AYUDH Europe’s 15th European Youth Summit, 12-21 July 2019, M.A. Center Germany.
300 young people from all over Europe participated in the 15th annual European Youth Summit Celebrating Diversity. An inspiring, fun and interesting programme included talks from guest speakers, educational workshops, youth-led skill labs, sharing groups, and a Human Library. Several subthemes were explored throughout the week including Diversity Within Ourselves, Diversity in Cultures, Diversity in Communities and People, Biodiversity, and Diversity in Emotions.
Early in the week, an interactive diversity and inclusion training session was led by expert in the field, Jana Tikalová (Czech Republic). Later AYUDH Europea Director Andreas Hirsch, and Project Director Dhanya Daalmans, led the 300 youth in a “Steps of Diversity” exercise, where participants had to imagine themselves living the life of another.
While exploring the theme of Diversity Within Ourselves, former World Champion in kickboxing and boxing, Lucia Rijker spoke openly about her life experiences, and encouraged everyone to focus on challenging our own perceptions of ourselves.
“If you look through the frame of comparison it’s quite scary. Instead of comparing yourself to someone, aspire towards a quality in them that you admire. This can encourage us to grow, but we can never be them or know them fully, so we should never be envious and want to be them.”
French space scientist Mathieu Labonne spoke at length about climate change and biodiversity. He facilitated an interactive “fishbowl” debate with participants. In this kind of debate, speakers are seated in a circle, with one chair left empty at all times. If somebody from the audience wants to join the discussion they may occupy the empty chair, but one of those already seated must vacate their position so that there always remains an empty chair for someone new to join the conversation.
An assured highlight of the week every year is the session led by Br. Shubamrita Chaitanya, a monk and mediation teacher from India who is one of Amma’s senor disciples. This year was no different as he received a standing ovation for his inspiring talk and Q&A session on Diversity in Cultures, where he spoke at length on the role of spirituality in bringing cultures together.
“Differences by themselves don’t divide us. It is the inability to understand, accept and celebrate those differences that cause divisions.”
Diversity in Communities and People was explored as a theme by Meg Jones, who has worked for over 12 years with the United Nations in the areas of human rights, trade, economic empowerment, and the Sustainable Development Goals. She spoke about how the individual can make a difference on a global scale through advocacy on a local and national level, and how we can use United Nations Treaties to affect legislators and access available resources. She also offered practical advice on how AYUDH Europe can influence policy making.
The culmination of a month long collaboration between AYUDH Europe and UNESCO MGIEP took place on July 19th in the form of an official iTAGe (talking across generations on education) event, where the role of education in diversity and inclusion was discussed. Following Director of AYUDH Europe, Andreas Hirsch’s welcoming address, the opening remarks were spoken by Dr Jens Zimmermann, MP for Germany. A panel of 4 youth representing the widely diverse participants was chosen to include Arjun Clare, 19, from the United Kingdom, Gwenoline Bertrand, 20, from France, Pablo Banqueri Cardona, 24, from Spain, and Layana Bormanis, 18, from Germany. The youth panellists, along with 3 senior decision makers, including newly elected MEP for Germany’s Green Party, Niklas Nienass, President of Embracing the World France, Bri Dipamrita Chaitanya, and Executive Director of NORRAG, Dr Joost Mönks, spoke about their thoughts and ideas surrounding diversity and education. The discussion was moderated by Jani Toivola, former Finish MP, and the closing remarks were delivered by Katharina Erbes, Programme Officer at JUGEND für Europa.
The keynote address at the summit, and certainly a highlight amongst participants, was delivered by Swami Amritaswarupananda Puri, Vice-President of Mata Amritanandamayi Math, President of Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham (Amrita University), and Amma’s most senior disciple. Following his talk on Emotional Diversity, Swamiji led a lively Q&A session with participants.
“All emotions, good and bad, are tools or skills that can be used to elevate ourselves. They are like rungs of a ladder. Use them intelligently and step-by-step you can increase your level of happiness.”
Throughout the week participants had the opportunity to participate in two skill labs, some of which were youth-led. Among the broad range of options available were CV Writing, Sustainable Fashion, The Art of Tidying Up, Peaceful Communication, IAM 20 meditation, and Fundraising.
As always, there was a long list of workshops for participants to sign-up for this year. In the line-up this year were some new options including Love in the Kitchen, Ultimate Frisbee, Youth Leadership, Environmental Living and Graphic Design. Of course, also available were some of the most popular workshops were back due to popular demand, including Acroyoga, Art, Dance As You Are, Tai Chi, and The Healing Power of the Voice
A real highlight of the week came in the form of The Human Library. Here participants were challenged to ‘unjudge’ someone by helping them to understand and interact with ‘human books’ telling their own personal stories in a safe space. Our 20 human books were sourced voluntarily from our participants themselves, with each book sharing a vulnerable part of themselves with small groups of participants, challenging preconceptions and prejudices of the ‘readers’.
To encourage the fostering of new friendships, participants enjoyed many fun activities throughout the week. These included an afternoon Sports Tournament in the sunshine, lantern making for a Peace Walk and Chant by the lake, a cultural dance evening, and movie night. The 15th year of AYUDH Europe was marked midweek with a special celebration cake created by the Love in the Kitchen workshop, and with the release of a new theme track, Celebrate, created by some AYUDH members in collaboration with renowned Indian music producer Rahul Raj.
On the final night of the summit, many participants performed for the AYUDH Talent Show. The varied acts included rap, cultural Italian dancing, salsa dancing, acrobatics, acroyoga, kirtan singing, german folk music, and plenty of singing. As is tradition, the final night of the summit came to a close with an energetic and rousing bhajan session (cultural singing). Before finally heading for bed, participants shared their highlights of the week with the group.
The 15th annual European Youth Summit was an action-packed week of learning, self-reflection, non-formal learning, and fun. Inspiring talks and workshops allow participants to develop their talents and capacities in order to encourage and foster contribution to society and environmental protection. As is always the case at AYUDH, many familiar faces returned for this year’s summit, along with many new participants promising to return in the future, as each year many remark that this week is the highlight of their year. New friendships were formed, new talents emerged, and everyone nurtured their understanding of diversity and inclusion. As we left the peaceful Germany countryside to head back home to our fast-paced lives, we held tightly to the understanding that only through embracing our differences can we create the world we want to live in. As together we are strong, together we are one, together we are AYUDH.