Memories from LTTA of Building Better project in Heraklion
The island of Crete is covered in a thick blanket of clouds as our plane sinks low. All I can see is water and clouds and for a moment I wonder if we’ll crash into the sea. Luckily, the wheels of the aircraft meet the solid ground, and we make a rather bumpy landing. Outside the airport, I can smell saltwater and the sky is ominously dark. I’ve packed an umbrella, but I won’t need it as I’m greeted with a dry gust of wind.
I have no problem finding my way to the blue bus that takes me into the city just a stone’s throw from the hostel I’ll be staying at. However, I miss my stop and the internet is spotty thanks to the recent storms. I’m unable to find my way and so I ask a local for directions. He’s super friendly, as I discover later everyone here is. I find my hostel and it’s been completely refurbished. The building used to be a maternity ward and the main hall is dominated by a large marble staircase that leads to the next three floors and an amazing rooftop terrace.
I ask the young woman at the desk where I can get something to eat, and she directs me to a food stand not too far away. The streets are narrow, and the gutters are made of marble. Scooters and motorbikes whiz past me. I see a tiny chapel tucked in between the row houses. Across from it is an art dealer selling paintings of the Madonna with the Christ child. They are so pretty I consider coming back to buy one. But first food!
The narrow sidewalk in front of the food stand is crowded. Two bearded men cook meat on a steaming grill. I can’t read the menu, but everything smells great. I tell one of the bearded men to surprise me. I get some chicken, tomatoes, fried potatoes, and garlic sauce wrapped in a thick flatbread. It tastes amazing. I will definitely be coming back!
Back at the hostel, I spend about an hour chatting with some of my housemates. There is a Canadian traveling the world, a digital nomad from Austria, and a young Dutch woman who is working here for three months. I tell them that I will be presenting at the Learning Teaching Training Activity (LTTA) of Building Better project for Jugend & Kulturprojekt e.V. (JKPeV) the following morning.
It’s getting late, and after traveling, I’m exhausted. My housemates wish me the best of luck on my presentation, and I head off to bed.
The following morning after a quick cup of coffee, I head on foot to the Anelixis headquarters where the LTTA is being hosted. In spite of it still being overcast, the weather is warm. Palm trees line the busy streets, and the smell of flowers greet me as I pass under an ancient archway. It’s about a twenty-minute walk and the city of Heraklion is bustling. The sidewalks are crowded, and I pass every manner of small business. There are cafes and boutique clothing stores as well as greengrocers and fishmongers. It’s good that the internet is working again because I am heavily reliant on google maps. I can easily see why Crete is famously known for the Minotaur’s labyrinth.
At the Anelixis headquarters, I meet the first of five Marias that I will get to know over the next three days and Vasilis from Thessalonica. More participants trickle in, and we chat while breakfasting on fresh fruit, cookies, cake, coffee, and juice. I meet two Italians, Giulia and Luca, Vivi, two more Marias, and two young men from the Greek-speaking side of Cyprus, both called Christos.
I lead a presentation on ensuring the active participation of youth at cultural and creative events. Using a case study of an art festival that we at JKPeV organized in Dresden, I describe in detail how other non-profits can learn from our success story. What’s important is to involve youth at the early stages of planning. We can do this by inviting them to come to meetings and planning sessions where we have the opportunity to get their feedback and suggestions. By involving youth in the early stages of planning we not only understand better their needs, but they in turn become invested in the project and have higher attendance rates. This higher attendance rate is not only crucial for the success of our events but is essential for strong healthy communities in the future. We need young people to be active and engaged in society so that we can ensure our communities will be inclusive, free of discrimination, and be rich with opportunities that only an educated and healthy population can achieve.
We break for lunch and then Vasilis takes over. After a quick ice breaker in which we are asked to tell two truths and a lie about ourselves, Vasilis asks us to list the ways in which the Covid-19 pandemic has affected youth participation in creative and cultural events. The room vibrates with activity. Most of the participants themselves are young and actively discuss the ways in which they themselves felt immobilized by the lockdowns. ‘It’s hard to get people back,’ says one of the Marias. ‘Even after we were allowed to meet again, we’ve lost so many participants.’ A murmur is heard around the room as heads nod in agreement.
