A successfully implemented project addressed a range of pressing issues of the modern day with a focus on CO2 emissions reduction, topsoil erosion and reconnection with nature. This was explored in the theme of urban agriculture, wherein we provided participants with the skills needed to start their own agricultural initiatives. The project was guided by the many studies that have shown the negative effects of climate change on the health of societies and individuals, physical and mental health are strained by both the psychological weight of climate change and the ecological damage. Shifting perspective from overwhelm and paralysis to community and habit-oriented solutions was therefore necessary to contribute to the health of the ecosystem and society.
In this fully-funded youth exchange, 28 young people from Austria, Greece, Portugal, and Romania came together for 8 days, from the 15th to the 22nd of May 2022 to dive into the world of community gardens and nature reconnection. The youth exchange was solution-oriented, rather than problem-narrowed. Problems were discussed, but also sufficient time and resources were given to resolution. In doing so, we focused on three main topics: Theoretical knowledge of sustainable food systems, Practical skills of urban agriculture, and Emotional-cognitive of mental health practices. Overall, the project helped to increase personal confidence, enhance the sense of community, foster civic and social engagement and adopt habits that contribute to sustainable practices.
The physical mobility was preceded by practical preparations in the country groups wheres each group had home tasks to work on in advance. Each group searched the status of environmental and sustainable practices in their country and found good practices and also areas for improvement. Each group choose a topic and prepared an environmental presentation to share with all other during the program.
The first part of the youth exchange was dedicated to getting to know each other, team building, intercultural exchange, and reconnection with oneself and nature. Together we first agreed on the group learning principles and established the reflection strategy. This was followed by the discovery of the main and most important and relevant concepts such as environment and sustainability and what dimensions these concepts consist of in the theoretical and practical perspective in regard to mental health and wellbeing.
The start was quite challenging because for the majority of the group this was their first transnational exchange experience ever and also the first time in a long time to connect with so many dynamic young people since the outbreak of the covid pandemic.
The discussion and reflections were intense, interesting, and constructive. The topic of inequalities rose and was discussed. The implications of social inequalities were then reflected upon and how they impact our sustainable practices and also well-being. These debates led to a slight modification in the agenda to give a space for individual reflections on our own environmental habits that we unconsciously do regularly.
The third day was dedicated to reality discoveries! We went first on a study visit to Smart City Seestadt to explore how does a sustainable affordable smart city might look like. This was followed by a visit to a community garden 'Kraut und Blüten' in the same area where we explored together how to build and sustain a community garden. The owners of the garden also shared with us their personal experiences and how the garden benefits them on a personal health level, not just on an environmental level. The visit concluded with practice wherein the participants themselves did some maintenance work in the community garden: we cleaned, watered, planted and enjoyed.
The fourth day was dedicated to discovering good practices and the mid-term evaluation. We visited the social company GRÜNSTATTGRAU where the team shared with us insights from their work to green more places. The most interesting was how rooftops can be transferred into sustainable community gardens that aid the environment and personal well-being. This was followed by a Mid-term evaluation to reflect on the learning process so far as it was already halfway through the program.
The fifth day was dedicated to fostering individual reconnection with nature. With a surprise visit to a park out of the city, the participants had the chance to reconnect with themselves, the environment, and nature and recall its gifts, and embrace its benefits and assets to us. Outdoor exercises and group activities were utilized to sense nature with all five senses and widen our awareness and be more mindful of our surroundings and behaviours. Although the experience was very emotional, it helped to reconsider unconscious habits that may harm the environment and the micro-ecosystem.
The sixth day started with the environmental presentations that were held by each country group on a different topic. The themes of the presentations were food packaging, food waste, eco shopping, and fast fashion. This was followed by dedicated time to think about local actions and adaptations and how to use the learning outcomes of this project in a local context. Several local plans were brainstormed and agreed on. Each group shared its local plans and got feedback from the others. These future action plans which are connected to the youth exchange were implemented in the following months to deepen the learning outcomes, spread the knowledge and maximize the sustainable impact by benefiting and reaching more people beyond the project.
Eventually, the program concluded with the overall evaluation of the project and was followed by the recognition of the learning outcomes. All participants had time to document their learning outcomes and they receive the YOUTHPASS certificate.
Overall, this project was very successful on several levels. Many action plans were designed, many friendships were built, and a greater result and sustainable impact were reached. Besides the 28 participants from the youth exchange activity, more than 100 others were directly reached through the follow-up events organized by the participants.
The Austrian team members organized several follow-up events that benefited more than 30 young fellows. The team first organized a cloth swap event to raise awareness about the effects of fast fashion. This event concluded with the creation of a Whatsapp group for clothing swaps and the group has more than 55 members from Vienna now. This group will ensure the sustainable impact of the organised event. The members of the group also individually engaged in community gardens in Vienna in the 2nd, 9th and 15th districts where they cleaned up, planted new plants, and provided second-hand furniture. Altogether, the impact of the exchange is beyond the lifetime of the project.
The Romanian team members organized a compact follow-up event in their school. They first informed more than 30 fellow students about the ERASMUS+ programme and its opportunities. Then they presented the youth exchange and its activity and goals. The team members shared their own experiences and learning outcomes with their fellow friends and were able to enhance their learning outcomes through further discussions. The event concluded with placing new plants in the garden of the school and planting the seeds which they received during the youth exchange. This enhanced the sense of ownership among the students and the school garden is now their community garden.
The Greek team members also organized some follow-up activities within their regular work. They shared information about the youth exchange with their fellows during their regular clean-up meetings and they also spread the word about ERASMUS+. Moreover, the team started placing some plants and planting some seeds on their own in their private areas which was a new activity for them. They also planted the seeds which they received during the youth exchange and some of them were successful and they are planning to plant even more and spread the idea among their friends. Together with the Austrian team they brainstormed more project ideas and are planning to continue the cooperation on the topic of environment and sustainability to teach more young people.
The Portuguese team organized a cooking workshop for some of its young members to show them how it is possible to buy plastic-free and environmentally friendly products and still prepare a very delicious meal. Through this workshop, the team showcased that being environmentally friendly does not necessarily compromise taste and delicious food. In this workshop, the team also shared their experience in the youth exchange in Vienna and how it was for them personally. This exchange with local young people is important to connect the local youth work with the international youth work.
The project with implemented with the following partners:
Greece: Active Green Solution
Portugal: Gerar Oportunidades
Romania: Onestin - Asociatia de Tineret
More project details are on the ERASMUS+ results platform in its Project Card.
Role of EMOTiC in this project: Main Coordinator and Beneficiary.