Gruppenfoto mit jungen Menschen Gruppenfoto mit jungen Menschen
Youth Camp of Solidaritätsjugend Deutschlands and partner organisations in 2019

"We are like a family"

Youth exchange with Tunisia continues

Solidaritätsjugend Deutschlands and the Tunisian NGO We Love Sousse have developed a partnership since 2015. An important core element is an annual youth encounter with partners from 12 countries. During the pandemic, it was switched to an online format. Now those involved hope to meet physically in the summer. IJAB spoke with Carolina Sachs, Emilia Schanz and Haifa Gharbi.

19.05.2021 / Christian Herrmann Carolina, Emilia, Haifa, Solidaritätsjugend Deutschlands and We Love Sousse from Tunisia have had a growing partnership for several years. Tell us something about it.

Haifa Gharbi: The partnership developed between 2015 and 2017. We first met during the conference on youth exchange between North Africa and Germany organised by IJAB in Bonn in November 2015. Then we exchanged visits in Frankfurt and Tunis. We then joined the Solidaritätsjugend Camp for the first time in 2017. So we took our time to develop the partnership. When we joined the first camp, we didn't come directly with a whole group, We only sent two participants to observe and learn. The next year, these two participants were leading our first Tunisian group to the camp in Germany. That alone was a first success. This year we intend to participate in our 5th camp with Solijugend. What topics do you deal with at the camps?

Carolina Sachs: We have been organising our international youth camps for 57 years now, and every year about 250 young people from a dozen countries take part. We deal with issues like racism, discrimination or nationalism, things that have unfortunately increased in recent years and that we want to counteract. In 2019, the last time the camp could take place as a physical encounter, we dealt with biography work. How did our parents and grandparents live, where were they born and what did they experience? You quickly realise that we have always been a diverse society. We are very happy to be able to work with such committed partners as "We love Sousse" on an equal footing and to plan joint activities. This enriched last year's camp tremendously. At the moment, we are also planning to intensify our partnership.

Haifa Gharbi: To get ready for the camp, we always reflect on what topics we should deal with and try to anticipate things. For instance, when we first met with our partners from Algeria, Morocco and Turkey during the the North African conference organized by Solijugned in 2017, we talked about expectations and obstacles and we brainstormed ideas for possible topics to be tackled during the camp (democracy, social media, etc) . It was a fine opportunity not only to discuss the camp program but also to ensure that partners get in touch with each other quickly and overcome inhibitions, through ice breakers, workshops, and speed dating activities.

Emilia Schanz: Over the course of the year, our international camp is a central event for Solidaritätsjugend. Many other activities are directly linked to the camp.

Haifa Gharbi: That is also the case for us. Beyond the camp, we plan future joint activities, we are looking forward to staying in touch and informing each other about potential opportunities and future prospects. That way we know quite well what is important for young people in Germany at the moment.

"The online camp helped us a lot not to lose courage"

Carolina Sachs: Last year, the camp had to take place online for the first time due to Corona and the measures associated with it. But for five days, all our partners could join us and try out new ideas and methods. We cooked together and there was even a fashion show. This was financed by the Child and Youth Plan of the Ministry of Family Affairs and the Coordination Centre for German-Czech Youth Exchange - Tandem.

Haifa Gharbi: Yes, the online camp helped us a lot not to lose courage and stay positive . We were involved from the start, we believed that despite the circumstances we can work things out. Teamig with Solijugend made us feel more confident about our contribution. We felt like we were not just partners, we were rather a family. We prepared a lot of activities for the camp such as cooking, workout and mediation sessions to name a few. We also had fun shooting and screening a video downtown Sousse in which we presented our city. We screened the video during the closing ceremony. In addition, the camp allowed our young people to run sessions,organize and describe a fashion show in english which was already a big achievement for some of them. Overall, the camp sent out a positive message, we had a lot of fun together. We are really like a family. Apart from the online camp we also launched a social media digital campaign that promoted solidarity under the hashtag soli4ever. The activity consisted in sharing pictures of former participation in the camp and/ or sending photos or videos to show solidarity and send a message of hope in times of crises. The campaign revealed the creativity of members and had a cheering impact on them.

Carolina Sachs: We also had a bit of intergenerational exchange. Some of our former camp participants stopped by and showed photos from 30 or 40 years ago. At that time, the Cold War was still going on. Of course, we also talked about how we felt during the pandemic and the lockdown. Many international partners and of course young people here in Germany describe a feeling of isolation and loneliness. What is your experience?