The problem is felt throughout Europe. How do we get people back after being kept away for so long thanks to the pandemic? And what does this mean for the future of communities and for the cultural sectors in particular if we fail to reinspire young people’s participation? We need young people’s voices more than ever. We live in a time and place where threats of ideological extremism, viruses, propaganda and fake news, energy and financial crisis, and political and war refugees are becoming ever increasing themes. We need ways of dealing with these disruptions and changing dynamics if we hope to continue to live in a peaceful Europe and world. Art and cultural events are important. They allow us to come together in love and harmony. They teach us ways to communicate that foster inclusion and understanding. They break down barriers and open doors.
It is for these reasons we’ve come here this week. We are five non-profits: JKPeV, Eurosuccess Consulting Limited, Anelixis Development Consultants, Cyprus Academy of Local Government, Simmetecho – iParticipate, and Sharing Europe. And we are based throughout Europe: Germany, Cyprus, Greece, and Italy with the same vision: building diverse, inclusive communities with young people in mind. We’ve come to learn from each other but also to gain experience in teaching. We are spending the week not only getting to know each other and the organizations we represent but also Greece and the tiny island of Crete.
After spending the whole morning and early afternoon in workshops and learning activities, Giulia and I decide to do a little sightseeing.
Our first stop is the Agio Minas Cathedral. I am awestruck by the detail in the frescos and the enormous chandeliers above our heads. ‘Do you think that’s real gold?’ Giulia whispers. ‘Yeah,’ I answer. The church is deserted, and this gives us time to explore its crucifix-formed sanctuary. Every square centimeter including the church’s domed ceiling is covered in artistic details.
Our next stop is the city center and the Morosini Fountain in Lion’s Square. The fountain, nearly 400 years old, is marble and topped with four lions. It is an engineering wonder, having supplied the entire city with over 160,000 liters of water per day. The square is clearly a meeting place for young and old alike. It’s framed by mature olive trees and plenty of seating. Children chase each other around the fountain while tourists edge in for a selfie.
Giulia and I decide to head for the sea. We make our way through winding, narrow streets and find more hidden shops and restaurants. I buy a cheese-filled pastry and we browse the small stores. We watch an old man making pottery, his wrinkled hands brown with mud. Giulia sees a dress she wants to buy. It has an empire waist and a deep scooping V-neckline. It’s reminiscent of what the Greek goddesses wore. We hear a child singing for money. Giulia says she knows the song. It’s a common Mediterranean folksong. Giulia hums along.
Eventually, we find our way to the Venetian Harbor. We decide to walk to the end of the pier stopping to see the Koules Fortress along the way. The wind is strong here and the waves crash up against the rocks, shooting sprays of water several meters into the air. The pier is painted with murals depicting ancient Greek ships and gods. On the pier, we happen to run into the Canadian staying at my hostel. He joins us as we catch up with Luca and the two Christoses. It’s late and getting cold so we head back to Lion’s square for drinks and dinner.
On the second day of the seminar, we are joined by a fourth Maria and Luca takes the stand to talk about role models for Europe’s youth and the power of effective storytelling. Luca walks us through a presentation on how to write creatively and then asks us to design our own storyboards. It’s an exercise that we at JKPeV use as well when teaching our Documentary Filmmaking class to young people in Dresden as well as part of the Building Better online course. The exercise is designed to help the storyteller visually represent their story scene by scene. Luca wants us to teach the young people in our communities how they can tell their own stories. By telling our own stories we are able to make meaningful connections with others and to build empathy. This empathy is the critical ingredient to building strong societies that are welcoming to people with differing backgrounds.
