Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Only a joke? Learning about online cyber-bullying and Hate Speech on a Concordia hosted workshop

The Council of Europe's 'No Hate Speech' campaign aims to raise awareness of the problem of online bullying and Hate Speech. Concordia France recently ran an international workshop in Le Mans, France aimed at training educators and youth workers in methods to teach about this growing problem.

Have you ever been the subject of a 'joke' comment which instead of making you laugh maybe revealed more about the senders prejudices? Have you ever read a Facebook post which you thought was a little close to the bone? Most of us have. Cyberbullying and Hate Speech are new names for old problems. Traditionally intolerance and bullying involved comments thrown across the street or the playground, but today our increasingly online social lives offer new avenues for such comments.

'No Hate Speech' was the topic of a recent workshop organised by Concordia France in Le Mans for educators and youth workers from across Europe. The 'No Hate Speech' movements aims to raise awareness of this growing problem through education and publicity. It was established in 2012 by the Council of Europe. The workshop aimed at giving educators the tools to use with young people to make them aware of their online actions.

Prevention is better than cure.
Could we define key terms like Hate Speech, gender, discrimination, LGBT+, migrant, and refugee? These are words we use everyday but for which tying down a concrete definition is surprisingly difficult without a dictionary. Heated group discussion ensured. What were our personal experiences of discrimination? We identified instances where we had either been perpetrator, witness or victim of Hate comments. Sharing experiences and feeling made us aware of the impact of the problem.

We learnt methods to break down hateful comments to examine their origin and effect. One activity 'the tree of Hate' centred on one example of Hate and in groups we identified the root causes of the comment and what effects it later had. Our group choose the infamous 'Breaking Point' UKIP poster. Was this the result of fear of immigration, loss of border controls, a lack of knowledge of migrants and other faiths, a consequence of welfare cuts? Had it resulted in the EU 'no' vote? Topics for endless discussion.

Had we personally been discriminated against because of our looks, faith, sexuality, origins or even dress? Together we stood in a line, and stepped forward if we could answer no to each statement. It was surprising how many of us were left behind.

Towards the end of the week a workshop was organised for local youths from Le Mans to allow some of us to put our skills into action. A publicity event was organised in Le Mans to engage the local population; this involved handing out compliments from a bucket to passers by, asking people to cite things they loved, and aimed at educating about the project. Another group learnt how to make a video about online bullying.

Taking it forward
The international nature of the week greatly contributed to its success. Attendees from Austria, Albania, Greece and Great Britain all looked at problems with a different perspective. Attitudes to problems like the European migrant crisis are different depending on whether you are a transit country or potential host.

By actually taking part in activities you really learnt how these topics could be taught back in your host country. But perhaps as valuable as the actual training was the chance to engage with others with different background and different ideas. The ultimate take home message was maybe, we are all different but we all have the same feelings. 

Participant in the No Hate Speech Training & International Volunteer with Concordia


No Hate Speech

The day after I turned 30, I hopped on a train to London, made my way to St Pancras International station and boarded the Eurostar – destination, Le Mans! The reason for my journey was to attend a training course, funded by Erasmus+ (yes, the same people who run the university exchange) and open to participants from across Europe.
The topic of the week focused around the No Hate Speech Movement, set up by the Council of Europe, which aims to educate people on the forms of hate speech, where it is found and what actions you can take to combat it.
On a personal level, this training course woke me up to the reality of hate speech. As a white, British, straight female, I’ve not come across much hate speech directed at me personally. I glossed over what I saw online, inwardly condemning the people who wrote it, but not thinking about the causes or the effects that it can have on the victims. I wasn’t an ally, I was a bystander. I came away from this training much more aware of the damage that hate speech can cause, and the ways in which it has crept into our daily lives through social media, sensationalist tabloid headlines and online comments.
Considering the year we have had in the UK (*cough* Brexit *cough*) and the fact that the US elections happened during the week-long course, this training could not have come at a more relevant time. It’s no secret that there has been a rise in reports of hate crimes in the UK since June, and the US seems to be following the same trend since the election. But now, rather than sitting and feeling helpless about what I am witnessing online, this course has made me consider the actions that I can actually take to combat Hate Speech when I encounter it. From reporting hate speech online to running workshops on hate speech to the young people I work with, I now have practical actions which I can take to stem the tide of hate and anger which I see in our society.
But the week wasn’t all doom and gloom!
I don’t think I have ever been on a course or volunteering project where I felt so immediately at home and comfortable with the people I was sharing my time with. Participants from UK, France, Slovakia, Albania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia and Greece came together with one thing in common – huge hearts and a desire to be part of a happier, more inclusive world. We explored the beautiful city of Le Mans together, we exchanged our food and customs from across Europe, we shared the similarities and differences of language and had fun making fun of ourselves! Of course, being in France, I consumed much more bread, cheese and red wine than is required in one person’s diet, and had a lovely time doing it!

