ReAccess City! 2021

Navigating the maze of cities can be a daily challenge for the roughly 80 million EU citizens living with a disability. Local transport may not have wheelchair lifts on buses, or Braille on signs, but there are annoying steps that prevent people from getting around. It is clear that people with disabilities want to be more mobile and independent, so we might ask ourselves: how can European cities be better designed to be more accessible for all? Should local authorities, urban planners and architects consider these issues more carefully? And if so, where there are accessibility challenges, can we – civil society and its representatives, active NGOs – help to overcome them? We are proud to say that our experience in accessibility for people with disabilities in cities was first gained five years ago, when we had our first successful youth exchange programme based on the above-mentioned objectives. Its continuation, ReAccess city! 2021 Erasmus+ project, has been postponed to 20 – 28 June of 2022 due to the restrictions imposed by the epidemic situation. The UFF’s core objective with this project was to identify accessibility challenges in local communities, develop useful tools and effectively overcome them, which was concluded with good results.

20 June 2022.

30 young foreigners from Greece, Turkey, Spain, Poland, and Portugal came to Odorheiu Secuiesc at different stages of the day. The participants were very open to the programme, still, after their arrival, they decided to relax and recharge.

21 June 2022.

On Tuesday morning, the participants were already excited as they lined up in the conference room of the Siculus Youth House, waiting to be introduced to the week’s activities. After discussing what they expected from the exchange and from us, and what we expected from the exchange and from them, we then focused on getting to know each other.IMG_4794
The ended the day with a welcome party after the cultural evening, where Turkey and Spain presented their respective cultures.

22 June 2022.

Wednesday morning started with a more in-depth project briefing, followed by a playful city mapping session. In teams, they had to find the places they would touch during the week in a “scavenger hunt” style.After the lunch break, we organized another team-building activity, followed by another cultural evening, this time with presentations on Greece, Poland and Portugal.IMG_4983

23 June 2022.

On Thursday morning we talked about the experiences of the 2017 exchange programme and watched the aftermovie summarizing the results.We analyzed it and shared our thoughts and stories.IMG_5513 másolata In the second half of the day, Gabriela Telekfalvi held a workshop and sessions for the participants on the everyday life of people with disabilities.IMG_5376After the evaluation of the day, we enjoyed the Udvarhely Days, where concerts and good vibes welcomed the young people.

24 June 2022.

On Friday we gave the reins to Arnold Buttu and his father Csaba – founder of the Hungarian Foundation for the Visually Impaired in Transylvania (EMLE) – and had our first session with them, their life and their story. In the next workshop, they presented their school for the blind, told us about their motivation, principles and goals, and invited the young people to an interactive discussion. In the afternoon, we had the opportunity to try out different exercises and games focusing on the sensitivity of the visually impaired.IMG_5460 másolata

The evening was also dedicated to the festival.

25 June 2022.

On Saturday morning, the big task began. We asked the young people, divided into groups, to follow a pre-assigned route with wheelchairs and white canes, analyze the facilities in the neighborhood and record them on video. The teams were each given a different route, covering the whole city.IMG_5154 másolata The second part of the day was a visit to the Rezső Haáz Museum, where the works of the blind artist Lajos Katona were on display.

We spent the evening at the festival.

26 June 2022.

On Sunday morning we asked the groups to draw a mobile map of Odorheiu Secuiesc from on sights and experiences of the day before, in order to be able to compare the results with those of 2017, and then asked them to prepare a presentation. We spent the afternoon with a youthpass session, where we mainly reinforced the 7 key competences, but also learned many interesting things together.IMG_5238

This day was the last day of the Odorhei Days, so the young people could attend the closing concerts and parties.

27 June 2022.

It was the big day, the highlight of our project. We started this day at the City Hall, where the teams presented the city’s accessibility, highlighted pressing problems and collected suggestions for the city leaders. IMG_5954 másolataIn the second half of the day, as an optional programme, we went to the community center, where the founder of the institution showed us around the rooms equipped for people with disabilities with all kinds of mobility machines, and then demonstrated various interesting exercises. This evening was ours. With our volunteers, we presented Romanian culture through history, dances, videos and games.

This was followed by a farewell party, during which some of the participants had to leave the venue to go home. The rest of the participants tried to make the most of the remaining time together.IMG_4878 másolata

28 June 2022.

A sad, overcast morning. We waited for the transfer in front of the High School dormitory, during which time we gave out 2 sandwiches, fruit, water and at least one tearful hug to each young person. The minibuses arrived in order and picked up the young people from us.

During the programme, international contacts, best friendships and lovemaches were made. Participants created useful tools to identify accessibility challenges within the local community. They created maps and videos of the local council take-up.

But perhaps the most useful part of the project was their understanding of the importance of inclusion and their acceptance of the idea that everyone should be able to use the same facilities, participate in the same activities and enjoy the same experiences, including people with disabilities or other disadvantages.

Thank you for the opportunity! You were all great.

The power of a #storyteller

Facilitators and youth workers recognize the art of storytelling as a non-formal educational tool for young people. Storytelling is a very easy to use set of methods for during mobility, young people can easily be involved in a shared learning process, as everyone has one or more stories of their own to share and discuss with others. Many aspects of stories are close to our everyday lives, to the way we think and understand the world around us: “each one of us is a story in itself…”. Storytelling is an effective way to engage young people and to acquire key competences such as verbal and communication skills in their mother tongue or in a foreign languages, imagination, creativity, intercultural and social understanding, etc. Although the storytelling method is highly valued as a means of developing key competences in young people, it is unfortunately less used by European youth organizations. This was the motivation and impetus for the Erasmus+ youth exchange application for The power of a Storyteller.

Our youth exchanges

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We will surely remember the year of 2020 as the one of COVID-19 pandemic, which changed our lives. These unusual times of our existence brought us at the same time – among others – some of the best youth exchanges in the history of the Youth Forum of Odorhei, which by the way celebrated in 2020 its 30 years of activity for the benefit of young generation living in Odorhei area… Happy birthday UFF and keep up the good work!

Unfortunately, we were unable to organize those projects when we were supposed to do so… The pandemic situation in Europe and the travel restrictions of authorities made all together a very difficult (let us say, impossible) task the organizing process of international youth mobility events. In this situation – having the support of our great partners from all over Europe – we decided to postpone all the youth exchanges of the Youth Forum.

Our philosophy regarding youth exchanges is very close to the traditional approach: if possible, we would like to avoid transforming activities for the online world… We think that the very essence of a youth mobility is the personal interaction and the close contact of the participants from several cultural backgrounds, which are of the utmost importance when you develop your project’s main purposes. As we see it, it is very hard (almost impossible) to transform youth exchanges to online platforms and reach the goals and objectives you were planning to achieve when you handed in the application in the first place…

We are strongly committed to organize the below described two exchanges as we planned to do so. However, the whole concept of the two youth mobility would have to suffer if we would consider changing (entirely or part of it) the programs for the online platforms… Therefore, we postponed them for a period of time, when our lives will be more predictable. At least we hope for that to come one day… This is not the situation we were expecting for, we are not happy at all, but the first concern in this matter has to be the health of our participants and alternatively the success of the exchanges!

We think that we can all agree that we are living some unusual times right now. To be able to predict the unpredictable and to organize our lives as NGO’s we have to be as flexible as we can and to hope for the best to come. You can read a description of our two extraordinary interesting youth exchanges in the coming sections.