The Creating a Culture of Encounter is a GHFP partnership initiative in collaboration with Aga Khan International, Arigatou International, European Wergeland Centre, and Scholas Occurrentes.
The one-year pilot began in September 2021. The main objectives were to bring together European nationals, and migrant and refugee youths living in Europe, through a culture of encounter to promote mutual understanding, foster inclusion and solidarity, and support young people to engage as active citizens through collective actions.
The project emerged in response to concerns identified by project partners around the rise of discrimination and hate speech across Europe. By creating shared spaces for young people to further develop their knowledge, attitudes and skills, and to actively question and transform narratives of discrimination and hate, the Project aims contribute to peacefulness in Europe and prevention of violence. Project activities aimed to equip youth with the competencies to be ‘agents of transformation’ in their communities, by influencing and training others, multiplying the reach of this initiative to a wider community of young people through positive social actions and campaigns.
As a Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) partner, from September 2021 to July 2022, the GHFP conducted an evaluation of the pilot to draw out initial findings from the project activities. The purpose of the evaluation was to investigate progress against the intended aims and identify key outcomes of the project.
The MEL took a mixed-methods approach informed by quantitative and qualitative data from activity monitoring, youth baseline, teacher questionnaire and focus groups with young people and teachers.
Across three youth hubs in Spain, Portugal and Italy, 72 young people were engaged through citizenship and intercultural learning encounters and 48 teachers received training in intercultural and interfaith dialogue processes. Each hub successfully recruited youth from across several schools and localities that provided a broad range of participant backgrounds. Due to organisational constraints and covid-19 restrictions the programme did not engage as widely with refugee and migrant communities as intended; in future iterations, a greater focus on identifying relevant settings in advance and ensuring uptake would be advantageous.
Project partners collaborated to identify three key types of activity of the pilot project:
- Educator workshops aimed at strengthening the capacity of teachers and equipping them with intercultural and interfaith dialogue skills to work with youth on issues of discrimination and violence to foster inclusion and pluralism.
- Youth workshops for young people aged 16-18 years old in Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, through both online and in-person participatory workshops intended to provide opportunities for youth to experience active citizenship and learn to integrate intercultural and interfaith dialogue for creating a culture of encounter in their communities.
- Youth-led projects facilitated in schools and communities to advance new narratives of mutual understanding, belongingness and respect, including a youth-led social media campaign to mobilise a wider network of young people in Europe, raise awareness, share their experiences, and influence positive change.
Teachers and young people reported a high level of need for and desire for spaces to examine issues of identity, discrimination, and inclusion. Learners valued the culture of encounter as a safe space for them to learn about themselves, get to know each other and consider their contribution to building more inclusive communities.
Learners most appreciated the participatory nature of activities and how they were encouraged to share their own thoughts and ideas.
The model of teachers participating and interacting equally with young people proved transformative for both teachers and youth.
Storytelling and mural activities were also effective for opening up discussion with young people. Young people reported an increased confidence and openness to express themselves and that activities had reduced inhibitions when engaging in group situations.
The programme had clear benefits on improving participants’ awareness and experience of active citizenship. The programme supported young people to recognise themselves as agents of inclusion, recognise commonalities and gain new perspectives. Young people felt that they had increased understanding and awareness of prejudice and discrimination, and increased confidence in combating discrimination and exclusion.
All young people interviewed during focus groups recognised the importance of youth as agents of change, felt more confident that they could make a positive difference and had been motivated to take a more active role in their communities. The project has had a positive impact on social interactions of young people in both the classroom and beyond, with examples of youth-led initiatives being disseminated in their schools and communities.
‘I have learned that, at least in my experience, between different people there are more similarities than differences, and that, different tastes aside, we work better together.’ — Young person from Greece
Teachers were highly impressed by the training and ability of facilitators to develop a strong level of openness and encounter with youth. Teachers appreciated learning about new innovative and participatory tools to engage students, recognising the value of these as helpful launching off points to introduce difficult topics around identity and exclusion. Teachers were inspired to take a more learner-centred participatory approach to citizenship education and prioritise youth encounters in future. Teachers valued having the space to hear and exchange ideas around inclusion and identity from colleagues in different schools and across different subject areas. They reported that they were likely to apply the learning in the classroom and were inspired to support youth-led change. As a result of the project, teachers were committed to supporting youth-led projects and had an overall sense of pride around the potential of young people and the sense of empowerment unleashed amongst learners.
‘This way of understanding education is encouraging many teachers to open the windows of our schools, weave networks and multiply the spaces for play, art and critical reflection because we have seen the transformative force they contain.’ — Teacher, Spain
Despite the positive experiences in creating a culture of encounter across participating settings, teachers noted that COVID-19 impacted project delivery and the practicalities of delivering face to face workshops led to delays and complications. The use of online spaces for youth engagement was also limited and could be further utilised in future programming through better understanding of how youth can best make use of these platforms.
An added value of the partnership model has been the sharing and cross fertilization of youth pedagogies across the delivery partners with youth hubs, this has led to rich and diverse workshops and an ever evolving and responsive programme.
The three youth hubs continue to be engaged in the project as they continue to roll-out youth initiatives. Funding is being sort for the next stage of the Culture of Encounter project which will build upon the successes of the first-year pilot in 2023.