Haifa Gharbi: I think it was important that the camp did not take place exclusively online, but at least enabled meetings on site. The young people did not sit exclusively in front of the computer. We met in our office and did something together there.

Carolina Sachs: Yes, we invited speakers from the Chaos Computer Club and Extinction Rebellion and talked to the young people about alternative lifestyles. For the older youth, there was also a workshop on a horror film from Tunisia, which contained very exciting topics.

Haifa Gharbi: It was really very lively. We had a closing ceremony on the beach where there was a lot of laughing and dancing. The camp really came to us.

Carolina Sachs: A tear or two has been shed when we saw this.

"We are all learning" Did you have to overcome technical difficulties, for example, regarding the bandwidth of the internet access?

Haifa Gharbi: Of course there were technical problems, but we solved them all on time. The internet connection in Tunisia has become much better in recent years - we didn't have any difficulties with that.

Carolina Sachs: We also had difficulties in part - also because it was our first experience with a large online event. We had set up a studio in the basement of our office in Offenbach. Our interpreters were located all over the world, including in Palestine and the Czech Republic. It's great that this cooperation was possible without travel and visas. However, there were challenges. For example, it was difficult for many linguists to have to translate online all at once. The pressure was there. And we had to take into account the different time zones. What is the best time for a meeting so that as many people as possible can be there?

Carolina Sachs: Our language animators had no experience with a situation where they are not in the same room with everyone else. The interpreters were completely exhausted after an hour. If it is so hard for professionals to stay focused, don't be surprised that it is no different for young people. We had to coordinate language animators to translate into six languages every day.

Haifa Gharbi: For some of our young people, it was difficult to be in our office at 9 a.m. During summer holidays, they rarely wake up early so that was a bit challenging to have everyone ready on time.

Carolina Sachs: Oh, I'm sorry about that!

Haifa Gharbi: It is okay, that was quite good for them. But maybe it would have been better to let the camp go on for three days instead of five.

Carolina Sachs: Yes, we also took that from the feedback. It was definitely too long and not everyone was able to participate all the time because of school, studies and work. Working with Zoom, Padlet and Discord mostly worked well. When you work with more tools, communication becomes fragmented. But maybe we should have offered more space for meetings without a programme.

Haifa Gharbi: We are all learning. For example, I didn't know what a World Café was before dealing with it during previous camp editions. I had to find out for myself and then prepare my volunteers to take part in it. I had also never worked with the breakout rooms at Zoom before, I learned how handy they might come in when dealing with workshops or when running English club sessions at We Love Sousse. I think this is what the camp is all about; learning from each other and trying to exchange experiences and soft skills.

Emilia Schanz: I have only been with Solijugend since November, but the youth camp must be something very special, as I have been told by volunteers and partners. I am very excited to plan and experience my first camp this year. In whatever form it takes.

"I really don't want to be 16 at the moment" When do you think physical exchange will be possible again?

Carolina Sachs: We hope for July and August. As we all know, hope dies last, but we really hope. We have to send out the invitations soon and haven't decided yet what the camp will look like this year.

Emilia Schanz: We have several options. One of them is to reduce the group size to 100. Then a youth hostel or a youth education centre would also come into question as a location and we would have better conditions for hygiene rules - so far we have always been accommodated in schools. Another option is a hybrid camp, where the national groups meet physically on site and then the whole thing is brought together virtually.

Carolina Sachs: We actually don't know yet. Youth hostels and youth education centres are also struggling in the current situation. At some point we need an emergency plan.

Emilia Schanz: The last option is to have the camp exclusively online.

Carolina Sachs: We try to avoid that if possible. I really don't want to be 16 at the moment. No parties, puberty and being in the parents' household all day. It's important now that we do something, try something out.

Emilia Schanz: Of course we need a proper concept for that. But one thing is also true: young people meet anyway - lockdown or not. So it's better to have the framework of a camp with good hygiene rules.

Carolina Sachs: Yes, and we also have to give them a voice again. Sitting at home alone all day staring at your mobile phone or laptop only encourages radicalisation and conspiracy theories.

Thematic focus: Coronavirus

Closed borders, travel warnings, curfews and restrictions due to the corona virus are currently major challenges for international youth work.