sexta-feira, 17 de abril de 2009

Saharawi and Basque youth conclude cultural exchange in Ausserd

On the final day of pre-arranged activities of a youth cultural exchange, 74 young people from the Basque region of Spain and dozens of Saharawi youth gathered in the administrative headquarters of the Saharawi refugee camp of Ausserd to discuss the results of their encounter and prepare for further programs.

After six days of meetings, workshops and conferences arranged by the Saharawi Youth Union (UJSARIO), during which the participants were split into groups focusing on eight different themes – Health, Gender, Sports, Culture, Environment, Communication, Work and Development – the young people came together to brainstorm and present their ideas to the other groups.

This final gathering was opened with remarks by Bechir Hilah, the director of the Social Commission of the National Parliament of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).

"These exchanges are the best way for young Saharawis to have their voices heard – by directly interacting with the international community," insisted Bechir. "This is the first such exchange between Basque and Saharawi youth, but it must not be the last."

Where to begin?

Next, the eight different groups met individually to discuss plans for moving forward. Sitting in circles on the carpeted floor, the young people enthusiastically used the paper, posterboard and PowerPoint presentations at their disposal to come up with their proposals.

Saharawi moderators translated into Hassaniya for those who did not speak Spanish as the groups presented their findings and suggestions.

For example, the Saharawis and Basques that had spent the week in workshops on Health spoke about the image that women are expected to have in the Saharawi culture. Highlighting differences between the two cultures, women here are found more attractive if they have pale skin and rounder faces and bodies. The Basques learned that some of the women were using creams and weight-gain pills that contained potentially-harmful chemicals.

"We want to engage with the Saharawi youth in addressing these issues of image, as well as other small adjustments that can help improve their health here in the camps, such as posture, the effects of the sun, the value of stretching, etc," said one of the Basque presenters.

The presenters of the Gender topic addressed the need of young women to have a public space that will provide them with a respite from their household duties and a place to communicate their own ideas. Those from the Environment group talked about potential improvements in garbage collection, such as the placement of trash receptacles in public spaces.

Many ideas and proposals were offered, but the general mood of this final meeting of the cultural exchange was best expressed by Ilmommy, a member of the volunteer youth organization known as the Freedom and Peace Group.

"These cannot just be ideas that stay here in this meeting hall," Ilmommy insisted. "We have to make sure we actually put them into place."

Wrapping up

This final meeting had a double purpose – it served both to add closure to conferences and seminars in which the Basques and Saharawis participated throughout the week and to motivate the young people of both nations to commit to the realization of further exchanges and programs between the two.

After the full day of meetings, the participants piled into two open-topped trucks, in which they travelled to the nearby dunes to take advantage of a peerless Saharan sunset with cups of tea and music.

The Basque youth will leave the camp of Ausserd on Friday after a final day of free time with their new-found Saharawi friends and family.

"I can’t believe we have to leave already," said Bego, a student from the University of Deusto in Bilbao, Spain. "It will be terrible to be torn apart from our friends here."

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