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The experience of Belgium group from the exchange

Unique and Unseen youth exchange across cultures and disabilities in Turkey

Anthony REYERS

More than 30 young blind and sighted people from six countries across Western Europe, eastern Europe and the middle east united to exchange and build towards a more inclusive future for all. The Erasmus Youth exchange, supported by Views International, was health from February 24th to march 2nd in Samsun, Turkey and welcomed delegations from Azerbaijan, Palestine, Ukraine, Italy and Belgium.

“Different countries, different blindness”

We honestly didn’t quite know what to expect from this project title when our five men strong Belgian team arrived in our cozy and comfortable wooden chalet-rooms in the city of Samsun, Turkey. Soon enough though, we realized that that was exactly what we were getting. The diversity with our multicultural group was truly unseen, pun non-intended. Not only did it consist of a fair share of blind and partially sighted youth, but also many fully sighted students and young professionals joined us, out of a genuine interest and enthusiasm to understand visual disabilities better.
There was plenty of opportunity to do just that during this exchange. The presentation and discussion sessions on the human rights approach to disability showed us the importance of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. While it should grant us all the legal rights to be an equal part of society, all participating countries appear to still have a long way to go. Also, we had a deeper look into each participating country’s approach on disability. Especially having a hands-on experience of Samsun University’s efforts to provide audio books for all visually impaired students was very unique and interesting. Most useful and valuable though, was learning from the strengths and weaknesses of each country in this regard, exchanging solutions and making a small contribution towards a more inclusive world for all.

Connecting is the key

Of course, such an exchange is so much more than just learning. It’s all about developing a deep understanding of each other’s lives and cultures. The intercultural dinners and evenings gave us an unique experience of tasting a typical main dish from all countries as well as cooking one from our own, as best as we could. Most of all though, they were the spark for many
Spontaneous but meaningful conversations spanning our daily lives, our socio-political situation, and all sense and nonsense this life has to offer. Especially hearing and feeling how it is to live with the conflict in Palestine from the first hand, rendered us speechless more than once. We talked, played and danced together, way beyond the bounds of the projects organized activities. Even when the sun was long gone, people connected to each other to the deepest of their souls during the nightly truth or dare and deep conversation sessions.

The exchange goes on

It is this feeling of connection that makes such a youth exchange so unique and unforgettable. It is the feeling that you didn’t only get to teach, learn and exchange, but also to understand. It is the knowledge that you came back from this trip more enriched. Not only because of the things you learned, but maybe even more so because of the people you got to know. Most importantly though, the exchange goes on. For years to come, we will be able to rely on the network we built here. If we ever need advice on how to live as a blind person in Turkey, we know where to go. Likewise, a young professional working with people with visual disabilities in Palestine, is just a text away from our help.
All this would not ever have been possible without the generous hospitality from the incredible Turkish team of volunteers and organizers, all participants, Views International and the Erasmus+ program. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you, and until next time…