By Lucrezia Delli Veneri

Erasm... us

Certain things can be explained immediately; others can be really explained only after having them assimilated, tucked under the skin, relived with the mind. Especially when things happen so quickly, unexpectedly.

A friend of a friend tells her about something called “Erasmus +”. He asks: «What do you think, would you like to have such an experience?». She is confused, she doesn’t know. But it comes to her mind a person who would be in for sure. She sends her a text: «Are you in for a trip to Prague next October? You could join a European project for youths about gender equality, all for free!». The answer is a quick «Yes!».

 

That person is me

 
A 28-year-old Italian girl, who has so far lived at least 3 lives, one juxtaposed on the other: she has been a dancer, then a jurist, now even a culture entrepreneur. She has a mother who has introduced her to gender equality since she was a child, telling her about women empowerment and gender issue; and a father who educated her in the value of equality, teaching her the importance of having everyone the same rights — nobody excluded.
 

She is currently carrying her traineeship at a law firm based in her city, Benevento. With her mother, she has started the cultural enterprise Kinetès, which promote the enhancement of cultural heritage on a multi-level approach.

 

Two tickets to Prague

 

It happens that the girl ends up booking two flight tickets, for herself and for her brother, 10-years younger than her. He has started his bachelor in Economy recently and he’s discovering now thousands of different opportunities available for him. He is a bit scared, but quite curious.

She is more experienced instead, because of her age and her past, but both want to dive into this adventure with their eyes closed. They get in touch with Luca, the friend of the friend, co-founder of the cultural association Mad Med. On the website of the association, they see the tag: “Cultural Smugglers”. The two brothers exchange a glance and realize that they were about to get on the right ship.

They start chatting with Luca like they knew each other forever. There is a lot of enthusiasm, the desire to feel tangibly this incredible reality Luca is explaining them. Not even the global pandemic and flights’ cancellation can stop them. So, they leave on the 10Th of October. Destination? Prague!

 

 

Friends from the first moment

 

There, one of the organizers, Honza, picks them up at the station and brings them to Cerny Dul, a town among the mountains on the border with Poland. At the hotel, they are welcomed by the huge smile of Helena. She goes informs them: «Dinner is at 7:00 pm. You will meet the other participants there».

From the very first moment, the different ages, nationalities, languages, of the participant are not a problem. They meet people like Sergio, Jesus and Fatima — from Spain; Rolands, Arthur, Robert — from Latvia; Ulka, Kasia and Marta — from Poland; Gabriela and Mirela — from Romania; Elias — from Denmark; Hanna and Radka — from the Czech Republic.

With each of them they become friends: the techniques of Fred and Julia, the trainers, are great! Everyone remembers everyone’s names from the beginning; everyone feels comfortable to talk and open up to those strangers they have just met; everyone laughs and walks in the cold of a sunny morning sharing ideas, experiences and opinions.

Soon they get fully into the activities: Gender Mainstreaming, the “normalization” of genders, not only in the classic binary logic Men-Women. They talk about prejudice, discrimination, barriers, languages. They address these topics from a real-life perspective, with very concrete examples. Everyone has a voice, while the others listen, criticize, comment, but in the end, they always reach a shared outcome.

«How can we make sure that this evolution takes place? Which solution can consider the all different sensitivity of each person and each country on this issue? Well, how can we make young people aware of these topics? How can we talk about these issues in educational environments?».

Unforgettable the Walk of Life: a journey where they enter the forest one way and leave it changed, after literally walking in another’s shoes. With a different identity, they are tested in education, in the kind of work they have access to, in the income, they are entitled to, in the sustainability of their lifestyle, in finding a partner, in accessing medical care and even in the freedom of movement in the world, all based on nationality, sexual orientation, skin colour, gender. It’s surreal: only two days have passed and in the evening they are already there, singing Bohemian Rapsody out loud with strangers, new friends.

 

Working as a team

 

The days passed in a whirlwind of experiences, of sharing, of days spent in this amazing family that they gained and that they couldn’t imagine different from this one. The evening comes without even realizing how much work they have already done, the projects they have put in place, how much their perspective has changed listening to how it works in the world, in countries that are so close, but at the same time so different from each other.

They work as a team, they find themselves taking care of others, they are there to reflect and deepen the issues in free times too, in the informal chats after dinner between beer pong and a pool game, in the evening when the meeting is in Sergio’s room where everyone can stay until they get sleepy.

The 8 days of hard work fly by quickly, between the sessions organized perfectly, the projects to be delivered, the guide book on gender equality that each of them has contributed to creating for the future trainers: Fred and Julia raise the level more and more, they challenge them in increasingly demanding tasks, they push them to go deeper and deeper to break down their perspective to rebuild it with the new tools they now have.

 

Establishing the net

 

On the last day, they present their realities: it’s all like: «Ok, we absolutely must share this project!», «So what you are saying is that the next time I need an Italian organization, I can call you?», «Wow! Your activities are so incredible: what do you think if we export it as a model abroad?», and so on. Finally, Europe. A concept that they have never heard so close, a word that goes beyond geographical boundaries to enter cultural ones, of belonging, sharing, roots. A fil rouge that allowed all of them to be there, to have this experience, to meet and establish this net of work, knowledge, friendships… and emotions.

Yes, because in the end they all bring with them an envelope full of all the thoughts of others and they were able to reread themselves in the words of those strangers, recognizing themselves, discovering how others perceived them, their mindset, their energy: who they are. What can that 28-year-old Italian girl say, this stuff can become addictive for how much adrenaline it gives you; how much desire of doing, of going on, of learning, you have in the exact moment you realize it’s over.

She and her brother can never be grateful enough to their Mad Med’s friends for opening them this door. And to Helena, Ondra, Honza, Fred and Julia for reaching them out from the other side. And to their wonderful team, without whom none of this would have been the same.

Erasm… US

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