Eurocontact-2013: how to save the world with markers and coloured paper

The participants of the project “Towards a Dream” provided by the “Kiev Municipal League of Public Organizations of People with Disabilities” took part in an amazing camp for people with disabilities “Eurocontact-2013”, which took place in the picturesque German town Nordwalde.
For about 30 years, the “special” young people from all over Europe come here to learn some important things: how to overcome the physical limitations and the language barrier, how to become more independent, how to write and act a funny play in a few hours, how to mix Menthos and Coca-Cola and stay dry… :)

In this fascinating process, campers get help from the real teachers – the students and the alumni of the Faculty of Human Sciences, University of Cologne. The fact that the camp is held by the young pedagogues is a feature that makes Eurocontact a very special place. The basic concept of the camp is active involvement of the participants to the organizational process: every creative impulse, every idea, every personality are welcomed here. That’s why the motto of this year’s camp was a capacious: “Be yourself!”, and an anthem was the same-titled song, written by one of the students.
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Neither the age, nor the borders between states did not become serious obstacles on the way to the coveted Nordwalde: there were participants from Germany, Luxembourg, Hungary, Poland, Belarus and Ukraine in the age between 15 and 73 years. Among the 60 participants, there were seven Ukrainians who got to the camp due to the project of “Kiev Municipal League of Public Organizations of People with Disabilities” titled “Towards a Dream.”
“Representatives of the “Union” take part in the youth rehabilitation camp Eurocontact every year since 2006. During this time, it has been attended by over 40 people from Ukraine,” – says Alexander Vorona, the president of “Kiev Municipal League of Public Organizations of People with Disabilities”. – Young people attending this camp see a different world: an integrated, accessible, open, focused on human needs. Returning home, the participants of Eurocontact bring their vision of an accessible, friendly city. They are full of energy and enthusiasm to implement the necessary changes in their own lives and the life of the society. There are many options of decisive actions: studying foreign languages as hard as possible, entering the university, starting a family, finding prestigious and well-paid jobs and active protection of the rights of people with disabilities.”
All the people were divided into different groups, so-called communities (coms) and seminars. And if the first were devoted mostly to entertainment (music, fitness, quatsch, fantasy and experiments), then the second paid more attention to some important problems of our time, among them inclusion, European integration, the fears, the salvation of the world and awareness of the life around us. Each group generously shared the lessons they learned and emotions they got with other Nordwalde guests on so-called “com4alls”, the quests where participants had to play a funny game, to do the task or make an entertaining experiment. All in all, where else but in Nordwalde, you can learn to banish vampires and basilisks, to play football with the eyes closed, to tap tunes on dishes and to make “volcanoes” of the dough?..
The participants had the wise guidance of 17 students and 4 senior members of the organizers’ team and 12 days to see the world in a new, brighter light: through the exchange of cultures, mixing ages and mentalities, and just because the atmosphere was comfortable and friendly. After all, one could not only see oneself as if from the different point of view, but could also understand who one wants to be and in which direction to move. This was facilitated by so-called “ice-breaking” event – the joyful carnival, where a cute little witch could dance with a Spider-Man, and nearby there could be a guy, shyly hiding his knees in a short dress. The most important thing here is to learn how to express yourself, look into your own soul and find the new ways for the better life.
The day of the open doors was a very special event, when Eurocontact was visited by the old friends: former participants and organizers, relatives and friends from all over the Germany. Each of the six participating countries prepared their stand, which housed the main information about the state, as well as tables with symbols, souvenirs, refreshments. Also, the teams presented their countries on the stage and in special workshops, where, together with the participants and guests of the camp, amazing things were created: the dances, the sketches and even… a crazy mosaic of flags.
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However, expressing the national spirit was not limited by one day. For example, a team from Poland entertained the others with hilarious sketches, and representatives of Hungary had a special dinner with their national food – incredibly delicious, by the way!
Of course, the participants of Eurocontact were having a good time outside the cozy Nordwalde, too: had a walk in the stunning, as if descended from the pages of the of fairytale, Munster, visited a picturesque Dutch town Entschede, went to the theater and unusual “Park of sense”, swam in the pool and had a water fight on catamarans…
Evenings were a time for another fun – informal conversations in the hall on the comfortable couches or outside in the yard, a disco in the basement bar, table and active games. Explosive music, joyful laughter and conversations in several languages at the same time – all of it looks like a Tower of Babel, but with a happy ending.
It happened suddenly: bags with German souvenirs were packed, and in the corners of everyone’s eyes there was a hidden unsolicited glitter – the last day of Eurocontact came. Participants from different seminar groups shared their experience in a relaxed atmosphere: how they fought their fears, how they learned to be aware of the world around them, how they understood the intricacies of international relations and the problems of the people with handicaps in society, and what they did to save the world – or at least a part of it. For example, fighting for the endangered species, for a healthy diet and for good thoughts in our heads. All of that was done with the materials available right there, in a camp: posters were painted, flyers were printed, costumes were sewed and sketches were acted – depending on their imagination and creativeness.
The camp ended beautifully: the participants and organizers in formal wear, a delicious buffet in the fresh air, and then a big party – from dusk till dawn. There is a very nice departure tradition in Eurocontact: those who leave later and stay in a camp for a few extra hours stand on both sides of the street, stamping to the tune of the famous “We will rock you” and singing a camp anthem, “Be yourself”.
The participants of the project “Towards a Dream” have got a lot of experience and lessons to learn. For some of them, the trip to Germany was a cherished dream that has come true due to the social web project “Box of the Dreams.”
“I liked that there is a different attitude towards people with disabilities, they are accepted as equal, not stared at! – shares her feelings with us 25-year-old Viktoria from Kiev. – I liked the seminars: they show that, despite of the disability, everyone can engage in the same business! There was a special attitude in our team: one couldn’t feel not like the others. Even if you do not know the language, you still are not turned away from, and the teamers try to explain you everything with gestures. Organizers did their work with joy – and it is could be felt. It was nice to walk around the city and get to know other people and feel the pleasant atmosphere, make new acquaintances. Now I want to do something for Ukraine, so that it would be a little similar to the place where we’ve been.”
” “Eurocontact ” is an exchange of views and experiences. For me, the camp has opened new horizons in the field of working with people with disabilities. It gives us faith and hope for the future!
– states 22-year-old Natalia. – Support of the organizers helps to understand that we are not alone and not hopeless! Communication is an integral part of our existence. Thus, various discussions and informal conversations in the camp helped us to believe in ourselves. Meeting up with old friends, making the new ones – “Eurocontact” gave me all of this. Pleasant memories and impressions have left such a warm mark on my heart!”
“The most important experience I have gained in the camp is the realization of our ability. When the meeting of our “com” or seminar began, we did not know how it would end and where our ideas and thoughts would lead us to. It’s like sitting in front of a blank sheet of paper and trying to see the future picture. But at the same time, there is some subconscious belief that the picture is definitely coming soon – and it will be great. Probably that is the real belief in yourself and in your strength,
– says 20-year-old Viktoria. – “Eurocontact” is a place where everyone, regardless of disability, age, religion or belief, could open a new chapter in one’s life, to change oneself – and the whole world at the same time.”
Special thanks to those who helped us to look at another world!
–  The “Lapis Troubetzkoy” band
– Ukraine International Airlines
– KievNet
– ELC Companies

Written by: Viktoria Skrypnyk
Photos by: Olexandr Kaluzhniy, Viktoria Radkevich, Anastasia Tkachenko, Iryna Ponomarenko, Julian Tomec.