Hand in hand for inclusion
Every now and then, a group forms which has such a unique dynamic, that the products of their interactions become real gems. We had such an experience in the Hand in Hand seminar organized by Hugarafl in Ölver, during 3-9 November 2019, which was funded by the Erasmus+ program. Built around the topic of inclusion of young people facing mental health challenges, the seminar offered the space for exchanging practices, experiences and approaches for organizations working in this field in Iceland, Estonia, Hungary and Romania. Participants were coming from four different organizations, from different countries, various roles and backgrounds (experts by experience, psychologists, psychiatrist, social workers, project managers, volunteers) and the connections they made transcended age, nationality, occupation or any other labels.
The seminar used the non-formal education methodology, one of the cornerstones of the Erasmus+ program, which meant that in order to learn the new tools, the participants had to experience them and through reflection and discussion, to draw out specific knowledge, meanings for their life and ways to use them. The schedule was built around a logical flow, going through connection activities, to introduction of organizations and their approaches to inclusion, to sharing good practices that alternated between individual and group work, different levels of depth and between intellectual, emotional and body work. The activities were very diverse and offering: expressive writing, movement and embodiment, connection through music, role play, deep talk, self-organized self-care, wellbeing practices, psychodrama, reflection, presentations, movie and discussion, communication exercises, world café discussions. Given the sensitive nature of the topics addressed, the activities generated deep introspection, intense emotions and self-confrontation, which were gracefully held and supported in the safety of the space created by the participants and the facilitators.
Some of the Icelandic participants shared their experience from the seminar in the following paragraphs:
The seminar Hand in Hand was very intense and sometimes quite difficult, but it was very rewarding. I loved the morning practice which lasted 30 minutes each day. It was a great way to start the day and it was indeed an icebreaker. I got focused and it set the mood for the day. In addition, I got to know some of the participants better as they lead the morning practice.
During self-care time I could recharge my energy level by connecting to others or be alone and think. This self-care time was very valuable for me, as the schedule during this week was very tight and most of the time one was never alone.
We finished each day with our group, doing reflection on learning We evaluate the things/activities we did during that day and answer some questions as were there any low points of the day, what were the learning activities of the day and three things we liked or were thankful for during that day. It was nice to end the program of the day by always meeting the group and we often had a very nice time during these discussions.
During this week we got to know each other very well and we built valuable connection between the countries. It was very interesting and informative to learn how the other organizations work and about their know-how and work methods with people.
I am very grateful for this experience. It is so valuable to know that you are not alone in the world.
The Hand In Hand seminar at Ölver was one of the most personally demanding and rewarding things I’ve ever done. It really kicked me out of my comfort zone and gave me the support and environment to do things I didn’t even think I could do. The beginning was rough for me and I had a very hard time just being there but the longer I stayed the more I wished the seminar would be a bit longer. By the end I was truly sad to have to return home to regular life. I made so many friends who I will try my best to stay in touch with and hope to see again in the future. I will forever cherish the beautiful moments we shared tree there.
I am extremely grateful for having had the opportunity to experience the seminar with all the wonderful people there and I will absolutely participate in another project like this one if given the chance.
Hjörtur Jarl Benediktsson
This seminar in Ölver was my first experience of this type, and it started with a lot of nerves and not knowing what was going on or what would happen, but the facilitators had it all figured out and did a great job on the first day to get everyone to relax and open up, and by the first night it was already feeling like being a part of a special group. Sadly on the second day of the seminar there was a little hitch in the group and we lost some of the participants, in the end that only seemed to make the group more tight knit, and as the sessions in the seminar unfolded I felt like I was learning something new, a new way to look at things and to my big surprise almost all the sessions made me think of something or see something in a new light, can only think of one or two activities that I did not see the point in. But for me the most beautiful and what had the most effect on me was the people there, and getting to know them was a big honor, and that goes for both professionals and the peers like myself, and from some of those conversations I brought home the biggest treasures from this seminar. As I am in the first steps in helping others in my organization a lot of the lessons and methods I learned in Ölver will be more for the future, and hopefully will give me a good base for when I get more active in my organization. I’m just so thankful for having been invited there and had the most beautiful time I have had in a long time and I made friends that I hope will stay with me. Only real negative thing I can think of just to keep the balance is that it was very difficult to come back home to the silence, but as I sit here in the silence and the dark to write this, the memories of this week bring a smile.
After the seminar, participants returned to their organizations carrying gifts that will be further effused in their communities, in the shape of new methods to foster mental health and inclusion of young people, knowledge about various perspectives and approaches to mental health and new projects ideas to be implemented in cooperation with the other organizations in the close future. Local workshops about Non-Violent Communication, about connection, trust and other topics related to inclusion will follow In Iceland, Romania, Estonia and Hungary, led by the participants, as a way of passing forward some of what they learned in the seminar.