/epale/en/file/sliderresizedjpgVolunteer Intercultural Learning
Today EPALE celebrates International Volunteer Day. We interviewed Verena Denk from People to People International about her involvement in the Grundtvig workshop 'Volunteers for Intercultural Learning'.
My name is Verena Denk and I am the Programme Director for the Global Development and Outreach division at People to People International (PTPI). PTPI promotes active citizenship and mutual understanding between individuals across borders. The organisation is a worldwide network of local clubs and groups, which organize cultural, educational and humanitarian activities in order to foster international understanding and peace. We make a conscious effort to reach private individuals of all ages and nations. The headquarters of the organization is in Kansas City, USA.
PTPI consists of a worldwide network of associations and informal groups, called “chapters”. Depending on the age structure of the members, there are Student Chapters, University Chapters and clubs with members of all age groups, called Community Chapters. Worldwide, we have more than 300 chapters, 62 of which in Europe – 25 Student Chapters, 3 University Chapters and 34 Community Chapters.
The workshop ‘Volunteers for Intercultural Learning’ was a cooperation effort between the two staff members of the European Office and PTPI’s Community Chapter in Berlin – Brücke der Freundschaft e.V.
Our aim was to bring together multipliers from various backgrounds, so they could share examples of best practice, motivate, inspire and empower each other.
By bringing people together, we can benefit from each other’s strengths, motivate and inspire each other.
We also shared intercultural learning methods and tools with them, which we had successfully used in our trainings, workshops and seminars.
We started out by mapping out our members’ needs. In the European Office, we collect project reports from our European members and we share with them information about other members’ activities. In addition, we send them an annual questionnaire to find out about their projects and needs. All this information enabled us to identify the most pressing needs within our network. We realized that our members enjoy international cooperation and have a lot skills, knowledge and experiences to share.
/epale/en/file/leadershipseminar2009groupjpgVolunteers in Intercultural Learning
We organized the Grundtvig workshop with our own staff and volunteer multipliers. However, without the financial support from Grundtvig, we could not have offered the training free of charge for participants and we could not have reimbursed their travel costs. This enabled us to involve volunteer members who could not afford to take part in our unsponsored international events. We were also able to invite representatives of other organizations to bring in new ideas and find new partners for future cooperation. The Grundtvig Workshop was a great opportunity for us to invite representatives of our student and community chapters. It united people of very diverse age groups, backgrounds and countries.
When we were coming up with the activities for the workshop, we tried to find a balance between more interactive elements and substantive input through presentations and handouts, which worked very well. To adjust to the needs of the older people, we selected interactive exercises very carefully to ensure that they would not be too exhausting.
We brought together a great variety of people with their unique skills and expertise from 18 different countries. All of them had extensive experience in organising projects and activities at the local and/or international level, including the younger members. We did not only prepare the workshop well, but we also documented all methods in writing and passed out handouts, so participants could replicate all methods if they wanted after the workshop. We combined interactive methods with background information. In addition, we allowed participants to share their knowledge and skills. The ones, who had something to share, submitted workshop suggestions in advance. We selected the best concepts and the participants than conducted their workshops for each other.
We used methods from a variety of sources and presented our own versions and adaptions: World Café, Open Space, exercises related to intercultural theories (Dr. Milton Bennett, Prof. Geert Hofstede), theatre methods, etc. We also visited a number of organizations in Berlin that all offered intercultural programs, so participants could interview the organizers and get additional ideas and inspiration. In the end, participants developed their own projects and consulted with us and the more experienced participants to get advice and feedback.
We documented the projects that participants developed towards the end of the workshop.
We also offered guidance and support to the participants after the workshop and we are still in contact with many of them. Several participants organized a variety of international and intercultural projects after the workshop and used methods and ideas from the workshop.
Everyone involved benefited greatly from this workshop. I met amazing people that otherwise I would have never met and I learned about their activities across Europe. We also gained a number of new members, as a few participants started their own PTPI chapters after the training. Some participants who did not join still kept in touch with organized cooperation projects and have been partners in youth exchanges.
I’ve kept a lot of memorable moments from the workshop. What I liked most is that, even though participants came from 18 different countries, I met most of them again after the workshop. Today, six years later, I am still in contact with most of them and I know that many of them are still in contact with each other as well.
I think most of them got their moment to shine at one point during the training but I remember that one of the participants was pregnant during the training. The following year we held a European Conference in her country, so we were invited to her home and I got the chance to see her beautiful little daughter. This helped us to value true cooperation even more. When you unite different people, it is best to make sure that you involve them as much as possible, so you can truly benefit from the different perspectives and backgrounds. No matter how much experience you have, you can always learn something new in an international exchange.