35 people from various local Polish and Ukrainian YMCAs were at "Pilica Camp" in Poland from 19th to 27th Aug 2015 for a unique project called: "The fair on royal road".
The partner organizations in this project were The Polish YMCAs in Kurnędz and YMCA Ukraine. The direct beneficiaries of the initiative were members of local YMCA associations in both countries. The project was funded from a grant, which was won in the contest promoted by the National Centre for Culture at the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of Poland.
The first initiative was put forward by some young YMCA leaders from Kuranędz and Kraków. Having learned about existing cooperation between the Polish and Ukrainian movements, they decided to raise the profile of the Polish-Ukrainian partnership. The Ukrainian YMCA enthusiastically accepted that proposal.
The idea for this exchange was to restore a model of fair on the international trade route (Via Regia) between Kiev and Krakow. This trail really existed and in the 13th century was one of the most important trade routes that ran through the whole of Europe, from Spain to what today is Ukraine and Russia. Meeting people on such a long way, making good business and enjoying hospitality required good intercultural knowledge and personal skills. Learning about local traditions, religions, political, economic and social background was as important as the knowledge about geography, climate, infrastructure and local markets. All this could be experienced by the young participants of the exchange thanks to the properly planned and structured programme.
The programme was based on three key elements: " Local history", "Culture of the region" and "Learning your neighbor's language". The diversity and quality of the developed programme items were impressive. The young people could creatively participate in activities such as workshops on leadership, business, linguistic activities - telling stories, exploration on kayaks, bicycle trips and hikes.
The activities that generated emotions and active involvement were strategic games such as "On the Market" or "Building the Bridges". The created situations in the campsite and the area around it were an opportunity to learn about the neighboring countries and also gaining practical skills. For example the participants could see how people who come from various backgrounds may unconsciously please or offend one another and how such behaviors may affect multicultural and multi-ethnic coexistence. The games were very educational!
On the 24th Aug all the participants celebrated the Day of Independence of Ukraine. On this occasion the guests wore their national costumes and all the camp was eating Ukrainian dishes (in fact, not very different from Polish). The official part of the event included the meeting with Ms Dorota Jankowska, the vice-Mayor,of Sulejow, the town, which is closer to the camp-site. She visited the camp on 27.08 and answered a lot questions asked by the participants.
There was also a completely unplanned item of the project. One day in the camping side appeared a group of horseback riders, who with only traditional equipment, without any back-up team were roaming Poland. They were hospitably receipted by the camp people and also for. They shared their experiences from travelling in a traditional way in today’s reality and that matched the concept of project very well. Their visit was absolutely accidental - they were crossing the river just there - but such happenings are normal "On the Royal Road".
author: Adam Rychlik, YMCA Europe