For anyone thinking of attending a training in Europe, I say do it. I have had great experiences, met wonderful people and had my eyes opened to new ideas and discussion which have benefited me both in my work and personal life. All this was provided for free, and even my travel costs were covered (well, most of it) Fingers crossed the next training course won’t be far away!


No Hate Speech participant and

longtime volunteer with Concordia Volunteers

Friday, October 28, 2016


Last week, you might’ve noticed several publications on Twitter and Facebook focusing on Human Rights. For a weeklong period, (17th to 22nd of October), our two international networks CCIVS and Alliance joined forces with organisations and individuals, planning local events, actions, trainings and volunteering to bring attention to the needs and actions for Human Rights.
Worldwide, and locally, the denial of human rights is a serious obstacle to the fulfilment of peace and human happiness, and as a charity hosting and sending volunteers overseas, we are one of many players in the game needed to take on our role.

We are stronger together. One of the greatest things I believe is coming out from volunteering is that no-one goes away the same. You may arrive as an individual, but you leave the project as part of a group. For a short period in your life, you have come together, formed a coalition of nationalities showing that everyone is ready to do their bits to make this project successful. Last week, this was proven to work the same on an organisational level with great ideas and events were being carried out world-wide.

Our friends in Volunteer actions for Peace organised the seminar “Moving On and Settling Down”, to analyse and learn deeply about the phenomenon of migration, in the past and present. Egyesek Youth Association in Hungary counteracts the hate speech promoting an open society, Solidarités Jeunesses holding a week long Peace Week, INEX - Sdružení dobrovolných aktivit inviting to a workshop on diversity & migration.

Within the movement of volunteering we organise several international volunteer projects, providing a natural habitat for volunteers to meet each other, with the common goal to engage in a well-needed communal project. In Italy, Legambiente Paestum organised a volunteer projects with international volunteers and refugees, working together to protect and recover the highly important ecosystem in the region, the "Dune Oasis". SIW Internationale Vrijwilligersprojecten, Switzerland, had this summer a workshop on human rights and the freedom of movement on all of their projects.

Over the week, eradication of poverty, the rights to food, housing & a life in dignity, the rights to a life in Peace, the rights for Migrants and Refugees, the right to sexual orientation have all been giving their day to highlight what is being done, and what can be done to continue the good work. Our role for the week is to ensure that as many people possible is being reached by the message, the calls, the rights and the actions showing that there is a movement carrying about these rights, that serves as not only guidelines but for RIGHTS to be treated as a human being. The work by individuals and charities are still equally needed this week, and so our work will continue working towards an open society, where the Human Rights are respected globally. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

My Indian Adventure: Eco-Education and Environmentalism in the Himalayas

Volunteers doing yoga in a temple in the mountains – from south Korea, England, Italy, and Japan

Namaste! It didn’t take long before this greeting, accompanied by a joining of the palms, became second nature to me in India. Everywhere I went, I was greeted by a beaming smile and a ‘Namaste Madam ji!’. Not to mention the offer of a hot chai!

I have always been captivated by images, stories, and representations of India, and after hearing from friends who travelled there it quickly became my dream to visit and experience the country for myself.

Last year, I spent two weeks volunteering with kids as part of my summer spent in Italy, which turned out to be the most memorable and enjoyable part of my trip. This encouraged me to volunteer in India, to immerse myself in the local culture and offer my service within a community. I was firmly opposed to working for a profit-driven company and knew that I wanted to dedicate myself to a worthwhile cause. This led me to discover Concordia, and the rest is history!

