By Rebecca Baumeister, Youth Leader and Organizer, Germany
If you’re like me, it’s probably a big group of international young people sitting together and laughing, working together, and going on exciting adventures. Well, our recent digital project week could not have been more different. And in some ways, it could not have captured the Erasmus+ spirit better.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in spring 2020, our organisation “FFA Abenteuerzentrum Berlin” had just started planning the first week for our three-part project “Activate your strengths through art”. The project is all about helping young people to get to know their strengths and be able to use them for their future career plans, as well as boosting their mental health.
All of our partners were prepared and ready to go. Then travelbans hit and we had to postpone the week. We found a new date in October 2020, but had to cancel that one, as well as all of our countries, were now in a high-risk status.
We had the choice: to keep postponing the project week until the COVID-19 pandemic allowed us to travel again ... or to try something different.
As a youth organisation focused mainly on outdoor activities, the thought of changing “Activate your strengths” into an online format was scary at first. Through Erasmus+ Facebook groups, we researched other organisations who had successfully completed digital projects and received some very helpful tips: to shorten the amount of activities per day dramatically, to change methods as often as possible, and to expect much less engagement from our participants.
With a deep breath and fingers crossed, our partners and us decided to take the leap of faith. In December 2020, 30 participants from Greece, Spain, Ukraine, Germany, and Romania turned on their cameras and joined us on Zoom.
Instead of welcoming our participants in one of the large Mongolian yurts of our adventure center, we got to know each other through speed dating on Zoom and games of Kahoot. Instead of sleepily starting the day together at breakfast, each of us worked on a creative mental health task and shared the results on Slack. Instead of creating posters in the sunshine, we did online research tasks and shared our results on Padlet.
It was different –but successful! We kept our afternoon sessions at a short and intense 4 hours, including breaks. (And yes, after some technical training, everybody worked pretty well in the Zoom format, with most of the cameras on.) We learned about our character strengths and how we can use them to succeed in our studies and careers. We researched the current job markets of the EU and what challenges and chances they provide.
Surprisingly, the most popular workshops of the week focused on the participants’ individual mental health and research on common mental health disorders. Many participants stated how much they appreciated learning about mental health and ways to support it, especially during stressful times. In a follow-up questionnaire six weeks after the projects, many participants wrote they had started doing regular mental health check-ins in their daily routine and felt more confident and aware of their unique strengths and skills.
As organisers, this project week made us realise how needed Erasmus+ formats are, especially in such times of isolation, stress and worry. We saw participants thriving on togetherness and discussions, creating new friendships and partnerships –and it didn’t matter whether it was digital or in person.
Erasmus+ projects can provide opportunities to grow and connect, even in a digital format. Young people need to keep developing their skillsets and build their self-confidence, especially in times where many are losing their jobs or looking into a very uncertain future after graduation their university courses.
We want to encourage all youth organisations to take this leap of faith and create digital formats for young people until we can be together in person again. It is not as scary as you think!
Let’s challenge ourselves and support young people in these difficult times!