V. organises its second youth exchange for 20 teenagers from South Africa and Germany as part of the African German Youth Initiative funded by Engagement Global on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development.
Bridging Gaps e.V. is a non-profit organisation that aims to raise awareness of everyday racism and reduce social inequalities. The team of students and young professionals are active in South Africa and Germany and organise workshops, trainings and youth camps.
Each project is also a learning and growth opportunity for some previous participants to teach younger teenagers, which helps them grow their skills and confidence. The South African teenagers have been working as supervisors-in-training at previous camps where they are training their German counterparts on how to teach younger teenagers from local communities.
The team also includes previous participants in the exchange to give them a chance to stay engaged. They pass on their knowledge, guide younger teenagers and support the organising team with the implementation of the project.
After they complete the youth exchange programme, the participants can apply to become supervisors for Bridging Gaps e.V. This gives them an opportunity to lead youth groups, prepare and facilitate their own workshops and take resposibilty for youth camps.
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 Wuerttemberg.