My project was based in a village in Himachal Pradesh, a mountainous state in the Himalayas. The project, run by a local NGO, was focused on education, environmentalism, and eco-tourism. I went with an open mind, not knowing what to expect of India or the work required, and found that the project became so much more than I’d originally thought it would be…
Views of the village, Junga in the foothills of the Himalayas

I did not expect that I would learn so much in the space of two weeks, not just about India, but other cultures too: my fellow IVS volunteers were from Italy, South Korea, and Japan. By getting to know each other and sharing food, games, and tales from our home countries, I learnt about many cultures and now have friends in all corners of the world.  
I learnt about the key issues faced by the local community, which gave me perspective on the wider challenges of India as a developing country. I also learnt about Eastern spirituality, stories of the many Hindu Gods, and some bizarre local superstitions: one afternoon whilst playing cards with village kids, one warned us urgently, ‘Don’t whistle indoors, or snakes will come in!!!’.

The memories, photos, and stories that I’ve taken home with me will make me smile for years to come. Learning local ‘pahari’ (mountain) dance moves after dinnertime, having a traditional suit tailored by a local seamstress, and dancing with kids to their favourite Hindi music played through my Bluetooth speaker are among many precious moments that I will never forget. I felt very proud of the environmental murals which we painted around the village, and knowing that these will be there to spread the message for years to come gives me a fantastic sense of achievement.

I spent a total of 6 weeks in India, and although I was lucky to see some incredible sights including the Taj Mahal and the Golden Temple, but my first two weeks volunteering in the small mountain village will always remain special to me.

Meeting the Concordia team at the North South preparation day reassured my concerns and gave me the confidence to go to India alone, and I could not have imagined a better introduction to the country than spending a fortnight volunteering and living amongst the local people. I am still in touch with my camp leader in India, as well as many people I met whilst staying in the village. My time in India made a huge impact on me, and it is all thanks to the excellent organisation, support, and encouragement that I received from Concordia which inspired me to take the leap and go for it. I would encourage anybody who is considering it to do the same. Only one dilemma remains – when can I go back?! 

A typical evening spent playing sports with local kids from  the village – watched by an audience of course!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The end is nigh….

Do you remember our EVS volunteer in Romania? Catch up on her story below...

I write this blog entry just as I am about to leave for my last travels around Romania, across the country to explore the Danube Delta and (finally) its capital Bucharest.
All project activities with the kids came to a close at the end of last week. The final two weeks of the summer camps were devoted to primary school aged children in the villages. For the most part, it was a lot of fun-particularly the first week, where we were in sole charge of the kids.
The first week and into the second we prepared (quite last minute but thankfully successfully) activities with the theme ‘Discover Europe’, with the aim to introduce the children to the culture, history, geography and language (a little) of different European countries. The first day was focused on Romania and we then branched out to present our own countries and others.  I was in charge of British and Romanian culture, as well as preparing French activities-for the Romanian activities we decorated clothing patterns, made bookmarks and vampire masks amongst other things, and in the British activities included split-pin soldiers (thanks Mihai for finding them!) and loo-roll bagpipers. In the afternoons we played fun games outside and in with the kids.
The second week was slightly disappointing in comparison as we were slightly usurped by another lady running a camp-to her credit she managed to hold the attention of 60 kids with her voice, however a little less shouting at the youngest kids wouldn’t have gone amiss. Despite only assisting for some of the week, we still had fun being with the children, accompanying them on walks around the village and teaching them English and German songs.
The rest of our time in the week was filled with cleaning the flat before the imminent departure of two of the long termers the beginning of this week-(cleaning a kitchen thoroughly takes a long time but I was successful at getting the grime off the oven) as well as recording and filming for our end-of project music video to present in the closing event. With ingenious lyrics by our resident song-writer Mathias, improved singing to last time and an easier rhythm, as well as some fun scenes to accompany the music, I think it fair to say, it was a success and our audience were thoroughly entertained!
The week culminated in the closing event in which we presented on our EVS experiences and a meal followed at the weekend by a full-blown trip of Maramures all together featuring a chance to try on traditional Romanian clothes, a horse and carriage ride and hike to the Horses Waterfall in Borsa as well as a delicious meal in a shepherd’s hut in the mountains.
Thanks for organising AIST staff-was a lovely way to spend our last few days together as a full team

Annika Mathews