The YAGO experience.

The YAGO (Youth Activism Generates Opportunity) brought together 44 young adults to the city of Thessaloniki to focus on human rights and online activism. A topic that is really important to me as a recent Law graduate. Joining the project was very last minute, I only knew I was participating a few days before it was due to begin. But I am so happy that I went. The project was great, but the people were even better…

As an EVS volunteer I am accustomed to intercultural dialogue and meeting new people, and used to the unexpected. But I don’t think I could put into words how amazing the entire youth exchange was. I met so many incredible and inspirational people, those whom I want to keep in contact with for many many years. A few people made a huge impact in my life and I really hope they know that. I will speak more about that later, but first, the project:

The Youth exchange consisted of participants from Greece, Cyprus, Romania, Estonia, Italy, France, and Sweden (although it is important to mention that some were not this nationality – like me, I’m not Greek but my organisation is so for that week I was in that section.) We started off the week waiting for everyone to arrive, it was just our luck that at the time the project started the city was hit by snow for the first time in many years. Planes were delayed or diverted, the roads were closed and as the hotel was on top of the hill there was a huge difficulty in driving there. But we were finally all together.

We began with ice breakers and name games, at first I thought it would be difficult to remember all the names, but by the end of the first day I was confident with all their names. We played rounds and shorter games like human bingo and shields.

Throughout the week, we did many activities all focusing on human rights. We had guest speakers who explained certain resources to us. We produced photos and memes based on a specific Human Rights Article – my group had the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. We produced a collage on religion coming together, and the meme consisted of anarchy in the UK (which was an idea from one person in the group just to laugh at my British culture.

During the week, we had the opportunity to watch a movie created by one of the participants. An inspiring and emotional film on his own project set up by his sister and himself called H-Ug Help Uganda. A volunteer program which ran in 2016, I am so proud to have met Konstantinos and his work and determination shows that if everyone has that kind of passion the world would definitely be a better place.

The main activity for thdfyjhge project was to record a video in the city centre on a topic of our choice to present to the rest of the group later. My group (Radu’s Angels) did discrimination of food and diet. We asked members of the public if they thought being a vegan or a vegetarian was unhealthy for a child. We had many mixed responses which was useful for our video. We also did an outdoor activity where people needed to order us for what percentage of proteins a particular food gave a human body. The group was amazing, we worked so well together and had plenty of time to even go for a vegan lunch – which was a first for many of us!!

The whole experience was incredible, and I made some amazing memories. Just a couple of days after the project had finished and many of us are still feeling a little lost and sat that we are no longer together as a group… but we are already making plans to see each other again! I loved meeting each one of them, and I’m so glad I got the chance to know them all individually. I am so glad we could spend time with each other away from the workshop, whether it was in a café, exploring, or just drinking a beer and talking – these are the memories that will stay with me forever.

To be honest one of my favourite moments of YAGO was with the people away from the hotel. Firstly, on Friday night when we all went out to a local club to drink and dance together and then when we went to Kastra on the Italians last full day in the city. We took a guitar from the EVS house, bought some beer and sat on the wall, singing together whilst watching Thessaloniki night life. It was perfect. The group I was with were so relaxed and I felt so connected to all of them.

I can honestly say I am going to miss these people so much. I connected with many different beautiful people. I’m only going to mention a few memories and thoughts because otherwise it would take too long… (no names, but if you are reading this, I am sure you will know who it is about):

To the girl I spoke to first, you arrived without your team, into a group of strangers and settled in so nicely. You started off quiet but by the end of the project I knew so much about you. We laughed. We smiled. We gossiped and you helped me on the ice! I am so sorry we never got to say a proper goodbye, but I am sure we will see each other again. Au Revoir.

To my beloved lawyer, it was a pleasure to meet you. Working in a group with you was so fun, even if the others struggled to understand our legal talk! We laughed at so many things and I am so glad I got the chance to meet you. I cannot wait to see you again! Very soon, for coffee, unfortunately you can’t escape from me because you live so close!

To my Italian loser, I will always be judging you. Stop it. To have someone constantly watching my facial expressions is quite unnerving, and you say “colour” so funny I will never forget it. You made me laugh, you made me smile, you even made me cry… when you left, of course. Thank you for letting my hold on to you on the ice in Kamara, the duck is grateful. You made me feel so comfortable which honestly doesn’t happen very often and I loved spending so much time with you. The pure one will never forget the time we spent together and all the magical memories. See you soon.

To my minoui toilet buddy, I am so glad I met you. I’m glad I spent so much time with you and met you every breakfast to talk with each other, I am glad to be your friend. You have such great ideas and you were always so confident in speaking out on things you believed in. If you are back in the city you know where to find me, you put me to shame with your Thessaloniki knowledge. I cannot believe we are no longer together, you were like my brother those few days, I love you.

To the most inspirational, I am so honoured that you asked for my help – although me being the only native English speaker gave you no other choice. Your project is honestly incredible and I am so proud to call you my friend. I cannot wait to see you again and if you ever need help you know where to find me! I will always be here for English help or anything else for that matter.

To the girl who wants me to dance (I know for sure you are reading this Mickey Mouse), I am so sorry for the cheese incident, you probably did not appreciate it going up your nose. I promise to dance more and I promise to keep in contact! Our truth or dare, or should I say truth or truth game was so fun and a great way to end the youth exchange.

To my hyper roommate (I know this is a struggle to work out which one from this description), thank you for the chewing gum, the fudge, and the Bulgarian lesson. Thank you for being so polite and such a nice person to share a room with.

To my [other] hyper roommate, I can only thank you for apologizing on behalf of the boys, they are nightmares sometimes (I love you guys really). Thank you for being the perfect roommate, for making me laugh so early in the morning and making me ready for the days. I was so scared to share a room with a complete stranger but I am so glad it was you. I hope to always keep in contact.

To the girl who didn’t hug me, I know it wasn’t personal. I know you were just in the zone of having to speak in front of a large group of people. I am so happy that I shared the video experience with you, you showed us the true vegan lifestyle and I even got you to dance a little in the square.

To miss volleyball, thank you for being our confident interviewer, and being the social person you are. You made us laugh and smile and for the rest of my life I will hear that question going around in my mind.

To my one night roommate, thank you for the final night, for letting me share your room and for welcoming me on such short notice.

To everyone else, I am so happy I got to spend this experience with you. Fly over the rainbow, reach for the stars, tell stupid jokes and laugh until it hurts. I know each one of you will succeed with whatever you do in life. The queen/pink panther/”top of the morning”/bobble and bubble loves you. Keep in contact. Peace.

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