The weather is looking a lot nicer today and so I hop onto the #2 to visit the Palace of Knossos. The bus bumps along through a ritzy part of town before leaving the city altogether. We pass rocky hills and olive groves, eventually stopping outside the palace entrance. At the kiosk, I buy a combo ticket that will allow me to visit the Archeological Museum in addition to the palace.
Knossos is nearly four thousand years old and is the largest of the Minoan structures. The ground is rocky and uneven. Stairs lead up and down to multiple levels. I see a fresco-lined throne room, the stone stool at the head of the room is worn and indented as if someone had been sitting there for a very long time. A fresco of a man adorns another wall. He wears a turquoise tunic and has muscular calves and long black hair that swings behind him as if he is briskly walking. The sign informs me that this is only a reconstruction and that the original is at the Archeological Museum. More stairs lead me down to a room cut into the side of the hill. Here there is a row of urns as tall as me decorated with a thick rope design. Behind me, I hear bleating and see a small herd of sheep grazing on the rocky slopes.
It’s easy to get disorientated in Knossos, but eventually I find a path that leads me back to the bus stop. It’s getting late, so tomorrow I’ll have to see the Archeological Museum. For now, I take the return bus into the city and manage to make it back just before black clouds roll over the sky.
On the final day of the seminar, we meet Maria #5, a vibrant friendly woman with long black hair and wearing a bright green sweater. She’s been employed as a youth worker for over ten years and her talk today is about young people with fewer opportunities and how we as youth workers can overcome these difficulties. She starts the session by having us stand in two lines facing each other. She then has us balance a broomstick between us on our fingertips. The objective of the task is to work as a team to lower the broomstick to the floor without losing contact with our fingertips. What seems so simple proves nearly impossible. Through many starts and stops, yelling and frustration, we manage to get the stick to the floor. Maria explains that this is how social work is. Problems that seem simple and easy to fix at first sight prove in actuality to be complex and frustrating. The kinds of problems that young people with fewer opportunities face range anywhere from lack of education to physical disabilities to poverty and more. The fixes are elusive, but Maria encourages us not to give up in our quest to improve the lives of young people in our communities.
The seminar lets out a little earlier than expected and this gives me time to head over to the Archeological Museum before it closes. Here I see rooms upon rooms of treasures as well as the mundane artifacts of daily life from Knossos. I discover urns and chests, containing human remains that act as the final resting grounds for the ancient Minoans. A host of jewelry and weapons as well as many renditions of a bull’s head and a well-endowed goddess with raised arms occupy much of the ground floor whereas Knossos’ original frescos and sculptures can be found upstairs. The most impressive for me was an expansive wooden model of the palace itself. Here I have a bird’s eye view of arguably the most famous labyrinth of all time.
My feet are hurting and my mind is racing with thoughts on obstacles, labyrinths, and how to find solutions to complex problems. I decide to take a cue from Luca and work on my creative writing. I find a café, order a glass of wine that the waiter tells me is Greek but not Crete, and pull out my laptop. I’m six pages in when my phone pings. It’s a text message from Giulia. ‘Hungry?’ it says.
I meet up with Giulia and Luca for one last time at the fountain. It’s Friday night in the city center of a small island in the Aegean Sea. We’re standing at the heart of a civilization that goes back almost seven thousand years and the living, extant world bustles around us. Music and the smell of good food flow from the cafes, a young couple stops to dance spontaneously, and a little girl sells roses to tourists.
‘Look at this place,’ says Luca with his Italian accent. The wind is picking up speed and Luca spreads his arms out wide like a bird about to take off. ‘When will we ever be in such a place again?’
Indeed, he’s right. We have been a diverse group of mostly young people who have organized in order to share our unique cultural perspectives. We’ve come from multiple countries under a united vision to strengthen Europe’s cultural communities, to engage in active discourse, to learn from each other, and to grow. We are taking home with us more than just an experience. We are taking home with us the tools we need to realize our vision of making Europe a culturally inclusive and inviting home for all of us who live here.
The project is co-financed by the European Commission through the Erasmus+ Programme
The European Commission’ssupport for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.